Reports suggest that India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran will be invited to become full members of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.If true, India’s membership could have a major impact on its relations with China, the United States and Russia.
It could also have a paradigm-changing impact upon India-Pakistan relations, with a radical effect on India’s energy security and its overall economy.
For its part, the Government of Pakistan could diminish the Army’s influence on foreign and security policy, reduce its military budget and re-allocate that saving to urgently-required energy, water and food security initiatives.
All in all, SCO membership would be a superb opportunity for India’s economic, political and social development, but much thought must go into examining the terms and conditions, not to mention the implications, of that membership.The SCO – composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – was created in 1996, for the most part to demilitarise the border between China and Russia. Uzbekistan was made a member in 2001 and the organisation, which was called the Shanghai Five until then, renamed itself as the SCO. More recently, its activities have included military co-operation, intelligence sharing, and counter-terrorism drills between its member states. Some analysts see the SCO as a major anti-US instrument of Russia and China in Central Asia. Others, however, believe that underlying friction between Russia and China precludes a unified organisation.
Should India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran become members of the SCO, the organisation will comprise a land mass that extends from Europe’s eastern border to the Pacific Ocean and from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean. It will include the populations of China and India, estimated at 2.4 billion or a full third of the world’s population, the major energy resources of Iran, Mongolia and Russia, and the wherewithal to pose a political and security counter to NATO. On the economic front, the rising economies of China, Russia and India could counter the economic clout of the United States and its allies.
A major question is why China, which had previously opposed India’s membership in SCO, changed its mind. It is common knowledge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi addressed India’s membership in the SCO on the side-lines of the BRICS summit in Brazil in July this year. It is possible that China, noting that the Bharatiya Janata Party won sufficient seats to govern in its own right and not be held hostage to coalition politics, could now effectively pursue economic, social, security and political reform.
It is equally possible that Russia pressured China to grant India membership in SCO because of New Delhi’s perceived shift towards the West after the US replaced Russia as India’s largest defence supplier.
Recognising India’s shift towards the West, China might also have decided that it would be more beneficial to have India in a position whereby New Delhi could be influenced to side with Moscow and Beijing instead of Washington and London. Furthermore, given the animosity generated towards China by its activities in the South China Sea Beijing may be sensitive to the fact that it cannot have a state that is actively building ever-closer ties with the West on its continental border, let alone one that could be influenced to turn hostile towards it.
It is, however, in the energy sector that China has more cause for worry. In November 2013, Vietnam offered India seven oil blocks off its coast to prospect, including three on an exclusive basis. When China objected, Vietnam and India together stridently announced India’s right to explore for oil in the Vietnamese exclusive economic zone, part of which is claimed by China. India has also announced its right to free navigation in the South China Sea, thus ignoring China’s claims to it. China can ill afford to have an antagonistic India in its west, especially one which is growing ever closer to the West, when it needs to concentrate on events in the East and South China Seas.
Essentially, China stands to gain more than it loses by withdrawing its opposition to Indian membership in the SCO.
It is pertinent to try to determine why an offer of membership was made at this time, assuming it was made or is to be made at all. It could be that China and Russia are trying to prove a point to the US; Modi is to meet US President Obama in September. It is possible that the issue of India’s support for Russia will be dealt with during this meeting. At a recent meeting with Indian officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry was informed that India would take no part in US sanctions against Russia due to its actions in the Ukraine. Instead, much to Kerry’s disappointment, India stated that Russia had every right to act in the Ukraine. In essence, India was making the point that it would pursue its own agenda of non-alignment and would take no sides. This runs counter to US objectives.
On the one hand, the US seeks to contain Russia and China, at this time the two most important countries in the SCO, and simultaneously bring India within its orbit. If India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia become members of the organisation, it would be a blow to US strategy and simultaneously prove a boon to China and Russia.
Finally, it is necessary to attempt to discern how membership in the SCO might benefit India. Given India’s chronic shortage of energy, membership in the SCO, especially if Pakistan and Iran also accept membership, will pay particularly rich dividends. As noted previously, the Russian-Chinese oil and gas pipelines could be extended to India. This will have the obvious benefits of enhancing India’s energy security by diversifying its sources.
It is Pakistan’s membership, however, that will give India cause to rejoice. Assuming that common membership will lead to better relations and a large reduction in the tensions between the two countries, India could arguably re-visit the creation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India and Iran-Pakistan-India pipelines. For its part, Pakistan could levy a negotiated transit fee on the energy supplies to India while, simultaneously, using the pipelines to alleviate its own shortfalls in energy supplies. Increased energy supplies will create an enlarged manufacturing sector in the Indian economy, which results, in turn, in more and better employment opportunities, better education and a higher standard of living.
An obvious drawback that could jeopardise this scenario is the Pakistani Army, which sees itself as Pakistan’s defence against all threats including, in its perception, a successful India. The Pakistani Army, moreover, is currently allocated approximately 22 per cent of Pakistan’s budget. It is difficult to envision the Army leaders willingly giving up that proportion of funding, and the attendant power, to a civilian government. Another is the militant groups that were either created by the Pakistani Army or are controlled by them. These groups, which have been used to wage a proxy war against India, will now have to be made to cease their attacks on India and refrain from anything that could provide India with either benefit or advantage.
If Pakistan could neutralise these two threats, it could itself move away from the verge of becoming a failed state and allow the government to formulate foreign and security policy, as it rightfully ought to do.