You are here

Monday Morning Meeting on India and the SCO: Taking Stock of the Summit in Samarkand

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • September 19, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting
    1000 hrs

    Mr. Jason WahlangResearch Analyst with the Europe and Eurasia Centre at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), spoke on “India and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO): Taking Stock of the Summit in Samarkand” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 19 September 2022. The session was chaired by Dr. Rajorshi Roy, Associate Fellow, Europe and Eurasia Centre. Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP- IDSA, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, MP- IDSA, and scholars of the Institute were in attendance.

    Executive Summary

    SCO has been dominated by Chinese interests and motives in the region. Founded with the intention to settle territorial disputes in Central Asian region, it has come a long way. The organisation has always found itself in a tight Chinese grip, even in dealing with the terrorist organisations operating around the Chinese borders. It certainly helps India to be a part of the organisation as it provides the former a seat at the high table to discuss crucial security matters pertaining to its adversaries- China and Pakistan. It also helps India further its extended neighbourhood policy and reach out to the Central Asian region. Recent visit of Prime Minister Modi to Samarkand for the 22nd SCO Summit and the commencement of India’s presidency of the organisation could shape its outlook and framework in dealing with various issues of importance.

    Detailed Report

    Dr. Rajorshi Roy introduced the topic and provided the historical background of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). He identified the organisation as a multilateral grouping of the Eurasian region, dominated initially by Russia and China. Reflecting on India’s role at the organisation, Dr. Roy made it clear that considering the decisions in SCO are made by consensus, India ought to be inside the organisation than out of it. He then invited the speaker to address the attendees.

    Mr. Jason Wahlang began his presentation by mentioning the upcoming Indian Presidency of the SCO and the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Samarkand to attend the 22nd summit of the organisation. The Speaker listed out the names of the member states, observer states and dialogue partners of the SCO, while also reminding the audience of Iran’s upcoming permanent membership of the organisation in April 2023.

    The Speaker highlighted the significance of SCO in terms of being the biggest organisation of the Eurasian region. Its members make up 40 per cent of the world population and a third of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The region features amongst the top energy producers (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Iran) and consumers (India and China) of the world.  He further mentioned the aims and objectives of the organisation to maintain peace and security, promote confidence building measures and strengthen political and economic cooperation among the regional powers.

    Mr. Wahlang mentioned that SCO was formed in 1995 under the banner ‘Shanghai Five Organisation’, comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In 2001, the name was changed to SCO after the induction of Uzbekistan and later India and Pakistan in 2017. From applying for membership in 2014 to holding its presidency in 2022, India has come a long way in the organisation.

    The Speaker believed that being a part of the SCO has provided India with many opportunities, which it was otherwise bereft of. It has provided India with a way to connect with the Central Asian Region (CAR).  India’s ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ and PM Modi’s visit to the region in 2015 reflects the importance the region holds for India.  Being a part of SCO has made the reach to these resource rich pockets of CAR more accessible. It provides India with a seat at the high table to discuss issues of regional importance and a platform to balance the China-Pakistan nexus.

    Before delving into the details of the PM’s visit, the Speaker shared the highlights of the SCO Summit, where Chinese President welcomed India’s presidency. The organisation nominated Varanasi as its first ever cultural capital for the year 2022-2023. Discussing the additions to the organisation, the Speaker mentioned the signing of ‘Memorandum of Obligations’ by Iran and the initiation of procedures to include Belarus as a permanent member.

    Mr. Wahlang drew a comparative analysis of the SCO summit held in Tashkent last year with the 2022 Samarkand event. Both took place against the backdrop of conflicts (Afghan conflict in 2021 and Ukraine conflict in 2022). Afghanistan featured in the discussions each time but for different reasons and both times, an expansion of the organisation’s membership was on the agenda. The main difference highlighted was the core focal point of the two summits. In 2021, Afghanistan and regional security were the focus but this year it was replaced by connectivity and cooperation amongst member states.

    The Speaker mentioned that prior to PM Modi’s visit to Samarkand, Indian Foreign Minister and Defence Minister had visited the CARs to set the tone for the meeting on 15 September. They covered a range of issues pertaining to Iran and Afghanistan, the organisation’s zero tolerance towards terrorism and its regional anti-terrorist structure (RATS). When PM Modi visited Samarkand on 15 September, he highlighted the need for greater cooperation and trust to build reliable and resilient supply chains in the region. The PM rallied for full transit rights in the region and mentioned the issues of connectivity and food security post the Afghan and Ukraine crisis respectively. To resolve the issue of food supply, PM Modi promoted the cultivation and consumption of millets, of which India is a leader.

    The Speaker also mentioned the various bilateral meetings held on the sidelines of the summit. PM Modi met with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and touched upon the Ukraine crisis, free visa exchanges between the two nations and trade in energy and fertilizers. He met with the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to discuss Chabahar port and India’s connectivity with Afghanistan. Alongside, PM Modi also met the Turkish President Receip Tayyip Erdogan and deliberated on ways to improve bilateral cooperation. Lastly, the Indian PM met with the Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to discuss diversification of trade, economic and connectivity concerns.

    Highlighting the challenges that India faces in the SCO, Mr. Wahlang mentioned the dominance of Chinese interests in the organisation. Due to its overbearing economic presence in the region, other powers find it difficult to diversify their ties. Another is the lack of direct land connectivity from India to CAR, which hinders the pace of progress of India-CARs relations. The shortest possible land connectivity route from India to Central Asia is through Pakistan, which remains inaccessible to India. The best alternative is the maritime route to Iran and the land route thereafter connecting to Central Asia and Afghanistan. This makes Iran crucial for India to strengthen its outreach towards the CARs.

    The Afghanistan conflict and Taliban rule have undermined the security and stability of the region, adding to the many challenges that India faces. The counter terrorism policy framework of SCO takes a tougher stand against the threats faced by its founding members, as compared to those threatening its South Asian members.  This is a crucial challenge that stands in the way of firmly dealing with terror threats emanating from the Af-Pak region which often pose security concerns for India.

    Lastly, the Speaker mentioned the Afghan conflict and the role of various terror organisations like the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and others in upsetting the security situation of Central and South Asia. Intelligence sharing could be a vital way to control these groups’ tactics from slipping into the broader South Asian region but there are limitations when neighbours like Pakistan and China are part of such an equation.

    Mr. Wahlang concluded by saying that the potential of SCO remains untapped when it comes to cooperation in the fields like environment, climate change, health and disaster relief operations. India has a lot to offer to the organisation.


    Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, DG, MP-IDSA said that India needs to redefine its neighbourhood first policy to include Central Asia and not South Asia alone. India is currently practicing neighbourhood policy 2.0, which has a central place for the CARs. This makes SCO a very important organisation as it includes the countries of India’s extended neighbourhood.

    The Director General then reflected on the role of India’s Presidency and the challenges that lie ahead. How will India deal with the Chinese dominance in prioritising the Central Asian terror threats as compared to the ones emanating from the Af-Pak region? He mentioned how the terror groups are conjoined beyond their geographical areas. ISKP is one such organisation, which is equally present in Central and South Asia. One of the major challenges for India will be to reconcile different views and come up with a uniform definition of terrorism, something even the United Nations (UN) is struggling with till date.

    Ambassador Chinoy highlighted the issue of connectivity and questioned how India plans on dealing with issues like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which it cannot walk away from during its presidential tenure. He also mentioned the intra-regional conflicts prevalent in the CAR and questioned their bearing on the functioning of SCO. The Tajik- Krygyz conflict is one such example. He also lay emphasis on the RATS mechanism for intelligence sharing.

    Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi, (Retd.), DDG, MP-IDSA highlighted India’s connectivity efforts with the SCO members in  light of the Chabahar port, International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and a potential undersea pipeline connecting Gujarat in India to Iran. He said that as the Indian economy grows, it will require access to markets beyond its current borders and for that SCO is a great channel to get convenient access to Central Asian markets.

    He also spoke about the maritime connectivity that SCO members offer, particularly the India to Iran route for further access to the CAR. He questioned the reasons for slow progress at the Chabahar port and if there was a way to connect to Central Asia, via Chabahar, without getting into Afghan territory. In conclusion, he laid emphasis on increased connectivity in the region for improved coordination and cooperation.

    MP-IDSA scholars raised questions pertaining to various themes like the ripple effects of the Armenia- Azerbaijan conflict in the region, how has India’s role in SCO benefitted the organisation, current status of CASA-1000, the Afghan contact group, SCO as an organisation vis-à-vis the CSTO, the role played by media in projecting India’s bilateral relations with the Central Asian nations (especially Russia), multi-polarity, potential SCO investors interested in the Indian market and the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

    The Speaker provided detailed and insightful responses to the comments and queries received from the attendees.

    This report was prepared by Ms. Anandita Bhada, Research Analyst, Europe and Eurasia Centre, MP-IDSA.