Joining of such huge members as India and Pakistan to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which is expected in June 2017 will dilute the ability of the organization to act as a cohesive body and will not strengthen its influence at the international level, Bruce Pannier, US expert on Central Asia believes.
“While the SCO has provided a platform for member states to improve their bilateral and, within the SCO, multilateral ties, the organization has not had much influence on international affairs so far. While I think the world respects the potential power of the bloc, that power remains theoretical. There has not been an example where the SCO had a strong influence over any major events beyond SCO borders,” Pannier told .
The expert expects that with India and Pakistan as the SCO full-members it will become a bit more difficult to find common ground. The SCO has six official members – China, Russia, and the four Central Asian states – but it is generally accepted that Beijing and Moscow make the decisions, he noted.
“Islamabad and Delhi might not be so compliant as the Central Asian governments have been to date,” Pannier said.
He also noted that it is difficult to believe the SCO could band together as a military force once India and Pakistan are members and it stretches the imagination to see Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese troops joining together for military operations.
Meanwhile, Pannier stressed that the SCO offers cooperation in many areas at many levels. He noted that various ministers – foreign, justice, healthcare, transportation and others – meet together regularly, and there is cooperation in security, combating terrorism, sharing information on terrorist groups, rescue and relief operations in case of large natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, landslides, etc.). Moreover, there is something of a mutual defense clause in the SCO charter and occasionally, though not as frequently as a decade ago, some of the countries join for military exercises, according to the expert.
Pannier believes that the big incentive for SCO membership, as it currently stands, is the trade opportunities. He noted that China successfully used the SCO as a vehicle for opening up with fellow Central Asian SCO members Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and now it is a leading trade partner for the Central Asian states.
“India and Pakistan’s SCO membership gives Delhi and Islamabad another avenue, or bond for pursuing business ties with China, which of course borders both India and Pakistan,” the expert said.
Moreover they will get greater access to Russia markets where they both need, for example, energy supplies, such as Russian oil.
Besides, the SCO is a formidable organization, on paper at least, according to Pannier.
“Leaders of some SCO member countries like to note, occasionally, the potential military might of the SCO, with the Russian and Chinese armed forces as the backbone. While that is true, there are still questions about how much the Russian and Chinese militaries could really cooperate if they faced a common threat,” he said.
The expert stressed that the point is India and Pakistan become new members of an organization that the world must at least listen to, and an organization that has shown it will support member states in the face of international criticism. For example he reminded that Western organizations such as OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the SCO send their monitors to elections in Central Asia and Russia. The ODIHR assessments often point out flaws in the electoral systems of these countries whereas SCO assessments of the same polls usually praise the election campaign and election itself.
Another example is the violence in Uzbekistan, in Andijan, in May 2005, according to the expert. He noted that in the aftermath of violence in Andijan, there were calls for an international investigation into the tragedy, but Uzbekistan’s government resisted such calls and the SCO supported the Uzbek government. Uzbekistan’s SCO friends even warmed ties with Tashkent at that time, according to Pannier.
“Delhi and Islamabad could probably count on similar SCO support in the face of international criticism,” he said.
Summarizing the benefits of SCO membership, Pannier stressed that it is another organization that helps strengthening trade relations between member countries.
“And again, China seems to be the major beneficiary of this since Beijing has already embarked on its One Belt, One Road project, a network of trade routes that envisions links to and through Pakistan and India,” he said.
It was Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov who announced that the acceptance process of India and Pakistan as the SCO full members would be completed at SCO Astana summit in June 2017.
The SCO was established in 2001. The SCO members now are China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Belarus are the SCO observer-countries, while Azerbaijan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal are dialogue partners.
World media monitoring