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Squabbling neighbours India and Pakistan will be security partners as SCO members

India, Pakistan will join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation when the annual summit gets underway in Kazakhstan on Thursday.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2017 13:08 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Will Astana see  a handshake moment? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif will be in the Kazak capital for a two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit that begins June 8.
Will Astana see a handshake moment? Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif will be in the Kazak capital for a two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit that begins June 8. (File photo)

The China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will have India and Pakistan as its full members when the security bloc holds its annual summit in Kazak capital Astana from Thursday.

It will be the first time that the two South Asian neighbours will be part of a group that seeks security and military cooperation among member countries. It also comes at a time when the already tense ties between the two sides are in a free fall.

The first day of the summit coincides with a hearing at the International Court of Justice where the two countries are battling it out over the death sentence awarded to Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav by a Pakistani military court.

Founded in Shanghai in 1996, the Eurasian alliance has China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its members.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif will be in Astana on both days of the summit but chances of a meeting between the two are bleak.

Unlike several regional groupings, SCO is touted as a security alliance, a sort of counter to the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But the trust deficit with Pakistan could be a factor in India’s engagement in the forum.

Counter-terrorism is one of the biggest concerns for the grouping that was ostensibly formed to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighbouring Afghanistan.

The SCO has an anti-terrorist structure in place with a brief to analyse intelligence inputs about terror outfits, their presence and finances and also conduct counter-terrorism exercises.

The SCO also provides for military cooperation.

There are many who argue that the alliance provides a rare opportunity for the militaries of Pakistan and India to come together under the SCO framework.

The Pakistan army is the driver of Islamabad’s India policy, which often leads to New Delhi blaming it for scuttling attempts by the two governments to improve ties.

“Counter-terrorism is a common objective of the countries in the region. India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism. So addressing the issue has remained a core objective,” an Indian official said.

Some of the Central Asian members have on earlier occasions expressed reservations about India-Pakistan issues playing up at the SCO.

Their concerns are not unfounded. Tension between the two neighbours is hampering the economic integration of another regional grouping, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

India is actively working on strengthening ties with Central Asia. Of late, Pakistan, too, is doing the same. “India’s ties with Eurasian region are centuries old and they are independent of what others are doing,” the official said.

For Russia, India would add heft to the grouping and check SCO from becoming a China-dominated alliance. At the same time, India will be concerned about China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative getting an SCO branding. The project that aims to new Silk Route linking Asia, Africa and Europe through a web of road, rail and port networks found a mention in the joint statement of the grouping.

India has stayed away from OBOR as the centrepiece of the plan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, passes through Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, which New Delhi says challenges its sovereignty by lending legitimacy to Pakistan’s claim over the territory.