Membership will allow India to play greater role in the region

After being unenthusiastic to the idea of joining the six-country Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in its first term of governance, the United Progressive Alliance government now in its second term is now keen on joining the grouping. “We are interested in SCO membership. It is a very important organisation concerning the region,” sources in the government said.

The government had asked the missions in four central Asian countries, Russia and China to explore the nature of rule changes for joining the SCO that are under way. India would take a view on joining the SCO after the criteria are adopted, the sources said.

India's inclination comes amid the SCO's plan to take into its fold more countries from the near neighbourhood, including Pakistan and possibly Iran. The rules for enrolment are expected to be unveiled around the next SCO summit, scheduled for June in Tashkent.

An entry into the SCO will allow India to play a greater role in the region, besides helping to narrow down the differences with its neighbours towards a solution in Afghanistan. In fact, Afghanistan will be one of the core issues at the SCO summit, with Uzbekistan likely to highlight the insufficient involvement of countries like Iran and India.

By joining the grouping, India will also have get an opportunity to interact with countries in the region that are interested in tackling the Iran issue.

A rethink on the SCO came about a year ago when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed the delegation to the summit in Yekaterinburg. This marked a departure from the past when India was represented once by a Foreign Minister, several times by Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and once by Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan.

The Indian delegation to the Tashkent summit, likely to be led by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, will take stock of the deliberations on expanding the SCO.

New Delhi's earlier lack of enthusiasm to the SCO, it was officially explained, was due to the limited role of the observer countries. The organisation has addressed this problem by changing some of the norms to allow greater participation of observers at the Yekaterinburg summit.

At last year's Russia-India-China Foreign Ministers' meeting in Bangalore, both Sergei Lavrov and Yang Jiechi urged their counterpart Mr. Krishna to take greater interest in the SCO, as India was crucial to stabilising the neighbourhood.

Founded in 1996 as Shanghai Five with Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the organisation was renamed SCO five years later, with Uzbekistan coming on board. India, Iran. Pakistan and Mongolia are observers.

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