India on Thursday said it backed the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) security grouping to play a greater role in Afghanistan, and expressed its interest to coordinate more closely with the group in combating terrorism in the region.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, in an address to the SCO Summit here on Thursday morning, described the situation in Afghanistan as “the most important security challenge we face today.”

“The SCO provides a promising alternative regional platform to discuss the rapidly changing Afghan situation,” he said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday also lent his backing to the group to play a bigger role in the country in the lead-up to the withdrawal of NATO forces by 2014. He told the official People’s Daily in an interview, “We will continue to manage regional affairs by ourselves, be on guard against external turbulence and play a bigger role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction.

Chinese officials and State media did, however, stress that the grouping would not look to play a similar role as NATO, pointing out that it was not a military bloc. The Communist Party-run Global Times, a paper known for its nationalistic views, said in a Thursday editorial that while NATO was “currently in an embarrassing situation”, the SCO “is not interested in becoming a counterpart of NATO.”

“SCO members are busy with pragmatic ideas,” the newspaper said. “They should stick to the regional reality and improve interaction with other international organizations that have mutual members.”

Mr. Krishna, in his speech, said the six-member grouping’s economic projects could be “a meaningful additional effort for Afghanistan’s reconstruction”. He told the summit’s extended meeting on Thursday morning, which was attended by the five observers – India, Pakistan, Iran, Mongolia and Afghanistan, which was granted observer status at the Beijing summit – that India had already committed over $ 2 billion towards the country’s reconstruction.

“This is a reflection of our commitment to the prosperity of the Afghan people,” he said. “We will be unwavering in our support to this cause.”

Mr. Krishna also expressed India’s interest in cooperating more closely with the grouping’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure to combat terrorism. India, he said, was “a long-standing victim of terrorism emanating from our region and believes that there is need for stronger resolve and firmer efforts in tackling this scourge.”

The External Affairs Minister also lent India’s support to boosting regional connectivity, highlighting India’s role in “re-energising” the International North South Transport Corridor project, which will link India, Central Asia and Russia passing through Iran. Dry runs are slated to begin next year on the project, to which the U.S. has expressed reservations on account of the involvement of Iran.

Mr. Krishna reiterated India’s interest in becoming a full-fledged member of the organisation. “As we have emphasised at various SCO fora, India would be happy to play a larger, wider and more constructive role in the SCO as a full member, as and when the organisation finalises the expansion modalities,” he said. “We welcome the general trajectory of the SCO towards expansion and redefinition of its role. We feel a wider and more representative SCO will be able to deal more effectively with the common challenges of security and development in our region.”

More In: International | News