India is unlikely to get full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the grouping's next month summit in China but will utilise the occasion to seek greater involvement, which might include participation in the Russia-China-led six-country-organisation's counter-terror exercises, according to sources in the government.
If the SCO accepts India's willingness to join the exercises — massive air-ground offensives against entrenched irregular military formations — this will be the first time it will be joining war games being conducted by a bloc even if it is not primarily security-oriented in its disposition.
India is also prepared for greater involvement in SCO's routine round-the-year activities such as trade ministers' meetings. It would also like closer collaboration with the SCO's Tashkent-based Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure (RCTS).
Above all, the Ministry of External Affairs puts great faith in an expanded SCO proving of great assistance in stabilising Afghanistan.
The RCTS, they believe, will play a vital role in observing trends in radical political Islam, right from the beginning of the arc of unrest in the Ferghana Valley, which is divided among three SCO members, and across the Amu Darya into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many strategies for spreading the radical version of political Islam, including the current one of below-the-radar proselytisation, are tested or gain roots in these areas, they say.
Officials drew attention to Russia's — India's chief backer for SCO membership — observations in this regard. Calling for speeding up memberships of India and Pakistan at the SCO foreign ministers' meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for active participation by members and observers in all “international discussions on Afghanistan-related problems, coordinating positions and stressing the SCO's readiness to constructively contribute to efforts by the international community aimed at the political and economic revival of Afghanistan.”
That is why South Block will observe with interest whether Kabul will be able to overcome American suspicions about the SCO and permit it to seek membership.
The Indian reading is that Afghanistan, having signed the strategic partnership pact with the United States, would like to align with the SCO, and will be able to overcome U.S. reluctance to allow it to apply for inclusion in the SCO along with Turkey.
India, along with Pakistan, has been keen to join the SCO for the past three years but formalities for opening the membership for the first time in this decade began with all prospective candidates being given the papers and documents during the previous summit.
New Delhi and Islamabad recently received another document, which too will have to be translated, an exacting exercise in diplomacy to ensure their accurate rendition from one language to another.
Pakistan, India, Iran and Mongolia have observer status, while Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are guest invitees.
Apart from explanations about paperwork, there is some reluctance on the part of smaller members Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over widening the SCO fold because they fear new members would import their set of problems and discords into the organisation and thus take the focus away from resolving issues currently on the table.
Of the other three members, Russia has been firmly backing the case for India's inclusion along with Kazakhstan while China is said to be more “process-bound,” meaning it wants to define a procedure for membership that all countries must follow.
Officials have reasons to believe that despite the “slow and glacial pace” of deciding on the membership issue, the SCO has been accommodative of India's desire for greater role for the Observers. This was demonstrated at the SCO summit in Yekaterinburg when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought and got greater participation for non-members at the summit.
With membership likely to elude India, New Delhi is likely to have ministerial-level representation at the summit.