Amid the self-congratulatory homilies by leaders of the six Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) members on June 15 in Astana, India will find discussions on Afghanistan the most important.
The SCO was once considered by the South Block to be China-dominated. India, however, shed its apprehensions three summits back, when Observers were given rights and privileges considered unprecedented in many other regional bodies.
While the SCO members would like to focus on the troubles spilling from Kyrgyzstan to other Central Asian States, India, along with Pakistan, would be most interested in the plans to upgrade Afghanistan's status from Special SCO Invitee to Observer.
This is because the SCO will be asking three of its four Observers — India, Pakistan and Mongolia — to join as Members; Iran, like the other three, is an Observer. But highly placed sources said its full membership is in doubt because one criteria for upgradation is that no member should have United Nations sanctions standing against it.
The membership of India and Pakistan [and Iran later] would complete the line-up of regional countries that had an acute interest in establishing a reasonable and representative government in Kabul.
“So the real political significance of the summit for us is that with the addition of India and Pakistan, the SCO will be a very promising forum for discussing the post-western troops-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan,” said the sources.
“It will also bury the red herring frequently thrown [in] by other countries — for instance, the Uzbekistan balloon of a 6+3 formula, or the talk of a quadripartite. India finds SCO a very good forum because all member-States and observers are treated equally. This tallies with the desire expressed by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for a regional solution in the post-2014 scenario. Russia and Central Asia, having suffered from pan-Islamic militant groups, will concur with India's formula of good Taliban and bad Taliban,” said the sources.
“The discussions at the SCO will also become a tool for India to put pressure on Pakistan. As the SCO gets involved in Af-Pak, it will also agree with India on the issue of providing sanctuary to terrorists in the Federally Administrative Tribal Area (FATA) belt of Pakistan.
“Till now the West has been publicly telling Pakistan to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. But regional countries will spell it out differently and can also assist Pakistan through the Central Asia Regional Cooperation Programme (CAREC),” explained the sources.
A closer involvement of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan will lead to the strengthening of the proposed CASAREM (Central Asia Regional Energy Market), under which hydel energy surplus States such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are planning to get together to provide an energy market to their neighbours.
India's second major area of interest would be a closer involvement with the SCO's Regional Anti-Terrorism Centre (RATC) based at Tashkent, venue of the 10th summit.
“India is having a sustained dialogue and, in this respect, last year's talks on militancy were very fulfilling, when the Kazakh head of RATC came. The RATC shares India's concern around some of the names in the most wanted list sent to Pakistan in April.
“There is some intelligence-sharing mechanism, but India will try to increase it substantially after it becomes a Member. Subsequently, India would like to get into anti-terrorism exercises and instant exchange of information on terrorist incidents,” the sources said.