With Russia set to take over as next chair, India expects Moscow to make a more vigorous push to upgrade its status

India has told the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) prime ministerial meeting, led by regional heavyweights China and Russia, that it “stood ready” to join the organisation as a full Member to play a larger, wider and more active role.

With Russia set to take over as the next chair of the SCO, India expects Moscow to make a more vigorous push to upgrade its status from that of an Observer to a full member of the six-nation organisation. Besides China and Russia, its other full members include Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

At a gathering that included host Kyrgyz Prime Minister Zhantoro Satybaldiyev, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Kazakh Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov, Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, India was without a ministerial representation due to the government’s all-hands-on-the-deck approach towards the debate and vote on foreign direct investment in the Lok Sabha.

Setting out India’s expectations from the SCO, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs Sanjay Singh told the meeting in Bishkek on Wednesday that even if India remained an Observer for some time, it was keen to step up its engagement to contribute more meaningfully to the organisation.

Lauding the SCO for contributing to regional economic development and stability, Mr. Singh identified Afghanistan as one area which this “promising alternative regional platform” could discuss. Officials here say the SCO has the best possible collation of states that have a direct interest in Afghanistan’s welfare. Besides SCO members, some of whom have ethnic links with sections of the Afghanistan population, its Observer states include Iran and Pakistan. Turkey is a dialogue partner and Afghanistan enjoys the full Observer status.

Calling on the SCO to “grasp this opportunity,”, Mr. Singh was confident that India and the SCO Members shared the basic objective of building Afghanistan’s civil infrastructure and indigenous capacity in a number of socio-economic sectors. Mr. Singh made no reference to the violence in Afghanistan, but his laudatory mention of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) showed India’s proclivity to engage more closely with this structure.

Indian diplomats have always maintained that RATS is a useful forum for tracking trends in militant Islam because the problem wracking Afghanistan is also there in all Central Asian states. Senior officials from RATS have interacted with their Indian counterparts here and in Tashkent, exchanging information about trends in radical Islam. Top leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have operated with the Taliban in Afghanistan and after being scattered by the Western bombing, regrouped in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where they have taken on the Pakistan Army, inflicting heavy casualties on occasions.

India also maintains an airbase in Tajikistan though diplomats neither confirm nor deny its existence. Tajikistan has used this airbase during most heavy duty operations against Taliban-inspired groups in its southern part.

India also wants to engage with the SCO to facilitate free flow of trade, people and energy, all areas which Beijing made focus areas during its ongoing chairmanship of the SCO. With the two-day meeting, which ended on Wednesday, resolving to set up a Development Fund and Development Bank, Mr. Singh offered to bring to the table India’s technical expertise in the financial sector.

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