India’s weight in the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which focuses on political security-related issues, has increased since it along with Pakistan was admitted as full members in 2017. India has made constructive contributions to the organisation. In the present difficult times when the world is battling the Covid-19 pandemic, it is always useful if regional and international organisations coalesce to discuss and seek a long-term solution to this global challenge.
India was an observer at the SCO since 2005 and participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping which focus mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region. The SCO was founded at a Summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the Presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar took part in the extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the members of the bloc last week, wherein he emphasised on cooperation to fight the deadly Covid-19 including sharing of best practices. It was chaired by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and attended by Foreign Ministers from all SCO countries including China’s Wang Yi and Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
The Foreign Ministers underlined the importance of sharing information on best practices on containing Covid-19, particularly in medicine, medical equipment, and pharmaceuticals sector. They agreed on a joint declaration that focused on creating a plan of action that could be adopted at the leaders’ level Summit on collaboration for vaccine development and methods of disease treatment.
The External Affairs Minister expressed India’s readiness to share information, expertise and best practices with the SCO member-states. Dr. Jaishankar also highlighted the initiatives and various decisive steps taken by India in the wake of the pandemic, including the Rs. 20 lakh crore ($266 billion) stimulus package for economic growth announced by the Prime Minister Modi on 12th May. External Affairs Minister also indicated that “India is committed to work towards creation of a favourable environment for mutually beneficial trade-economic cooperation among the SCO members”.
The meeting of the SCO foreign ministers took place after the BRICS foreign ministers’ video-conferencing and discussions in late April 2020. It had centred on Covid-19 crisis and its impact and BRICS response. The subsequent virtual meeting of BRICS Health Officials on May 7th took the discussions forward in a focussed and purposeful manner. The decision at the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meet was an extension of such initiative. This was for the first time the Foreign Ministers of both India and Pakistan were together in a virtual meet on Covid-19.As an organization, the SCO covers three-fifths of the Eurasian continent and nearly half of the human population. With three major economies as part of the grouping, the meeting focussed on containing the spread of the coronavirus. Incidentally this meet took place within two days of US-led seven nation meet that included India on containing Covid-19 and economic-recovery.
Besides ways to combat Covid-19 and find common grounds to cooperate, Dr. Jaishankar underlined that the security challenges the world faces today. Those are not linked by physical or political boundaries. Terrorism continues to be the overwhelming threat to security and stability in the SCO region and therefore the Indian Minister strongly pitched for “collective action”. He also underscored the need for SCO to work towards economic revival. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who convened the meeting called for strengthening anti-terror mandate and security mechanism of the grouping. Under the Russian Presidency, SCO is scheduled to hold its next Summit in St. Petersburg in end July.
The conference also extensively deliberated on the evolving situation in Afghanistan, holding that the peace process must take into consideration the aspirations of the Afghan people and stakes of the neighbouring countries. Indeed, India’s entry into the China-dominated grouping as a full member has increased the bloc’s heft in regional geo-politics, besides giving it a pan-Asian hue.
Script: Prof. Rajaram Panda, Lok Sabha Research Fellow, Parliament of India.