This article explores the significance of Iran’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and its potential implications for regional connectivity and security.
What is the context?
Iran’s recent induction as the ninth member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at a virtual summit chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights the importance of a “more representative” and multipolar world order.
What is the SCO?
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation originated from the ‘Shanghai Five’ group, comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, established in 1996. It aimed to address regional security, border troops reduction, and terrorism. In 2001, the group expanded with the inclusion of Uzbekistan and was renamed the SCO. The organization consists of the SCO Secretariat in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in Tashkent.
Main Goals of the SCO:
The SCO’s main goals include strengthening mutual trust, promoting cooperation in various fields, ensuring peace and stability, and working towards a new international political and economic order. This vision has raised concerns in the U.S. and Europe due to proposals for military cooperation, leading to the SCO being labeled as “anti-NATO.”
SCO’s Approach to Bilateral Issues:
India and Pakistan became Shanghai Cooperation Organisation observers in 2005 and full members in 2017. Despite strained bilateral relations, both countries actively participate in SCO meetings and engage in joint military and anti-terrorism exercises. The SCO has also facilitated talks between India and China on the border issue.
Significance of Iran’s Induction:
Iran’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation holds significant implications for regional connectivity and security. For India, it strengthens its connectivity strategy, particularly through Iran’s Chabahar port and the International North South Transport Corridor. Iran’s presence supports India’s efforts to bypass land-based trade routes through Pakistan.
Multimodal Trade Routes and India’s Interests:
Central Asian countries, including double land-locked nations, aim to establish multimodal trade routes via Afghanistan, connecting to ports in Pakistan and Iran. This development allows India to engage in regional trade while avoiding China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Additionally, Iran’s induction aligns with India’s stance against terrorism, as it has historically been a victim of terrorism originating from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Challenges and Considerations:
While Iran’s induction benefits India in terms of connectivity and security, there are potential challenges. The SCO is increasingly perceived as an “anti-West” forum, and Iran, like Russia, faces severe sanctions. Moreover, the U.S. has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Russia, adding complexity to India’s balancing act between the SCO and its ties with the Quad.
Iran’s inclusion in the SCO marks a significant milestone, enhancing regional connectivity and security. It supports India’s efforts to bypass Pakistan for trade and strengthens its push against terrorism. However, India must navigate the complexities of the SCO’s image and the geopolitical dynamics surrounding Iran. As the SCO continues to evolve, member countries, including India, will play a crucial role in shaping its future and promoting regional cooperation.
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