At its Astana summit, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) adds two nuclear powers – India and Pakistan – to a bloc that sees itself as a counterweight to NATO.
The expansion boosts the SCO’s prestige. The organization, eight members strong with the addition of the two countries, already has two nuclear powers – Russia and China. The organization points out that with India and Pakistan the SCO footprint will cover some 40 per cent of the world. The expansion appears to be mutually enhancing. German broadcaster DW notes that the admission of India and Pakistan comes at a time when both are seeking greater engagement in the Eurasian region, which is both strategically important and rich in the hydrocarbons that the two new members lack. The Beijing-based SCO is a political and security organization. Ahead of the expansion it groups Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Military cooperation between the member states involves intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism operations in Central Asia and joint work against cyber terrorism. The rivalry between China and Russia, described by DW as the two regional heavyweights – and the hostility between the two incoming members – handicap some of the SCO’s ambitions. Beijing has grand economic plans for Central Asia, a region featuring centrally in its ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative. The scheme is meant to intensify trade and transportation links among the countries located along the ancient Silk Road. Russia, on the other hand, has long viewed Central Asia as part of Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence, and is wary of both Beijing’s economic initiatives in the region and its growing clout. Kazakhstan assumes the SCO presidency at the Tashkent summit.
Date written/update: 2017-03-23