What does India gain by cold shouldering the SCO?

India must avoid falling into the ‘Western’ trap of undermining the growing Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Ajit Doval (centre) leads the Indian delegation at a recent meeting of SCO Security Council secretaries in Astana, Kazakhstan (photo: social media)
Ajit Doval (centre) leads the Indian delegation at a recent meeting of SCO Security Council secretaries in Astana, Kazakhstan (photo: social media)

Kumar Ketkar

Last year, India hosted the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) summit for the first time since becoming a member, along with Pakistan, in 2017. It turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax though, as the summit was held online.

SCO, a grouping of Eurasian powers — Russia, China, and the four central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — was launched in 2001. India and Pakistan were inducted in 2017. Iran was inducted as a full member in 2023, and this was particularly important for India as it is through Iran that India’s connectivity plans for the region lie, through Chabahar and the INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor). Also brought in last year as dialogue partners were Kuwait, Maldives, Myanmar and UAE, all with strong ties to India. 

There is increasing concern, however, at India’s less than enthusiastic response to the SCO even as strategic experts and diplomats strongly feel that the SCO membership allows India to keep its balance and strategic autonomy in the non-Western world.  

SCO countries are said to represent 42 per cent of the world’s population, 24 per cent of its GDP, 20 per cent of its oil and 44 per cent of its natural gas, besides a sizable chunk of world food production and connectivity potential for future trade. The SCO is increasingly looking at connectivity and regional stability, both key concerns for India. 

The SCO is also important for India because it has rejected SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and has walked out of RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), even as Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries are increasingly becoming more important, both as market and resource base. 

India, however, has been ambivalent, even lukewarm, to the alternative economic structure, especially as sanctions on Russia and Iran make it difficult to maintain normal trade with them. With the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) grouping also floundering, more attention should have been paid in India to what is happening to regional cooperation, and the price India is paying to keep Western powers happy.


In the high-decibel propaganda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign, which increasingly resembles the Nazi war machine, significant developments regarding the SCO have been largely ignored by the media.

Such as the fact that from 15-18 March, members of the SCO observer mission, led by secretary-general Zhang Ming, monitored the presidential elections in the Russian Federation. Among others, the mission included diplomats from seven SCO member states. Therefore, observers of the international scene cannot afford to marginalise developments related to the SCO.

The ministry of external affairs under S. Jaishankar is actually quite media savvy. Jaishankar himself has done a fantastic tight rope walk to balance contradictory forces. He has successfully tried to balance and manage the relationship with the United States, without compromising on India’s cordiality with Russia, while remaining eloquently silent on China. But tight-rope walks, though entertaining, are rarely meaningful.

It is necessary for India, in its own interests, to strengthen its position within the SCO, particularly owing to the strategic nature of India’s relations with Russia. India is crucial for the stability and growth of the SCO, even as there is a steady growth in the number of countries wishing to join the organisation.

India cannot relinquish its position as a regional power and leader of the global South. There is no gain by pretending to be neutral or “independent” and actually succumbing to Western (read American) pressure or provocations. The Western Alliance is clear in its objective; they want to create discord among members of the SCO. India can neutralise the Western game pro-actively.

The American deep state is busy promoting alternative associations, getting active support from its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. The American effort is not really aimed at assisting the countries in the region in their economic development or resolving their security concerns. The purpose is to weaken the SCO and divert the attention of regional powers in Asia to secondary and often dubious objectives.

India must take cognisance of the dynamically developing trade and economic cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi, as well as the increasing logistical interconnectedness of the countries involved. This is necessary to jointly implement the NSITC and the Chennai-Vladivostok route.

The geographical location of the SCO countries and India is a significant context. This has the potential to trigger rapid transformation of the region into a regional transport and logistics hub. SCO countries are wary of the dominance of the US dollar, and India must take into account the growing urgency for mutual settlements in national currencies. There are lessons to be learned from the integration of European currencies in the common currency, the euro.

Otherwise, India risks losing credibility among the nations of the global South, and influence the future of the “ banking direction” that is rapidly evolving in the SCO. India cannot afford to be a reticent member of the SCO, and wittingly or unwittingly fall into the Western trap laid by the US.

Kumar Ketkar is an Indian writer, journalist, and outgoing member of the Rajya Sabha

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