Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed the need for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to think of its future as it turned 20 this Friday. Airing India’s concerns over Afghanistan at the SCO Virtual Summit, he has called for regional cooperation on the same. The SCO, born out of the mutual need of China and Russia to settle border issues and keep the US off Central Asia, has since expanded to include several members, the latest being Iran. If ever there was a time for the SCO to walk the talk, it is now.
Nonetheless, it may be too much to expect the SCO to play an effective role in Afghanistan and tame the Taliban. For one thing, the organisation is crippled by competing and contradictory interests of its members. It is true that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is in the interests of everyone from Russia, China and the former Soviet Republics to India and even Pakistan. However, with China massing its troops on the Indian borders and Pakistan eager to use its newly-acquired ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan for the detriment of India, cooperation with them on terrorism sounds naive. Strategically, though, India can make use of the forum to strengthen relations with Iran, which shares similar concerns over the Taliban. While China and Russia may be quick to get in bed with Pakistan’s puppet terror group, India should up the ante along with Iran for the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding its deepening relationship with the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, India cannot afford to alienate Iran.
And next week, the Prime Minister will be attending the first in-person Quad Summit. This comes close on the heels of the newlyminted AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) alliance under which Canberra will get a fleet of nuclear submarines, clearly aimed at deterring China in the Indo-Pacific region. India, which has been vocal about the Quad, may come under pressure to play an active role in the region. From the SCO to the Quad, as it navigates its way, India’s mantra must remain the same—cooperation, not confrontation, but from a position of strength.