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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a political, economic, and Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of many important countries including India and its neighborhood. It is holding its 20th Summit in Dushanbe. Coming against the backdrop of the turbulence caused by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the current meeting will be one of the most significant gatherings in its two-decade history. Addressing the summit virtually, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underscored this huge responsibility: when he articulated India’s concern over the growing radicalisation in the region. India is full member of the SCO. Along with India and Pakistan, this intergovernmental organisation has 8 members including Russia, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It also has several observers like Iran(now accepted as a member) and Afghanistan. The internal policy of the forum is inspired by the Shanghai Spirit: based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, and a desire for common development. Referring to this spirit, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s commitment to strengthen connectivity in the landlocked Central Asian region to boost trade and commerce.


  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO is a Eurasian political, economic and security organisation. SCO grew out of Shanghai Five founded in 1996 with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as its original members.
  • After the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991, China has a large number of undecided and disputed borders with many of the countries that became independent then. This saw the formation of Shanghai Five by these nations.
  • Uzbekistan joined the Shanghai Five group in June 2011 and the group was henceforth named, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Its charter was signed in June 2002.
  • India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members in June 2017 at a summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
  • SCO is the largest regional organisation in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population and has become very powerful and influential.
  • Members of SCO in 2018:
    • 8 member states: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
    • 4 observer states: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran(now accepted as a member) and Mongolia
    • 6 dialogue partners: Armenia, Azerbaizan, Cambodia, Nepal, SriLanka and Turkey
  • SCO was initially formed to secure relations about security. Countries were supposed to work together against terrorism, extremism and separatism. Over the years it has become a comprehensive regional organisation. Its goals have become more widened.
  • Main goals of SCO are:
    • Promoting mutual trust and neighbourliness.
    • Promoting cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research, technology and culture.
    • Enhancing ties in areas like education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection and healthcare.
    • Maintaining and ensuring peace, security and stability in the region.
    • Moving towards establishment of democratic, fair and rational international political and economic order.
  • Heads of State Council is supreme decision-making body. It meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on all important matters. Heads of Government Council is the second highest body. Meetings are also held at levels of heads of parliament, ministers of foreign affairs, economy, transport, etc.
  • 2 permanent bodies of SCO: SCO secretariat, Beijing and Executive Committee of the Anti-Terrorist Structure, Tashkent.

SCO’s Significance for India:

  • The invite for Imran Khan has signalled India’s desire to increase its engagement with the organisation.
  • The SCO’s significance for India lies in economics and geopolitics with the Eurasian states.
  • SCO is a potential platform to advance India’s Connect Central Asia policy.
  • The SCO member states occupy the huge landmass adjacent to India’s extended neighbourhood where India has both economic and security imperatives.
  • Importance of SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group to stabilise Afghanistan.
  • SCO membership provides India a vital counter to some of the other groupings it is a part of.
  • The SCO provides the only multilateral platform for India to deal in close proximity with Pakistan and Afghanistan.


  • Neither India nor Pakistan which have entered SCO in 2017 will like to do anything which may project them as odd man out.
  • Pakistan wants to project itself as different to the world and may attend the summit since we have gone ahead and invited them.
  • Pakistan’s army even wants the pressure to be brought down because of economic sanctions which it is facing
  • If bilateral meeting on the side if held will be significant.

Challenges for India:

  • There are differences on the idea of connectivity being put forth by different SCO members.
  • While India has made its opposition to Belt and Road Initiative clear, all other SCO members have embraced the Chinese project.
  • Growing closeness of Russia and China.
  • India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia and Russia is very low compared to China’s trade with Russia and Central Asia.
  • The lack of connectivity has also hampered development of energy ties between the hydrocarbonrich region and India.

Way Forward:

  • Regardless of the differences, the Indian government has consistently maintained the importance of the SCO grouping, referred to as the “Asian NATO” although it does not mandate security alliances.
  • The SCO is one of the few regional structures India is a part of now, given a decline in its engagement with SAARC, BBIN and the RCEP.
  • SCO provides a very good opportunity to India to connect with the leadership of Central Asian countries and that a very big take away.
  • India has a good record of economic growth and handling problem which is a problem of other countries which lays foundation to huge foreign investment.
  • Increase cooperation between SCO and other multilateral organisations.
  • Need to increase economic cooperation among SCO member states.
  • Focus on illegal drug trafficking, cooperation in information technology, environment, healthcare and sports.
  • Strengthen the fight against terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and organised crime among others.
  • Increasing awareness of our shared cultures can help boost tourism.
  • If India is not able to exploit the economic potential of the region, it will be a missed opportunity.