Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Uzbekistan for the SCO summit next week, eminent diplomats and strategic experts have called for a bigger role for India in Central Asia and underlined the role of SCO in promoting peace and stability in the post-Taliban Afghanistan.
“In Central Asia, in the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization also, India is a strong votary of this principle that Central Asia should be central to SCO, and whatever happens in SCO, you need to take into account the interests of Central Asia,” Manish Prabhat, India’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan, said at a virtual conference on India’s role in Central Asia, organised by India Writes Network and Centre for Global India Insights (CGII), a think tank focused on global affairs. “Central Asia is trying to speak in one voice. There is greater emphasis on economic integration in Central Asia. India is on the right track in enhancing its engagement with the region,” said Mr Prabhat.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to join the leaders from 13 countries to attend the SCO summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on September 15-16.
“Central Asia is the core of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,” said Skand Tayal, India’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan. He identified terrorism and connectivity as important focus areas for India’s enhanced role in SCO.
Manish Chand, Director, IWN & CGII, underlined that India has vital national interests in intensifying engagement with SCO and the region. ”Understanding India’s role and potential to shape the geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape is crucially important as India takes over the presidency of SCO from Uzbekistan and will host the next summit,” he said. “This is an important debate as some important voices in the strategic community have off and on expressed scepticism about India’s membership of SCO.”
“Central Asian countries are also looking for options outside the region and beyond China and Russia. India can definitely be one of the important players, as far as this is concerned. It’s a win-win situation for SCO and India,” said Ashok Sajjanhar, India’s former ambassador to Kazakhstan.
Pankaj Saran, India’s former deputy national security adviser, and former envoy to Russia, underscored that expanded counter terror cooperation among the SCO member states is also one of the key priorities for New Delhi going into the SCO summit. Alluding to the continuing patronage of terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Afghanistan, Mr Saran added that India should also raise the issue of ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan.
Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, China expert and Dean, SIS, JNU, called for promoting civil society interactions, especially between media, educational institutions, think tanks, and other fora to maximise the SCO’s impact in the region.