SCO Summit: PM Narendra Modi to focus on Central Asia outreach, anti-terror ties – Economic Times

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his second visit to Central Asia since 2015 will usher in India as a member of the key regional body Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) by expanding outreach to the resource rich region as well as Afghanistan and strengthening regional anti-terror ties.

Modi reached Astana on Thursday afternoon ahead of the main Summit day on Friday when India’s SCO membership will be announced. On Thursday evening, PM Modi and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev held talks on expanding strategic partnership across sectors — defence, nuclear and hydrocarbon besides investments. All eyes are on the meeting between PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping to be held on Friday on the sidelines of SCO summit.

The meeting will be held in the backdrop of India’s decision to skip OBOR summit and China’s intransigence on India’s proposed NSG membership. The next NSG plenary is scheduled in Berne between June 19-23 and China has recently said India’s entry into the select club has become more complicated. Tensions have also prevailed over Dalai Lama’s Arunachal Pradesh visit and recent transgressions by Chinese choppers into Uttarakhand.

Besides Xi, a Modi-Nawaz Sharif handshake is also not ruled out in Astana as both the leaders will be at the same venue. Modi and Sharif last met in December 2015 before ties hit a downturn over Pathankot terror strikes and subsequent crisis in Kashmir and attacks on Uri camp.

SCO membership will not only enable India to expand its presence in the resource-rich Central Asia and neighbourhood of China but also assist India’s regional counter-terror and deradicalisation efforts as well as push outreach to Afghanistan. “It is significant for Delhi to become a member of a key regional organisation like SCO in India’s western neighbourhood where the Modi govermment is pushing connectivity initiatives,” explained an official. After Narendra Modi became the first Indian PM to visit all five Central Asian states in 2015, India moved fast to become a member of SCO that will enable wider presence by Delhi in the region, which was part of erstwhile Soviet Union.

Last week, during the Indo-Russian annual summit on June 1 President Vladimir Putin announced that India will be admitted as a SCO member this week. Similar announcement was made in Beijing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Interestingly while Putin did not mention about Pakistan’s admission into the grouping, the Chinese government announced admission of its all-weather friend into SCO along with India. SCO membership will add to India’s geo-strategic heft, according to experts on the subject.

SCO’s anti-terror charter was strengthened when representatives of special services of the member states approved a draft convention on combating extremism and terrorism at a meeting in Tashkent in March. India’s counter-terror initiatives will get a teeth from SCO’s charter.

Founded in Shanghai in 1996, the group at present comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan till now had the status of observers along with Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia in the grouping.

In the 2015 summit in Ufa in Russia, the group had formally adopted a resolution which started the procedure to admit India and Pakistan into the SCO.

Both the countries signed a Memorandum of Obligations to join the organisation in last year’s summit in Tashkent.

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