Modern Diplomacy
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and India

India will engage with all other partners in the SCO to ensure the growth and stability of this Forum as it assists in maintaining the stability of this region has a whole. India has a long-term stake in the SCO, writes Anuradha Chenoy, Adjunct Professor at the Jindal Global University.

Since its foundation in 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has provoked global interest because it is the first regional alliance to bring together the geographical Eurasian space commonly referred to as the ‘heartland’ of global geostrategy.

After a number of years, India and Pakistan joined this Forum (2017) because the security needs of South Asia are embedded in the geographic connections between South Asia-Central Asia and Eurasia.  SCO is an expanding forum and Iran’s membership in the SCO has been approved. Other countries such as Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia have observer status and several countries of West Asia including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Egypt have expressed a desire to join this Forum. This makes the SCO a powerful forum within this region.

The interest in the SCO has grown because of the transition of the international system to a multipolar system has been hastened by  the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine.  The collective West has positioned itself in a constant confrontation with two members of the SCO- China and Russia, while most of the Global South has asserted neutrality and opposes sanctions. Three countries in this Forum face different types of sanctions. Yet the member states of the SCO command a combined 30% of global GDP. This article focuses on India’s engagement with the SCO and its establishment as a non-militarist, regional organization in Eurasia. This is of particularly importance since 2023 is the year India holds the presidency of both the SCO and the G20. 

India and the SCO

India’s relationship with the SCO can be analysed at three levels: the micro or bilateral, the macro or multilateral, and the operational or outcome-oriented:

  • India’s relationship with the individual components of the SCO and internal contradictions impact its relations with the SCO as a whole.  It is common knowledge that India has a historic, strategic and economic partnership with Russia, whereas it has unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan. In addition, India faces state-supported terrorism from Pakistan. With the Central Asia state members, India wants to develop deep, long-term economic, cultural and energy relations. However, if relations between India and Pakistan or India and China deteriorate, the SCO can see some blocks emerge, even though bilateral relations are not discussed at this forum.  
  • India’s relations with multilateral organisations, where India has worked with all countries including China and Pakistan on many issues, like WTO rules, climate change and damages issues and so on have been effective. China and India have been on the same side on many international issues, including those concerning Russia and the countries of the Global South. So India’s negotiations in the SCO have not been bogged down by bilateral contradictions. 
  • India’s operationalization of its security, economic, cultural and other interests are set to expand its relationship beyond South Asia to the broader Asian region. India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ (2012) ‘Look East’ and other such policies operationalize its foreign policy goals. During the 2023 Indian presidency of G20 and SCO, India’s position is to project the voice of the Global South. So India has engaged with the SCO at the highest level of Indian leadership and contributed to the consolidation and expansion of the organisation. 

Regional Security

A major focus of this Forum is on regional security. Given the recent history of Afghanistan, the menace of terrorism faced by India and other parts of this region, security is a major concern. Radicalism and violent movements originating from specific conflict points have spread across the region earlier and can do so at any time, so contact and dialogue between leaders is critical to ensuring stability. India along with Russia and China would like to see the Central Asian Republics and the Eurasia region retain its secular, multi-ethnic character. Any conflict in the region or attempt to de-stabilize it can flow into all other countries. 

India has pressured and received assurances from the SCO on their commitment to end cross-border terrorism. To that end, several agreements to counter terrorism and coordinate information on terrorist activities have been signed and activated over the years. In addition, protocols to prevent trafficking in all kinds of illegal commodities, from drugs to weapons, has also been discussed and acted upon by the member states.

The hasty withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in 2022, the freezing of the strategic reserves of Afghanistan, the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan and fears of regional instability have lead the SCO to develop a Contact Group for Afghanistan, of which India is a member. The US has usually engaged with Afghanistan unilaterally or with the NATO countries plus Pakistan. On the other hand, Russia has ensured that India must be part of security discussions on Afghanistan since this is a Eurasian regional issue. 

US interventions in West Asia are similarly destabilising and all SCO countries get impacted. It is for these security-related development and stability issues that many countries of the region want to join the SCO. In this context, India as well as other member states would like to position the SCO as an ‘anti-Western’ or militarist alliance. Rather some western analysts themselves pose it as such.

Asia and Eurasia
Russia-India Relations in a Transformative World Order
Anuradha Chenoy
India has made sure that no forum that it is part of takes a stance against Russia. India has ensured its strategic relations with Russia. The huge Indian market and defence capabilities enable India to retain strategic autonomy, writes Anuradha Chenoy, Adjunct Professor, Jindal Global University, India

The Bridge to Central Asia

Western analysts have argued that the SCO is used by Moscow as a counterweight to US influence in Central Asia; to balance growing Chinese influence in the region and as an instrument to ensure that Moscow’s influence in this newly independent region is retained. Furthermore, they link the SCO with other alliances, such as the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Community. However, the Central Asian States that are members, like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, see themselves as, and have proved to be, independent actors that can conduct an independent foreign policy. India sees the SCO as an important bridge to the Central Asian States and as a regional multilateral grouping important for the security of Eurasia, including its non-traditional security interests. India has been an important partner in this organisation in tempering the belief that this is an anti-Western alliance. India has repeatedly shown that this is a non-militarist grouping where both traditional and non-traditional threats are assessed. At the same time, India finds this organization as a good balancing body for increasing Chinese and Pakistani interests in Central Asia, where India would like equal leveraging power. 

Non-traditional security interests

Major non-traditional security threats that concern all in the SCO include energy security, health security, climate change, environmental protection and developing economic security. Trade and economic relations between India and most of the SCO is on the rise. The Central Asian Republics have counted on India as they do on China to foster trade relations. India has initiated deeper links on health issues via the SCO, with the Indian Prime Minister advocating holistic health coordination with India. 

The SCO is an important body in ensuring that trade routes are secure. Note, for example, the 7,200 km long multi-mode (ship, rail, road) North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that connects freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. The INSTC is designed to be a major route for energy supplies to India and all the countries involved are invested in its security. 

The SCO members, in high level meetings, have decuded to facilitate trade and investments in their respective national currencies. This is a major step and part of an ongoing process that organizations like the BRICS and the emerging economies like China, India and Russia have been promoting. 


Global curiosity, regional interest and the interest of many countries around the region in SCO membership shows the growing importance of the SCO. Russia’s Special Military Operation has hastened the process of multi-polarity, where the voices from the Global South are important strategic factors. The SCO is one of the meeting grounds of countries committed to both multi-polarity and regional stability. India has a vested interest in making the SCO a vibrant forum. India’s interest in trade, economic development and projecting its foreign and economic policies beyond South Asia are fulfilled by the SCO. There is no doubt that India will engage with all other partners in the SCO to ensure the growth and stability of this Forum as it assists in maintaining the stability of this region has a whole. India has a long term stake in the SCO.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.