PM Modi to attend SCO summit virtually; Afghanistan, terrorism and Iran membership on the agenda


In 2021, Tajikistan is holding the chairship of the grouping. (Observer Research Foundation)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Dushanbe later this week is expected to deliberate on two critical issues: the membership of Iran to this organisation and the unfolding security situation in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the SCO Heads of State summit which is taking place in hybrid mode from September 16-17 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. While Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and leaders of Central Asian countries will be attending in person, most likely Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend virtually.

The summit assumes importance as it is taking place at a time when Taliban has taken over Afghanistan and has declared formation of an Interim government, after the US led forces left that country after two decades. This has led to the fear that there will be an increase in drug trafficking, terror groups operating from Afghanistan.

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According to Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, “Iran’s membership to this organisation has been pending for quite some time. It had applied for full membership in 2008 and again in 2010, but Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are believed to have objected to its membership.”

Why did some CIS countries object to Iran’s membership to SCO?
“Tajikistan was opposed to Iran because the latter supported a rival Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan— an extremist group seeking to stage a coup and change the regime there. Trump administration’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’ was another factor coming on the way of its membership,” Prof Rajan explained to Financial Express Online.

According to him, “In SCO decisions are based on consensus. Therefore, any veto can prevent a new state from joining the organisation. As an observer since 2005, Iran believes that political hurdles have been cleared and all the members are willing to support its membership. Ebrahim Raisi, the newly elected President of Iran, will attend the Dushanbe Summit.”

Situation in Afghanistan & Taliban
Sharing his views, Prof Rajan says, “Since 2012, Afghanistan has had an observer status in the SCO. The international community, including the SCO, is yet to recognise the Taliban government in Kabul.”

“Therefore, it is not clear which group will participate from Afghanistan. It is possible that the Summit may chalk out strategies on dealing with the Taliban government in Kabul. Pakistan and China are likely to persuade other members to negotiate with the Taliban. Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India would be much more cautious in taking steps which might provide a de jure recognition to the Taliban,” he says.

“New Delhi stresses on an intra-Afghan dialogue and an inclusive government in Kabul. The government of Tajikistan and Iran have expressed their displeasure over the treatment of Tajik minority in Afghanistan. Barring Pakistan and perhaps China, other states are likely to insist on the Taliban forming an inclusive government in Afghanistan.”

Terrorism & Drug Trafficking
There is a general consensus that Afghanistan should not become the hot-bed of terrorist activities and the government in Kabul will be under pressure to curb the activities of the IS and al-Qaida.

Two additional concerns for Russia and Central Asia in particular are the refugee crisis and drug trafficking. They would expect some commitment from the Taliban before they move in the direction of recognising the government in Kabul.

SCO Members
In 2021, Tajikistan is holding the chairship of the grouping. There are eight member states: India, Russia, Pakistan and China, and there are four central Asian countries, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. And countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, and Belarus, are holding observer status while Turkey, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, have been given status of dialogue partner.

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