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Scope for Expansion

India is poised to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with the SCO setting new criteria for expansion.

Among the various groupings that have been jostling to act as a counterweight to the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in the global arena, the relatively young Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) hopes to emerge as a viable bloc. The SCO – which currently includes China, Russia and the four central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – is seen variously as an alliance to counter the expansion of NATO into Asia, as a grouping keen to coordinate national actions on terrorism, and as a forum to promote trade and economic ties in the region. Russia in particular sees SCO as a platform that could potentially build a security alliance to thwart attempts by NATO and the US to expand in eastern Europe and central Asia, respectively.

But the SCO has so far remained a grouping restricted to central Asia and for it to acquire a more effective voice on the global stage it has to expand full membership – especially to the larger countries in the region. When the SCO marked its 10th anniversary last month in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 15 June, it decided on definite criteria for expansion, opening the door for India and Pakistan to transit from observers to full members. The criteria, however, bar countries which are either involved in an armed conflict or are under United Nations’ sanctions – which unfortunately effectively rules out Iran, another observer nation, from the expansion.

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