SCO summit: Do entries of India, Pak leave the Central Asian Republics irrelevant?
The 18th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will be held in Qingdao in East China's Shandong Province on June 9 and 10. This is the first time that the summit will see India and Pakistan joining it as full-time members - a development which makes SCO more global and assertive - thanks to the presence of a number of large, populous and fast developing countries in its ranks.
Countries like Russia and China, the two largest in the bloc, welcomed the entries of India and Pakistan in the group but what impact does it make for the four Central Asian countries in the group, namely, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan?
Although all the members are equal within the SCO's framework, but will it be the same even after India and Pakistan and their issues enter the group, especially for the Central Asian republics (CARs) that are neither large nor economically as fast developing as some others?
According to a report of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), former Uzbek president Islam Karimov had told the press that he wanted to know the reason behind India and Pakistan joining the SCO after he arrived at the group's Ufa summit in Russia in July 2015. The report said that although the leaders of the other three republics did not ask the same question, it must had been making rounds in their minds as well.
One noted authority on Central Asian politics - Alex Cooley - said at a panel discussion organised by RFE/RL that the CARs had a great say in the affairs of the SCO earlier but after the coming of India and Pakistan, they might think that their significance would go down.
Joshua Kucera, a security specialist on Central Asia, said with the coming of India and Pakistan, the SCO will have four big nuclear power states and four countries that are not so powerful and that makes it more imbalanced against the CARs in the SCO's decision-making mechanism.
Though Kazakhstan is among top four largest countries in the world, the combined population of this country with the three other CARs is just above 60 million which makes them no match for countries like China, India, Pakistan and Russia in terms of population.
Till now, China and Russia have influenced the SCO more than the others and it is likely to go more against the four CARs after India and Pakistan join it. China and Russia have been accused as members who have worked as per their own plans in the SCO. China has been particularly seen as an opportunistic state for it has allegedly used the SCO to make economic inroads into central Asia through making trade agreements with the four CARs - countries with which it had no trade relation prior to 2001.
For Russia, on the other hand, the SCO has been a medium of defence against the West, Cooley said, adding that having India and Pakistan in the group helps the Kremlin's cause, the RFE/RL report said.
Russia also welcomes two new influential members since it has been concerned over China's grand designs in Central Asia, which it considers its own backyard, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative plan. The presence of India particularly will make the Russians more assured about maintaining a balance against the Dragon.
The presence of Pakistan, a client state of China, will make the game of balance between Russia-India and China-Pakistan more prominent and that will leave the rest of the four members at the fringes with little possibility of them influencing the body's decision-making mechanism as deeply as they wanted.