India, Pakistan enter China-led bloc
India and Pakistan were officially welcomed into the SCO fold as full members by the bloc's leaders that gathered in Kazakhstan's capital Astana on June 8-9 for their annual summit.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi participated in the meeting in Astana, along with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of the remaining SCO member states.
"The member states of the SCO are accelerating the MoU procedures with the two countries and everything is going very well…," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying prior to the summit.
The gathering presented an opportunity for Indian and Pakistani leaders to brandish their statesmanship credentials by showing that they were willing to put aside their differences and join hands to work toward resolving the tough national, regional and global challenges of our day.
A key grouping
Founded in 2001, the SCO is a predominantly political and security grouping headquartered in Beijing. Before the inclusion of India and Pakistan, the club was comprised of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Its core objective is to intensify military cooperation among the member states, in the areas such as intelligence sharing, counterterrorism operations and cyber security.
The body, which has been dominated by China and Russia, is seen by some as a counterweight to the US-led NATO, a military alliance of European and North American nations.
Observers say joining the SCO will facilitate access to Central Asia for India and Pakistan.
Both nations will benefit from this connectivity, said Smruti Pattanaik, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. "The SCO will provide them more interaction with the Central Asian countries and help them to gain influence among them," she told DW.
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The SCO has included countries encompassing over 40 percent of the world's population and with rapidly growing economies. A further expansion is expected to elevate the grouping's stature and raise its heft on the international arena.
But there are worries that increasing the SCO's size by granting entry to countries prone to constant squabbling will render the bloc flaccid and impede cooperation, particularly in the area of counterterrorism.
Case in point: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a body set up for advancing ties between South Asian nations, has been effectively paralyzed by the two countries' rancor.
Relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated further over the past couple of years due to a raft of problems ranging from their dispute over Kashmir to terrorism.
Read: Is Kashmir really an international issue?
Some hope that the SCO membership for the two archrivals would ease tensions and improve bilateral ties. "Hope India and Pakistan strictly follow the charter of the SCO and the idea of good neighborliness to uphold the SCO spirit, improve their relations and inject new impetus into the development of the SCO," Hua said.
Ties between India and China have also been tense, due to a large extent to Beijing's cozy relationship with Islamabad.
China has made generous pledges to Pakistan, promising to funnel over $50 billion of investment to reinvigorate its moribund economy. The commitments were made as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which aims to reshape Pakistan's shabby infrastructure by building a web of roads, ports, power stations and special economic zones. The initiative has irked India, partly because the corridor traverses the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Read: Economic corridor - CPEC could turn Pakistan into China's 'client state'
India and China have their own unresolved border dispute, with Beijing claiming sovereignty over the Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh.
New Delhi looks anxiously at Beijing's growing influence across Asia, underpinned by Beijing's ambitious plans to build infrastructure and promote economic integration in the region.
India stayed away from the "Belt and Road" forum China hosted last month to promote President Xi's signature "One Belt, One Road" initiative - more commonly known as the "New Silk Road."
Read: China's 'New Silk Road' - perception and reality
This rivalry between India and China appears to bode well for Russia within the SCO. Moscow has been concerned at Beijing's dominant role within the body and its expanding clout in Central Asia - a region Russia views as its backyard.
Over the past decade, China has pumped vast sums of loans and investment into these countries, which possess immense oil and gas reserves. As a result, some of them have been able to break off their dependence on Russia for their economic wellbeing.
Fearing further loss of influence, Russia has been opposed to any free trade agreement among the SCO members.
With India's entry, Russia is likely to find a partner willing to work together to reduce Chinese influence.
Amid this deep-rooted mutual suspicion and conflicting interests among various members, it remains to be seen how effective the SCO will be after this major expansion.