Narendra Modi leaves for SCO Summit 2017: What full membership of this group could mean for India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set off on a two-day visit to Kazakhstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit scheduled to take place on Thursday and Friday.

Modi's visit is particularly important because India, who was an observer state until now, will become a full member of the organisation. "India will become a full member of the SCO upon which SCO will represent over 40 percent of humanity and nearly 20 percent of global GDP," said Modi in his pre-departure statement.

"We have long-standing relations with SCO members and look forward to progressing them further through the SCO for mutual betterment and growth of our countries and our people," his statement read.

While Modi hopes that this new engagement will open opportunities to redouble efforts to address common challenges that may come in the way of realising India's full potential, the SCO membership might also give a platform to New Delhi and Islamabad to talk through their bilateral differences.

"The SCO will also become an ideal platform for members with disputes to solve their problems bilaterally based on the Shanghai Spirit," The Global Times said on Wednesday quoting Li Wei, an anti-terror expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

Experts believe that SCO members will support India and Pakistan and offer help if needed but they won't internationalise the dispute. "In short, the SCO is not a place for India and Pakistan to quarrel, but a platform for members to settle their disputes," said Lin Minwang, a professor at the Institute of International Studies of Fudan University.

 Narendra Modi leaves for SCO Summit 2017: What full membership of this group could mean for India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaving for the SCO Summit. Twitter @MEAIndia

New Delhi will also be working closely with Central Asian countries for the first time. India is one of the largest energy consuming countries in the world and relies on imports to meet half of its natural gas meets. Central Asian countries have abundant natural and energy resources, according to this DailyO article. The gateway to Central Asia's massive energy fields will open up for India.

Further, India will also be able to access trade and transit routes between Russia and China, which pass through Central Asian countries.

With SCO member countries considering changing Iran's position from observer to permanent state, India can consider reviving the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, a Parliamentary panel has said. India had abandoned the ISI pipeline following sanctions on Iran over its suspected nuclear programme. "The government should examine the idea of reviving the (IPI) project as international conditions have become favourable following lifting of sanctions against Iran," the Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Gas said in a report.

The IPI pipeline was proposed with the aim of transporting natural gas from Iran to Pakistan and India. With all the three countries coming together at one platform, the SCO might provide an opportunity to New Delhi, Islamabad and Tehran to revive the long standing project.

Transnational pipelines are important elements of national energy security and they need to be pursued vigorously, according to the Committee report. SCO can possibly act as a guarantor for projects such as the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), according to The Hindu.

India's membership will also be in line with its 'Connect Central Asia' policy. "In the past few decades, we have been struggling to build economic links that match our political and cultural interaction. Our trade with the whole region is at a relatively low level of around $500 million. We face some natural obstacles like limited land connectivity and the limited size of the Central Asian markets," minister of state E Ahamed had said at the first India-Central Asia dialogue.

India hopes that its active presence in the region will contribute to stability and development in the entire Central Asian region, said Ahamed. New Delhi also hopes to convert Afghanistan into a hub for trade and energy, connecting Central and South Asia. The SCO will give India the chance to engage with Afghanistan’s neighbours and make this possible.

Central Asia also possesses large cultivable tracts of land and India sees the potential of cooperating with the countries in production of profitable crops. Apart from this, India hopes that its membership in the SCO would bolster India's renewed linkages with the region, said Ahamed.

The SCO members are also expected to endorse China's One Belt, One Road initiative during the summit. India has expressed concerns primarily because of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. New Delhi will have to devise an effective plan to articulate its concerns while not defying the initiative openly.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 14:18:17 IST