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Mr. Bolat Nurgaliev, Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

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  • February 27, 2009
    Round Table
    Only by Invitation

    The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses organised a round table interaction with Bolat Nurgaliev, Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on February 27, 2009. During his visit he deliberated upon important issues like the current status of the SCO, role of observer states and the question of the SCO’s expansion, economic cooperation within the framework of the organisation, and its current strategy for cooperation in the energy sector. He also dwelt on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and its negative effect on neighbouring states. The limitations and problems faced by the SCO were also highlighted by the Secretary General.

    The Secretary General said that the Afghanistan issue has continued to be on the agenda of SCO meetings. Member countries have been keen to help Afghanistan because peace and stability there is in their interest. However, any physical involvement by the SCO in Afghanistan has not been contemplated so far. He informed that the SCO will shortly be organising a conference on Afghanistan in Russia as discussed in the previous SCO summit meeting. The conference would aim to assess the seriousness of the problem in Afghanistan with focus on terrorism and drug trafficking and to analyse the possible options to address the aforesaid issues. Senior government officials would be participating in this conference. India will be one of the participating countries.

    During the discussion, it was articulated that Afghanistan has been the play ground for India, Persia and Central Asia, where these powers have sought to establish control. Today, Pakistan wants to dominate Afghanistan. However, it was only India which can establish strong economic linkages with Afghanistan because of its economic potential. It was pointed out that trading with India will bring about economic prosperity to Afghanistan. Therefore, it is important for India and Pakistan to work together to bring stability in Afghanistan.

    On cooperation between the SCO and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) he said that both organisations have a working engagement. While the CSTO is mainly a military political bloc, SCO is an organisation addressing security and economic cooperation among member states. What CSTO lacks is the Chinese component. He also ruled out the possibility of the SCO turning into a military bloc.

    In response to a question on energy competition in the Eurasian region and SCO’s role in this sector, he said that some member states have energy resources while others are transit countries for the supply of these resources. Therefore, energy cooperation remains an important issue for SCO member countries. However, progress in the area of setting up an energy club has not achieved much success. There is a difference of opinion on the issue of how to cooperate with each other within the SCO framework. While some members want the creation of an energy club, others emphasise on formulating an SCO energy strategy. Some others are of the opinion that before formulating a regional energy strategy it would be important to formulate a national energy strategy. He said that as heads of States want to focus on the energy issue there is a possibility that in the long run SCO will be able to formulate a common energy strategy acceptable to all member states.

    On the speculation about the possibility of SCO+3, the Secretary General said that under the current situation this was not possible. So far the United States has been watching the activities of the SCO from a distance but has not approached it officially for any kind of engagement. As for Japan, it was not keen to be in SCO. There is a Japan-Central Asia Dialogue under which it cooperates with Central Asian countries. This was, in fact, a response to SCO activities.

    On the issue of expansion, he said that currently the SCO remains an open organisation. But at the same time it is undergoing a process where the criteria of including new members is being formulated. However, on the issue of observer status to new countries, their numbers would not be allowed to exceed that of full member states. He said that during the forthcoming June summit of SCO, some rules for the role of observer countries will be adopted.

    On India’s role in the SCO, he said that the SCO expects India to play an important role in establishing peace and security in this region. He said that India has expressed desire to participate in political, economic and security arena but not officially applied for a full membership to the SCO. He said that Turkey has shown some interest to be involved in specific projects with the SCO.

    Economic cooperation within the SCO framework has been the focus of member countries. Several steps have been taken up in this direction. During the Dushanbe Summit meeting an MOU on partnership relations between the Interbank Association of the SCO and Eurasian Development Bank was signed. In this context member countries have come to the stage of selecting major projects which need to be undertaken in the region. Most countries have been interested in infrastructure projects like building of roads and tunnels. It was pointed out that the SCO was close to creating a development fund. In this context it was highlighted that legal rules need to be created for any kind of financial cooperation.

    Highlighting the limitations and problems of the SCO, the Secretary General said that there was a need to perfect the organisational structure and continue to build political trust among member states. It was noted that some times a gap between decision making and actual implementation of projects taken up by the SCO delays the whole process. Often priority placed on national interest by individual member states creates a problem for any forward movement of the organisation. He stated that the current financial crisis will have some impact on various economic projects taken up by member countries of the SCO.

    Prepared by Dr. Meena Singh Roy, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.