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P S Raghavan: India and Pakistan should not import their bilateral problems into SCO

“People say that SCO has not implemented any economic projects as all organizations. But we are saying that we will work with individual SCO countries to try to do projects”, – underlies P S Raghavan, a convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the National Security Council Secretariat of the Government of India, in an exclusive interview for CABAR.asia.

The Institute for World Economics and Politics (IWEP) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan organized the SCO Forum in Astana in May 2018. During the event, representatives of  various think tanks of the SCO member countries, as well as observers, discussed organization’s possible perspectives, the most important areas of cooperation and problematic aspects. The Indian view on the SCO future presented P S Raghavan, a convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the National Security Council Secretariat of the Government of India, in an exclusive interview for CABAR.asia.


CABAR.asia: I’d like to ask you about interests of India in SCO and also what projects can India propose to SCO?

P S Raghavan: India has been an observer in SCO for more than one decade now; and now we are very happy to become full members, because we are interested in all aspects of the SCO’s objectives: the political, security, economic. We believe that this region has some peculiar problems of its own and that we have to join together to solve our problems and we would like to contribute to that as well.

Security. As you know, the region – our region – the region of Afghanistan and Iran, the region around us is a troubled region and we feel that cooperation will help to sort out the problems in this region.

Economic. There are so many opportunities of economic cooperation that we have not fully taken the advantage of and particularly now, you know, India has relations with Russia, India has relations with China, but with Central Asia – our relations – are much older with CA than with Russia or China, but recently we have not done as much as we should do in our cooperation. So we hope that our membership in the SCO will enable us, sort of, promote our economic cooperation with the CA countries much beyond what it is today and, particularly, we are interested in economic projects that maybe not only with one SCO country, but two or three SCO countries together. See, you can look at infrastructure, you can look at natural resources, you can look at hydropower, and you can look at electrical transmission – electrical power.  So, these are all areas that all of your countries – CA republics – are interested in, which we are interested in. We have also some capacities, some capability – space, for example. We can offer some of our expertise in Space to some of the CA countries. We believe that the SCO membership will be another possibility for us to promote our engagement with CA.

CABAR.asia: Do you think it is possible to realize one or more economic projects? As you can hear, a lot of experts say that SCO has not implemented any economic projects.

Prabhakar Raghavan: People say that SCO has not realized / implemented any economic projects as all organizations. But we are saying that we will work with individual SCO countries to try to do projects. So we can work with Kyrgyzstan, we can work with Kazakhstan.

CABAR.asia: Bilateral?

P S Raghavan: No, bilateral or even multilateral because we don’t have to work with all seven other SCO countries, but we can work with two or three together, so you can have a trilateral cooperation, you can have quadrilateral cooperation, or you can have a bilateral also. But because we have regularly meeting at the SCO format, we have greater opportunities for interaction, which can create more involvement in the projects.

CABAR.asia: Concerning India and Central Asia. Nowadays it’s popular to speak about the geopolitical projects. For example, “One Belt – One Road” initiative and other organizations. What do you think, can India propose its own project concerning CA?

Prabhakar Raghavan: See, we have a number of international projects which are also involving CA and we are also working on various connectivity projects. If you look at the International North-South Transport Corridor – a lot has been talked about it for a long time. But we are now making progress to actually operationalizing it. What does that mean? You know when you go from India through Iran and then you can have different spurs one goes to Russia, one to Afghanistan and one goes to CA. And this can actually, not just India and CA, it actually opens up whole of Asia to CA, because it shortens the time of transit and it reduces the freight between our countries and CA.

Otherwise how do people go if you have to go to CA by sea? You have to go all around the world till St. Petersburg and then come by road or you go this way via China and all the way across China. Now if you go via Iran – much shorter and quicker. You have to start this process. If you start this process this will be a major game changer and this is a resource open to everybody. Not just to India or any one country.

CABAR.asia: Also you know it’s interesting, a lot of experts say about controversial interests of India and Pakistan in SCO. What do you think, what common ground can be formed in order to make India and Pakistan closer in SCO?

P S Raghavan: Yes, India and Pakistan have some differences, but when India and Pakistan join an international organization, there are many objectives of the international organization that India and Pakistan share, so they don’t have to bring their internal differences into an international organization. In the international organization we all work for common objectives that all of us share. You also, India, SCO among CA countries, you have so many problems. There are many bilateral disputes, there are some bilateral frictions. Between any two countries there will be bilateral issues, some are big and some are small, but you still work together. Central Asians work together in SCO, they work together in other areas. Similarly, when India and Pakistan join SCO they should be able to work together for the common objective of SCO in which both of them are interested and they will work separately to try to resolve their bilateral problems. So we should not bring, we should not import our bilateral problems into a multilateral organization.

CABAR.asia: What do you think about Iran’s accession to SCO?

P S Raghavan: I believe that Iran should be a member of SCO. Very simply, see, we have security problems in the region and we have political problems in the region. These security and political problems in the region have to be resolved by the cooperation of all the people in this region. Iran is a part of this region, Afghanistan is a part of this region – that is why I believe that both countries should very much be part of the SCO, so that deals with the problems and all the stakeholders are presented.

CABAR.asia: Thank you and one last question about the future prospects of SCO. Do you think it can become a universal organization on economic cooperation or organization on regional security or just a discussing club?

P S Raghavan: No, see, it has to be an organization that promotes the interests of the member countries. If member countries are interested in regional cooperation, they are interested in regional security, they are interested in some aspects of political cooperation in this to create a multipolar world, so these are the objectives that SCO should follow and, of course, now that SCO is expanded, look how it will function when expanded more and work in that direction.

P S Raghavan was Chief Coordinator of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi (March 2012). He was Ambassador to the Russian Federation, heading one of India’s largest diplomatic Missions (2014-2016). In 2016 he was appointed Convenor of the National Security Advisory Board of the National Security Council Secretariat of the Government of India.

The interview was prepared by Nargiza Muratalieva, editor of CABAR.asia

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