Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 20th Summit of SCO Council of Heads of State, via video-conferencing in New Delhi on Tuesday

NEW DELHI: India has much at stake in the SCO and should take the initiative to insert itself deeper and more assertively in the institution. In addition to the crucial Charter amendments as detailed hereinabove, India should make every effort to be a part of the SCO Interbank Consortium, a joint financing platform in the grouping which is responsible for making investment decisions and providing funding for projects, suggested a paper released on Thursday by the Mumbai-based think tank Gateway House.

The paper was released two days after the SCO Summit and ahead of SCO Heads of Government meet that India will host on November 30.

With India’s renewed focus on the Connect Central Asia Policy, a broad-based approach including political, security, economic and cultural connections, India has furthered the impetus to focus on connectivity agreements with the Central Asian countries which will also serve as a corollary to China’s BRI projects in the region, according to the paper titled ‘India & SCO in the 21st Century’.

“India has been a bystander in the Eurasian and Central Asian theatres. It is only now beginning to understand the urgency of being a relevant and reliable actor in the region. Once its economy is stimulated and self-reliant, India should begin to sign equitable trade agreements with its near regionals as it will need more export markets. Central Asia is one such market. The relationship India builds with Central Asia, through the SCO, can lead to an equitable trade agreement with Central Asian countries in the future,” according to the Gateway House.

India will host the 19th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government on 30 November 2020. This will be the first meeting of the grouping’s second highest organ, hosted by India. The significance of the event lies in the timing – India’s relations with two fellow member states, China and Pakistan, are at an exceptionally low ebb; yet the clear message from the SCO Secretariat and other member-states is: India’s presence in the SCO is highly beneficial to the latter and should be fully leveraged to strengthen it as an important and upcoming intergovernmental organisation, the paper suggested.

India’s influence in the Eurasian region is visible everywhere. “It is visible on the gravestones of numerous Indian monks who dedicated themselves to the development of Buddhist institutions in Central and East Asia. It is visible in the popular Indian Buddhist iconography – the Jataka tales and the Avadana or cause-effect stories that dominate Buddhist art – across its religious sites. It is manifest in the vast influence of the world-renowned Buddhist University – Nalanda – which was active from the 5th to 13th century and hosted the famous Chinese monks Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) and Yijin (I-Tsing), among many other foreign students.”

The paper suggested student exchanges for the study of Sanskrit and its ancient scripts; research on the history and practice of ancient Buddhist art, architecture and religion; the study of traditional medicine and science; classical literature and the art of translation. The nodal agency for this could be the new Nalanda University, according to the paper.

The SCO represents 42% of the world’s population, 22% of the land area and 20% of global GDP. Its goal, when it began two decades ago in June 2001, was to strengthen regional security and economic cooperation, and remains so. For the SCO, India is a valuable potential asset, with its ability to connect the grouping to South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region through the Act East Policy, the Gateway House paper noted.