India pitches for SCO's membership, Afghan role

"Indeed, we are looking for full membership. India has conveyed its desire and earnestness in becoming a member of the SCO. We have made our intent known," India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told select Indian media in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in southwest China, on his way to Beijing.

"They are working out the modalities. We are waiting for that process to be over," Krishna said. He was referring to elaborate technical formalities and procedures the SCO firmed up for prospective members at the 11th summit in Astana, Kazakhstan last year.

"Once the modalities from the SCO side are completed, we will move faster," he said.

Krishna, who arrived in Beijing Tuesday night, will represent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the two-day summit that opens in the Chinese capital Wednesday with a gala cultural show.

The SCO comprises Russia and China, the two regional giants and permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the energy-rich Central Asian states, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

India, along with Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia, currently enjoy the status of observers at the SCO. The future of the organization and the expansion of membership will loom large on the agenda at 12th SCO summit in Beijing, but well-placed sources indicated that any decision on including India or expanding membership is unlikely to be taken this time round.

Given intricate procedures and rigorous criteria, India's admission into the SCO could take up to two years after the SCO members unanimously decide to open the doors for new members. India is now eying 2014 as the target for getting inside the SCO tent.

"The SCO has been discussing Afghanistan for many years. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been participating as a special invitee. It will be very helpful if these countries can give some assistance and help in stabilizing Afghanistan," Krishna said when asked whether he thinks the SCO could be an effective platform for a regional approach towards the violence-torn country.

Indian officials stressed that given the geographical contiguity of all SCO states with Afghanistan and their collective efforts to counter terrorism, the SCO could be an effective regional platform to stabilize Afghanistan in the run-up to the withdrawal of the US-led international coalition troops from that country. The SCO's future role in Afghanistan will get an added boost with Afghanistan set to be upgraded to an observer in the SCO at the end of the summit.

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