Good afternoon Ladies and gentlemen!
Your Excellency Vladimir Norov
and Director General of ICWA,
I am delighted to address this audience of India’s leading scholars dealing with Russia and the Central Asian region. In the rapidly changing landscape of the region, today’s conference on “SCO & India – the trajectory ahead”- is both timely and essential. I am certain that today's meeting will contribute to a better understanding of the fast-paced events taking place in our neighborhood and also India's growing engagement with SCO.
2. We have indeed, come a long way in our association with the organisation as an Observer state in 2005 and then as a full Member State since 2017. In this journey we have continued to play a positive and constructive role, that contributes to the growth and prosperity of the region. The first area of our focus has been the question of peace and security in the region - that is also a major mandate of the SCO Charter. We are aware of the important role that this organisation plays in this field through the work of its specialised body - the Regional Anti- Terrorist Structure (RATS) in Tashkent. India contributes actively to the work of RATS and we hope to give it a new direction and momentum to its activities during our current Chairmanship of the SCO RATS in 2021-22. We highly value the ongoing cooperation in RATS in countering terrorism, separatism and extremism, terror financing, illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and ammunitions. We look forward to a substantive year of engagement with other Member States during the course of our Chairmanship of RATS.
3. The concerns of SCO Member States on regional security are inextricably linked to the situation in Afghanistan, that is an immediate neighbor for many of the SCO countries. With the decision to induct Iran as a new Member State, all neighbours of Afghanistan are now part of the SCO family. This makes SCO the natural platform to seek cooperation and a common understanding on the emerging situation in Afghanistan. This has led to two major engagements in the past months in Dushanbe - the meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group on 14 July and the SCO-CSTO Outreach on Afghanistan on 17 September. Both these meetings were useful as a forum for an open exchange of opinion on Afghanistan and its impact on the entire region.
4. Apart from security issues, India has sought to tap into SCO's vast potential for cooperation in the field of trade, connectivity and culture. We have sought to prioritse these areas during India's Chairmanship of SCO Council of Heads of Government for the first time in 2020, where we proposed to create three new pillars of cooperation within SCO on traditional medicine, S&T and Starts-ups and Innovation.
5. India hosted for the first time in SCO, a Young Scientists Conclave, MSME Forum and the SCO Startup Forum in 2020. We also proposed to set up two new institutional mechanisms to be led by India- a Special Working Group on Startups and an Expert Working Group on Traditional Medicine.
6. Highlighting our common historical and cultural heritage, India also organized the first-ever virtual exhibition on Shared Buddhist Heritage in the SCO Member State and translated ten books of regional Indian literature into SCO official languages - Russian and Chinese. Our initiatives were well received by all Member States.
7. As the organisation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it has emerged as a major regional multilateral cooperation framework and provides India with an institutional platform to engage with all our neighbors, especially countries of Central Asia. In the vastly altered global political and economic situation after the pandemic, SCO provides a constructive platform of increasing cooperation between the Member States that account for 40% of global population and nearly 27% of global GDP. India sees a vast and untapped potential for mutually beneficial cooperation in the area of security, trade, connectivity and culture in the SCO region. We hope that the discussions today will give us fresh insights into deepening and enriching this engagement with SCO.