Mr. Azomsho Sharifi, Assistant to the President of the Republic of Tajikistan on Foreign Affairs; Mr. Usmonzoda Khairiddin, Director of the Center for Strategic Research under the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, and Chairman of the SCO Forum; Mr. Zhang Ming, Secretary General of Shanghai Cooperation Organization and all distinguished delegations.
2. It is a pleasure to participate in the 18th meeting of the SCO Forum in this beautiful city of Dushanbe. The 18th SCO Forum has additional significance, as it is being held in a physical format, after three previous SCO Forum meetings were held online during the pandemic.
3. India is currently the Chair of the SCO Council of Heads of State, for the very first time since India joined the organization as a Member State in 2017. The theme of India’s Chairmanship is ‘towards a SECURE SCO’. SECURE is an acronym articulated by Hon’ble Prime Minister at the Qingdao Summit of SCO in 2018. It stands for Security, Economic Cooperation, Connectivity, Unity, Respect for sovereignty, and Environment.
4. India recognizes the centrality of Central Asian States in SCO. In this spirit, during its Presidency, India has also attempted to carry forward the idea of “Samarkand Spirit” as outlined by President Mirziyoyev during the SCO Summit in 2022 i.e, the world is to be perceived as one, not divided. This also complements India’s age-old motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – one Earth, one Family, one Future. SCO should be the platform that can unite sates with the purpose of cooperation in diverse fields by consensus.
5. India has made consistent and concerted efforts to substantively engage with SCO Observers and Dialogue Partners in a more meaningful and substantive manner. Unlike ever before, under India’s Chairmanship, the Dialogue partners and Observers of SCO were invited to over 15 socio-cultural events and technical seminars.
6. SCO is a growing organization, with an expanding membership. Iran and Belarus will be new additional members of SCO. An increasing number of countries are seeking association with SCO either as Members, Observers or Dialogue Partners. This not only validates the policy orientation adopted by the organization but also shows that it seen as an important regional multilateral mechanism.
7. As the SCO family grows so do our responsibilities, especially in connectivity, economic and security spheres and in making the organization more effective. With Iran joining the SCO as a Member State, Chabahar along with multimodal initiatives like the international North South Transport Corridor can provide a secure, viable and unhindered access to the sea for Central Asian countries. This enhanced connectivity will in turn rejuvenate the development of the region and of SCO.
8. The security challenges in the SCO are posed by terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking and organized crimes, including through cyber space. The menace of terrorism in our region has been and remains detrimental to our security interests. We need sincere political will and strong determination to tackle the scourge of terrorism. The SCO RATS mechanism is active and it has the potential to collectively address the challenges posed by terrorism and other security threats. Combating terrorism and extremism are among the focus areas of SCO. Situation in Afghanistan remains a concern for all.
9. India has always stood for multilateral approaches and effective multilateral institutions, and remains committed to strengthening the mandate of SCO. Strategic orientation of the organization in the emerging world should be hinged on the idea of ‘peaceful growth and prosperity that is mutually beneficial’, which is very important in today’s complex geopolitical environment of contemporary world, which has implications for good and energy, for all, in particular the global South.
10. With a growing membership and with SCO in third decade of its existence, this is an opportune time for some reform and modernization to keep the organization relevant in a rapidly transforming world. For example, by introducing English as an official language of SCO, the organization will expand its reach to a wide audience. This will also strengthen people to people connect, which we should also pursue through various means such as tourism, building civilizational connect and spiritual connectivity. In this the engagement of the youth is paramount as they represent the future of the SCO.
11. To commemorate India’s SCO Chairmanship, the Indian Council of World Affairs, hosted two major programmes. In March 2023 we organized an ‘International Conference on SCO: Reconnect ~ Rejuvenate’. It received overwhelming support with participation from over 20 SCO countries. The second one is the SCO Resident Researchers Program. This unique Program offers a young scholar from SCO country an opportunity to spend one month in India interacting with leading think-tanks and thought leaders of the country.
12. Let me conclude by saying that the SCO Forum provides an opportunity for think tanks, academicians and scholars to exchange views, understand diverse perspectives as also forge ideas for cooperation. Constructive ideas emerging from discussions in our Forum will be useful for the forthcoming SCO Summit in Delhi.