Author : Ayjaz Wani

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on May 26, 2022
The SCO member states need to resolve their disagreements and divergences and build trust to achieve a peaceful, safe, and thriving Eurasia.
India’s unaddressed concerns from the SCO-RATS summit On 16 May, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member states started discussions and deliberations in New Delhi under the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) to boost cooperation and coordination for combating regional security challenges. India has assumed the chairmanship of RATS in October 2021 and has resolutely called for the deepening of the cooperation on regional security issues and defence, especially after the dramatic seizure of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban. The RATS meeting comes at a time when the world is showing signs of widening fractures from the Russia–Ukraine war and the ever-increasing trust deficit between the SCO member countries. RATS will focus primarily on Afghanistan and the different terrorist organisations active under the Taliban rule that poses the threat to SCO member countries as a whole. With the presence of the delegates from China and Pakistan, narco-terrorism and drug smuggling are also mentioned on the agenda. In October this year, anti-terrorism drills are expected under RATS at the National Security Guard (NSG) facility in Manesar. As India will hold the SCO leaders’ summit in 2023, the expectations are growing high amongst policymakers in New Delhi for a greater synergy on counterterrorism, narco-terrorism, and terror funding emanating from the Afghanistan–Pakistan region.

Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)

RATS as a permanent body was instituted during the meeting of the Council of Heads of SCO member states meeting on 7 June 2002 in St. Petersburg. Since its establishment, RATS has become the pillar of coordination for combatting separatism, terrorism, and extremism regionally as well as globally. Under RATS’ working relationship, the member countries coordinate with each other and other global organisations to gather information to tackle terrorism. RATS also maintains a database of terrorists and terror organisations from across its member countries. Furthermore, through joint counterterrorism exercises under RATS, member countries train armed personnel for strengthening their counterinsurgency grid and coordination amongst the group. The member countries, in a bid to restrain terror funding and terror finances, included narco-terrorism under RATS, as drug smuggling has become a major source of funding for anti-state activities by extremists and terrorists in the region. However, the core agenda of the SCO remains upgrading and solidifying the anti-terrorism capabilities of the member countries based on the core principle of non-intervention.

The RATS meeting comes at a time when the world is showing signs of widening fractures from the Russia–Ukraine war and the ever-increasing trust deficit between the SCO member countries.

RATS has successfully prevented 20 terror attacks and neutralised 1,700, and led to the arrest of 2,700 members of terror organisations between 2011 and 2015. This anti-terrorism body also destroyed 440 terror camps, saved member countries from 650 terror-related crimes, and seized 450,000 ammunition pieces and more than 52 tons of explosives from different terror organisations.

India’s concerns

India and Pakistan became full members of the SCO in 2017. The inclusion of the two most influential countries of South Asia enhanced the grouping’s capabilities and capacity to combat terrorism and extremism. However, the presence of India and Pakistan also widened the fault lines and created an environment of disagreements, divergence, and trust deficit within SCO. India, from the time of its full membership, made sincere efforts to encourage peace, prosperity, and stability of the whole Eurasian region in general and SCO member countries in particular. However, the terrorism, terror infrastructure, and now narcotics emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan to fund these activities have remained New Delhi’s primary concern. As Pakistan was placed under the grey list of FATF in June 2018, the terror groups in the Af-Pak region used narcotics and drugs to finance the terror activities in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. For example, in January 2022, 31 kgs of heroin was seized along the LOC in Poonch. Pakistan has also used the international border to smuggle drugs into J&K. Given the pressure from FATF, Islamabad as part of its narcoterrorism strategy, has pushed drugs to finance its asymmetric war against India. Although under RATS, the SCO was successful in training and equipping its members to curb terrorism; however, terrorism emerging out of Pakistan and Afghanistan against the geostrategic and sovereignty interests of India remains unaddressed. On the other hand, China’s hegemonic interests and narrow approach have made New Delhi and even some of the Central Asian Republics worried about the future of SCO itself. SCO’s fundamental premise is to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity and adhere to a policy of non-aggression and peaceful settlement of disputes. The Chinese aggression along the LAC in Ladakh that led to the Galwan Valley crisis and Beijing’s sporadic interference in the internal matters of India has increased the mistrust amongst the strategic community in New Delhi. Additionally, China has also used SCO to project hegemonic interests through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the BRI’s flagship project. The CPEC that runs through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) also is a serious violation of India’s sovereignty and integrity.

India, from the time of its full membership, made sincere efforts to encourage peace, prosperity, and stability of the whole Eurasian region in general and SCO member countries in particular.

India shares the same concerns when it comes to Afghanistan. New Delhi has supported, “an Afghan-led Afghan-owned, Afghan-controlled process for enduring peace and reconciliation”, after the US’ strategic failure and withdrawal in August 2021. However, countries like Pakistan and China jeopardised India’s policy by supporting and endorsing the Taliban from 2000 onwards. The presence of thousands of foreign terrorists, especially those of al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP) are already making deadly attacks within Afghanistan and Pakistan that can spill over to other member countries of SCO. Integration and cooperation within the SCO region, as urged by Russia and India, is impossible until the disagreements, divergence, and mistrust on the issues of terrorism, narcotics, sovereignty, and territorial integration remain. On 19 May, the Russian embassy in India said that the legal experts and technical experts of RATS agreed on a set of documents on counterterrorism and extremism that is being adopted in the next council meeting in New Delhi later this year. However, the member countries of SCO need an intelligent interlocution to use the forum to bring peace, prosperity, and economic integration and address genuine concerns of member countries, especially India. If such concerns can’t be addressed, it can impact the security scenario in Eurasia.
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Ayjaz Wani

Ayjaz Wani

Ayjaz Wani (Phd) is a Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme at ORF. Based out of Mumbai, he tracks China’s relations with Central Asia, Pakistan and ...

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