India & Pakistan to join SCO during landmark Astana summit

India & Pakistan to join SCO during landmark Astana summit
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit is kicking off in Kazakhstan, with the admission of India and Pakistan topping the agenda. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who already met Chinese leader Xi Jinping, will take part in the leaders’ meeting.

Putin has arrived in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, on Thursday, prior to the opening of the SCO summit scheduled for Friday. On his first day of the visit, Putin also held a brief meeting with Xi to compare notes before the main event.

Official approval of India’s and Pakistan’s accession bids will become a key part of the summit. The two Asian powers have long aspired to become full members of the SCO, with their membership memoranda signed during the 2016 summit in Uzbekistan.

Moscow believes the move will dramatically expand the organization’s capacities to influence international affairs.

The SCO will now include four nuclear powers – Russia, China, India and Pakistan – not to mention the member states’ economies. According to rough estimates, the SCO members combined will comprise around half of the world’s population and produce a quarter of global GDP.

Meanwhile, accession of more new members may also appear on the summit’s agenda. According to Putin’s aide, Yury Ushakov, the leaders will also discuss membership prospects for Iran, which became an aspirant country in 2008 after submitting an official plea.

“Russia believes there are now all prerequisites to approve [Iran’s] membership bid,” Ushakov said on Friday, adding Tehran may become an SCO member during the upcoming summits.

Combatting international terrorism is another key issue on the agenda for this year’s summit. The organization is planning to adopt a convention on fighting extremism and a set of agreements on terrorism prevention.

Speaking at the opening session, Putin said Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is nurturing destabilization of Central Asia and Russia’s southern regions. It is therefore crucial that the SCO intelligence agencies strengthen cooperation, including under the auspices of the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), he added.

“According to our intelligence data, IS is preparing new plans to destabilize Central Asia and the south of Russia,” he said.

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Particularly alarming are attempts by IS-affiliated groups to infiltrate SCO countries from inside Afghanistan, he leader said.

“IS cells are now operating in SCO countries, and this has been established during the investigation into the St. Petersburg terrorist attack in Russia,” he said.

Meanwhile, RATS Executive Director Evgeny Sysoev told the meeting the member states’ security services have foiled 16 terrorist attacks on their territories, according to TASS. More than 100 terrorists have been given prison sentences.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), otherwise known as the Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and military union founded in 1996 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

After the admission of India and Pakistan, it will now have eight members, with Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia being observer states.