At the historic Astana Summit on 9 June 2017, India and Pakistan became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). After receiving observer status in 2005 and starting their accession process in 2015, they finally joined the membership ranks of the SCO alongside China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The accession may align India and Pakistan with their new partners in their cyber policies.
This was the first time since 2001, when Uzbekistan joined the SCO, that the organisation accepted new members. It is a clear signal that the SCO is striving to continue playing its role in today’s world, whereas other post-Soviet formations like the Collective Security Treaty Organisation or the Eurasian Economic Union are struggling to remain relevant.
Thanks to this expansion, SCO states now encompass over 40% of the global population, which creates enormous potential for cooperation in various fields. The newfound increase of influence might, however, come with a price of division and the forestalling of cooperation progress, as the organisation has newly incorporated states that are rivals in the international environment.
India’s longstanding dispute with Pakistan over territories in Kashmir is nowhere near an end, with frequent outbursts of violence occurring. Moreover, India accuses Pakistan of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. It is not uncommon for the mutual hostility of the two states to resurface during international meetings, bringing a significant tension to multilateral diplomatic efforts.
India also has an unresolved border dispute with China. Additionally, China’s Belt and Road initiative is proposed to pass through Gilgit and Baltistan, the Pakistan-occupied territories in Kashmir that India claims.
Members of the SCO cooperate in the economic, political and security fields, while extremism, separatism and terrorism currently represent central topics of the latter. Therefore, for the newcomers it might become a great new platform for negotiating and searching for potential compromises.
Tensions among the new SCO members are, however, more frequently predicted to hinder the cooperation process within the organisation. Such concerns are not exaggerated; the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan has previously stalled institutional efficacy in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an organisation set up to advance relations among South Asian nations. Therefore, the SCO now faces the very important task of proving that it is capable of cooperating effectively despite carrying on board two notorious international adversaries.
Regarding states’ future cooperation in cyberspace, the question is arising whether India and Pakistan will adopt the SCO’s current controversial posture towards cybersecurity (or, as it is usually called by the SCO, information security). An agreement of 2009 and two drafts of the International Code of Conduct for Information Security submitted by SCO states to the UN General Assembly in 2011 and 2015 conclude that the content of international networks is a potential security threat to states and should be regulated by their respective governments. This approach is in direct contradiction to the ‘Western consensus’ on cybersecurity, which considers high levels of content regulation a threat to fundamental human rights.
Neither India nor Pakistan signed the International Telecommunication Regulations at the World Conference on International Communications in 2012, which would have at least put India in the ‘Western consensus’ camp (Pakistan was not present at the conference). However, India has been trying to redefine its international policy since the current administration headed by Narendra Modi took office in 2014, and the future of its cybersecurity policy is therefore uncertain.
According to The Wire, India and Pakistan had to sign around 38 agreements in order to join the organisation. It is not clear if the controversial 2009 information security agreement was included among them. However, any future SCO documents regarding information security (as well as any other topic) will require the consensus of the members, and it is highly unlikely that China or Russia will change their approach to the issue.
Author: Alžběta Bajerová, NATO CCD COE
This publication does not necessarily reflect the policy or the opinion of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (the Centre) or NATO. The Centre may not be held responsible for any loss or harm arising from the use of information contained in this publication and is not responsible for the content of the external sources, including external websites referenced in this publication.