The Platform


Iran’s entry into the SCO holds a number of complications for India.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a successor to the Shanghai Five, was established in 2001 by China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.

Over the past 20 years, the SCO has reached a pivotal juncture in its long and eventful journey, reaffirming its significance in fostering regional stability, economic cooperation, and dialogue among member states. Representatives and heads of state from numerous countries have attended SCO events, providing a window into the organization’s operations. The SCO has evolved from primarily focusing on security to promoting multilateralism and supporting economic cooperation for its members.

When the SCO was established in 2001, it was primarily designed to address various security challenges within Central Asia. Since then, several countries have joined, and it now comprises nine members, including India, Pakistan, and Iran.

On July 4, at its annual meeting, the SCO welcomed Iran as its 9th member. After several years as an observer, Iran was granted full membership, which will not only benefit Iran but also foster a new era of multilateralism in the region.

As a permanent member, Iran will find it easier to strengthen its ties with major powers such as Russia and China. Membership will likely lead to improved trade agreements with China and Russia, its major trading partners. Moreover, the close relations among SCO countries, many of which share anti-Western sentiments, will offer Iran new avenues for commerce and cooperation, especially in the Central Asian region. Foreign policy experts predict that Iran’s entry into the SCO could have significant implications for countries like the United States and its allies.

This is because Iran has been cooperating with allies Russia and China to circumvent Western sanctions. For example, Russia and Iran have established a new trade channel to bypass sanctions and ensure unhindered transactions. Iran, China, and Russia have also conducted naval drills in response to training exercises by rivals like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The SCO might help mediate a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a dialogue partner of the SCO. It could also aid countries like Pakistan and Iran in addressing emerging issues. While India, like other Central Asian nations, could benefit from Iran’s membership, it will face fresh challenges and will need to devise a new strategy to navigate the evolving dynamics.

For 75 years, India has adhered to the Non-Aligned Movement, crafted by its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. These policies have allowed India to maintain respectful and cooperative relations with all nations. However, in the past nine years, due to a shift in leadership, India has adopted a more assertive stance on various issues, acting in what it perceives to be its national interest.

One example of this is the Russia-Ukraine war, during which India has managed to maintain positive relations with all parties, importing cheaper defense equipment and oil from Russia while also receiving support from the U.S. Nevertheless, India has faced criticism for its apparent indifference towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and providing diplomatic cover for Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations.

With Iran now a member of the SCO, India might find itself in a diplomatic quandary. India has already established connectivity with Iran through the Chabahar Port and the International North-South Transport Corridor, which leads to Central Asia and Russia. Iran’s entry into the SCO can strengthen India’s trade ties in Central Asia without aligning with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

However, Iran’s entry into the SCO is not without potential pitfalls for India. Over the past decade, Iran’s international reputation has been tarnished by various issues, including its foreign policy and its violent crackdown on protestors calling for changes within Iran. For instance, countries like the UK, Canada, Sweden, and Ukraine have taken Iran to the International Court of Justice over the 2020 shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane. These controversies suggest that while Iran’s entry into the SCO could be beneficial for India, it could also bring complications, especially given India’s neutral stance in the Russia-Ukraine war. The implications of India’s close ties with Iran could be both advantageous and perilous. Only time will tell how India navigates this delicate balance.

Anuj Dhyani is studying for a Master’s degree in International Relations at O.P. Jindal Global University. His areas of interest include Chinese foreign policy, South Asia, and security.