By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) - The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- touted as Asian NATO -- is holding its 19th summit, beginning Thursday in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
Among others, the leaders of member states attending the two-day summit, include Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan.
The summit carries particular significance in the wake of a global trade war between China and the U.S. It will also provide an opportunity for Indian and Pakistani leaders to interact first time, since last February when their armed forces engaged each other in aerial "dog fights". However, New Delhi has clarified that no bilateral meeting is scheduled between Modi and Khan.
Briefing about the summit, a senior Indian official said in New Delhi that PM Modi will seek cooperation between the member states to end the menace of terrorism in the region. China on Monday had advised the SCO members to refrain from targeting any country.
Iran, participating as an observer state, will be seeking an audience with Asian countries over crippling sanctions imposed by Washington on its oil market.
The summit assumes further significance as it is taking place just a fortnight ahead of the meeting of the heads of G20 countries, scheduled in Japan's province of Osaka on June 28-29. All eyes are also on the bilateral meeting between Russian Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the summit.
The outcome at the SCO as well as the bilateral meeting between Russian and Chinese leaders may help Asian nations to put up a common position on various issues at the G20 summit.
- What is the SCO?
Formed in April 1996, the SCO is a China-led political, economic and security bloc comprising eight members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.
Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov is currently heading the organization.
The SCO represents around 42% of the world’s population, 22% of its land area and around 20% of GDP.
- The Bishkek Summit
The Council of Heads of States is the apex decision-making body in the SCO, which holds annual meetings in one of the member states' capitals.
The Council of Foreign Ministers holds regular meetings, where international situation and the SCO's interaction with other international organizations are discussed.
Besides, the Council of National Coordinators coordinates the multilateral cooperation of member states within the framework of the SCO's charter.
A delegation-level meeting is also planned with the participation of the four SCO observer states: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia.
The SCO also recognizes six "dialogue partners”. They are -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey -- the only NATO member in the group.
Critical issues including global security, multilateral economic cooperation and people to people exchanges are discussed at the SCO summits. The agenda is set on the basis of consensus, instead of voting.
The organization aims to strengthen cooperation between member states on security-related concerns, resolve border disputes and enhance military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and counter-terrorism efforts.
- Defense cooperation
Defense ministers also hold annual meetings in accordance with a defense pact among SCO members. The last such meeting was held in Bishkek on April 29-30, 2019.
Aside from this, a Tashkent-based Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) also functions under the SCO.
The RATS is considered an important body under which member-states cooperate and exchange information related to anti-terrorism operations.
- SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group
The SCO signed a protocol with war-torn Afghanistan during the SCO Heads of State summit in Qingdao, China on June 9-10, 2018 to establish the Afghanistan Contact Group.
It is a consultative mechanism for developing proposals and recommendations to support government and public efforts to establish a peaceful, stable and economically prosperous Afghanistan free from terrorism and extremism.