HomeOpEdIran’s Permanent Membership in SCO

Iran’s Permanent Membership in SCO

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Ayesha Zafar

Iran is expected to be the next potential permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for it has taken into confidence the regional states who are now ready to welcome Iran as an ally. Recently, the Secretary of Security Council of Iran Admiral Ali Shamkhani has released a statement on his Twitter about possible support from Russian Federation for Iran’s admission into SCO.  This is a welcome development especially for Iran as it is facing US sanctions for the past many decades. Iran’s accession within the SCO will increase SCO’s geographical influence and expand it to the Middle East and beyond. The upcoming SCO Heads of State Summit meeting is scheduled to be held on September 16-17, 2021 in Dushanbe, where Iran’s possible membership will be discussed.  With the change in Tehran having new President Ebrahim Raisi and his cabinet, there is expected to be a positive development for Iran at the regional level. With changing dynamics in Afghanistan, the presence of Iran in SCO will help improve the regional response towards Afghanistan.

The new President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi will likely redesign the polity of Iran to build further tilt towards China especially due to the tough European and US stance over Iran.  Clearly, this new regime in Iran will seek to be a part of the strategic, political, and readily evolving economic alliance SCO led by China. The recent telephonic conversation between Raisi and Xi Jing Ping in the pursuit of rapid developing complementarity says a lot about Iran’s significance in the geopolitics with its hardline political change. Moreover, Iran’s decision of not to evacuate its embassy and diplomats from Afghanistan is in line with the decision of other SCO members (except India). The choice of Iran is delineating its conspicuous tilt towards the SCO bloc.

SCO has strategic, economic, and political clout where the regional grouping is having 27 percent of the world’s GDP and nearly half of the world population across the Eurasian heartland.   Permanent members of this bloc are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan. Iran has maintained observer status since 2005. Over these years Iran has remained present and attending the meetings as an observer. Within SCO, observer states do not have the power to participate and influence however they only remain on the sidelines. The meetings of the high level also give the opportunities to the state to meet counterparts. The presence in this important regional grouping has given leverage to Iran to remain building alliances with the regional countries including Pakistan at the SCO forum.

Now as Iran stands as a potential permanent member of the SCO, the new President will likely prioritize shoring up of economy through the framework of SCO. The Chahbahar port holds great geopolitical significance for Iran. The port will provide coastal services to the foreign outreach projects to SCO members which will ipso facto support Iran’s floating economy. Iran’s dire need for foreign capital and infrastructure will be fulfilled. With that, Iran also has an opportunity to reset its bilateral ties with Pakistan by allowing its Chahbahar port to compliment Gawadar port in BRI. Also, by becoming a part of the SCO body, Iran will be able to fortify its security against the saber-rattling of the USA.

With a 400 Billion dollars investment in Iran, China will be a major actor benefiting from Iran’s permanent position in the SCO. The two countries already enjoy cordial bilateral ties. Both countries have signed 25 years of cooperation agreement to consolidate their economic and political links. China is of the understanding that without Iran’s support, it will not be able to accomplish its aim of connecting east and west via the Silk Road.  Iran holds geopolitical significance in China’s aspirations of economic assertiveness which involves 65 countries. In both the projects: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China requires Iran’s land and sea access. These projects will connect China to Eastern and Western Europe via Central Asian states and the open waters of Iran.

In like manner, Russia is also one of the robust actors which will get enormous benefits from Iran’s upgrading to a permanent member. Russia hit the chance to get close to Iran when Donald Trump sanctioned Iran and withdrew Washington from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement. Accordingly, Russia enjoys Iran’s friendship bilaterally: Both countries maintain strong associations in trade, security, economic and political spheres. Complimentary to this will be Iran’s accession to the bloc. Russia already fears the expansion and strengthening of Quad in the region.  Russia, with the institutional arms of the bloc, may get benefit from Iran’s geographical and strategic importance to secure its financial interests in the Gulf countries.

Moreover, the Central Asian states that include Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan will be able to thaw their diplomatic and political relations with Iran with this new development. Turkmenistan, though not a permanent member of SCO, has strong ties with Iran on several levels.  Consequentially, the Central Asian states will be having an opportunity to improve their trade through easy access to Iran’s water under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by SCO founding member, China. With that, the Central Asian states, now, will be able to work with Iran in collective energy projects which will foster energy and economic ties.

To conclude, Iran’s permanent membership in the Eurasian bloc will be revitalizing for some actors and detrimental to others. While SCO itself deviously seems to not only aim at economic and political multilateral reinforcements by adding Iran but also intends to involve the only remaining country neighboring Afghanistan in order to keep a closer eye on the mercurial situation of Afghanistan. This will not only assist the SCO bloc but also China, Russia individually to frame their policies and military, intelligence strategies accordingly.

*The writer is a student of National Defence University Islamabad, currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International Relations. She is currently serving as Research Intern Fellow at The Diplomatic Insight and Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies.

 

*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions. 

 

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