BEIJING • Nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India will start the process of joining a security bloc led by China and Russia at a summit in Russia later this week.
It will be the first time the grouping has expanded since it was set up in 2001. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) groups China, Russia and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, while until now India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia were observers.
"As the influence of the SCO's development has expanded, more and more countries in the region have brought up joining the SCO," Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said yesterday during a press conference.
"India and Pakistan's admission to the SCO will play an important role in the SCO's development."
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over the divided Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
Pakistan also believes India is supporting separatists in resource-rich Baluchistan province, as well as militants fighting the state.
India applied to join the SCO regional security grouping last year.
"We await further developments," said senior foreign ministry official Sujata Mehta.
Pakistan's foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in Moscow this week for a summit of the Brics group of emerging markets and both he and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Nawaz Sharif, will attend a special SCO "outreach" session as part of the gathering.
The SCO was originally formed to fight threats posed by radical Islam and drug trafficking from neighbouring Afghanistan.
Mr Cheng said the summit, to be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, would also discuss security in Afghanistan.