West by northwest
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As External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna joins the special summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation — which is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its founding on Wednesday in Astana in Kazakhstan — there is much hyperbole about the geopolitical transformation of Eurasia.
For the orphans of the Cold War, the SCO — led by China and Russia and including four Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — represents either their darkest fears or fondest hopes.
For some in Europe and North America, the SCO is "anti-West" and "anti-NATO" and is readying to establish hegemony on the Asian landmass. For some outside the West, the SCO — which has India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia as observers — is the dream alliance that Asia failed to organise during the Cold War but could be turned into a reality now.
For traditional geopolitical theorists, rising China has the potential to unite the heartland of Eurasia, end the centuries-old regional dominance by the Western maritime powers and make itself the pre-eminent nation in the world.
Much of this hype is rooted in the growing worldwide perception of an inevitable American decline and a relentless rise of China. The SCO summit also takes place amidst the US plans to downsize its military presence in Afghanistan starting next month and end its combat role there by 2014.
The SCO summit is expected to consider Kabul's application to be admitted as an observer. Until now, Afghanistan has been attending the SCO deliberations as a guest. At the Astana summit, the SCO is also expected to open the door for full membership of India and Pakistan.
Some SCO enthusiasts suggest that Delhi will soon have to make a geopolitical choice — between the continental Sino-Russian entente that beckons it from the north and the Asian maritime coalition led by the United States tempting it from the south.
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