UFA, Russia (AP) — President Vladimir Putin announced Friday that India and Pakistan will join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group dominated by Russia and China and also including former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Russia sees the organization, expanding for the first time since its creation in 2001, as a counterweight to Western alliances.
Membership in the group potentially offers India greater access to the energy resources of Central Asia. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has combined his attendance at the summit in Russia with visits to SCO members Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Putin opened the annual summit by announcing the acceptance of India and Pakistan as members. He said Belarus would obtain observer status, joining Afghanistan, Iran and Mongolia, while Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal would be welcomed as "dialogue partners."
The SCO leaders expressed hope that Iran also would soon become a member, but said Tehran first needed to reach an international agreement on curbing its nuclear program, Russian news agencies reported.
Putin said some of the greatest security threats facing the region emanated from Afghanistan, noting the increased activity of the Islamic State group. He said the leaders agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation and to work together to fight drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
The Russian president also talked about plans to deepen economic and trade ties.
"It is obvious that together we can more effectively resist crisis events in the world economy and finance, more easily overcome restrictions and barriers of various kinds," Putin said. "We think the development of cooperation in production of food, transport, energy and financial security is important."