Key outcome from PM Modi’s visit to Samarkand | The Financial Express

Key outcome from PM Modi’s visit to Samarkand

On Afghanistan, the Samarkand Declaration expressed ‘support’ to ‘the establishment of Afghanistan as an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful State, free of terrorism, war, and drugs’. The statement also mentioned that it is ‘critical to have an inclusive Government in Afghanistan, with representatives from all ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghan society’.

Key outcome from PM Modi’s visit to Samarkand
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. (Credit – Twitter/Narendra Modi)

By DP Srivastava

PM Modi visited Samarkand on September 15-16 to take part in the SCO Summit. On the margins of the Summit, he also had bilateral meetings with the leaders of Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Samarkand provided a magnificent backdrop to the Summit. This region has historic links to our country. In the 19th century, it witnessed competition between the expanding Russian and British Empires.

SCO started as a grouping structured around the Central Asian Republics. However, over time, SCO has expanded its horizons. Its Communiques present an alternate worldview on international issues, which often contrasts with Western positions. Samarkand Summit took place against the background of the Ukraine war, and continuing tensions between China and the US.  

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as the group is known was set up in 2001 and adopted its Charter next year in July 2002. The group’s membership has expanded from the original five to eight, including India and Pakistan. During the Summit, Iran signed the Memorandum of Understanding to become a full member. The Summit communique included references to security, disarmament, terrorism, trade, investment, and connectivity issues.

The regional situations discussed included Afghanistan and Iran nuclear deal. The SCO Charter does not allow the forum to be used for raising bilateral issues. This has helped it avoid the pitfall of SAARC, where Pakistan raises bilateral disputes while blocking progress on regional cooperation for which the group was set up in the first place.

The Summit communique called for respect for the ‘right of peoples to independently and democratically choose their political and socio-economic development’. It also stressed respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity of States, and non-interference in internal affairs. These are fundamental positions adopted by the group since its inception. This represents a caution against intrusive prescriptions which sometimes the West advocates. 

The summit statement also stressed that ‘unilateral application of economic sanctions other than those adopted by the UNSC is inconsistent with the principles of international law and adversely affects third countries and international economic relations’. This assumes significance seen against the background of deepening EU and US sanctions against Russia. The sanctions are also a matter of concern to China, which has much higher stakes than Russia in continuing access to the US and EU markets.

The Summit communique also mentioned the ‘negative impact of unilateral and unrestricted build-ups of global missile defense systems by individual countries or groups of States on international security and stability’. This was a reference to the development and deployment of anti-missile systems by the US, and some of the NATO Member States. The statement added that the SCO Member States ‘consider unacceptable attempts to ensure their own security at the expense of the security of other States’.

On Afghanistan, the Samarkand Declaration expressed ‘support’ for ‘the establishment of Afghanistan as an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful State, free of terrorism, war, and drugs’. The statement also mentioned that it is ‘critical to have an inclusive Government in Afghanistan, with representatives from all ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghan society’.

The formulation avoided any reference which might imply recognition of the Taliban regime. This was a snub to Pakistan, which played a leading role in hosting the Taliban for over two decades, and in their eventual return to power in Afghanistan. Of the Central Asian Republics which are members of SCO, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have a border with Afghanistan. The host Uzbekistan has maintained relations with Afghanistan.

China despite its support for Pakistan is unwilling to push Pakistan’s agenda. Or Pakistan itself has developed ambivalence given recent friction between Kabul and Islamabad over TTP which has again become active in Swat? Kabul has also accused Islamabad for giving access to the American drone which killed Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri recently. 

The Samarkand communique also conveyed support for the Iranian position on the revival of the nuclear deal. It stated that the Member States consider ‘sustained implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program important and, in accordance with UNSCR 2231, call upon all participants to rigorously implement their commitments for the full and effective implementation of the document’.

The UN Security Council resolution 2231 endorsed the Iranian nuclear deal in 2016. The reference to the resolution is a hint that the US is still bound to implement the resolution even though it has unilaterally announced withdrawal from the deal since the Security Council resolution remains valid.

Two areas of interest to India are reflected in the Samarkand Declaration. The communique mentions that member states ‘seek consensus on the adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on Combating International Terrorism’. The author of the present article was involved in the drafting of the CCIT (Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism) and obtaining negotiating mandate from the UN General Assembly.

The statement also mentioned ongoing efforts to ‘enhance connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia contribute to the common goal of ensuring prosperity and security in the vast SCO region’. This is crucial for India if we are to enhance our footprints in the region.

There are two important strands of connectivity – the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC) and Chabahar. It may be of interest to the readers to know that Modi Ji had pushed for INSTC even as chief minister of Gujrat when he visited Moscow as part of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s delegation in 2001. The author had the privilege of being associated with both initiatives as Indian Ambassador to Iran from 2011-2015.

India’s access to Central Asia depends upon connectivity links through Iran. This depends upon developing the International North-South Transit Corridor (INSTC) and accelerating work on Chabahar port. Without this, it will not be possible to build-up an Indian presence in Central Asia. In this context, PM Modi’s meeting with President Raisi assumes importance.

The PM has discussed the development of Shahid Beheshti terminal in Chabahar port and the development of regional connectivity. Both countries agreed on the need for a representative and inclusive political dispensation in support of a peaceful, stable, and secure Afghanistan.He has also extended an invitation to President Raisi to visit India.

Author is a former Indian Ambassador to Iran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

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