Formal invites have been sent to all the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for the foreign ministers’ meeting that is scheduled to take place in Goa in the month of May 4-5.
India is holding the presidency of SCO this year and it has invited the foreign ministers of China Qin Gang and Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto along with the ministers of other member countries including Iran. Financial express Online has already reported that India took over the presidency of the grouping last September and this year it is scheduled to hold several key ministerial meetings and finally the Summit later this year.
Which meetings are expected to take place throughout India’s presidency of SCO?
In a run-up to the summit Defence ministers of the nine member states will meet in India, also NSAs, Interior and environment ministers will be coming here for ministerial meetings which are expected to start from March onwards.
There has been no confirmation from the Pakistan side whether foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto will come for the meeting. He has been in the news recently after his remarks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN which has already cast a shadow on any attempt to have talks.
Recently the Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif had offered talks over all outstanding issues with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The relations between the two countries have stalled due to cross border terrorism from that country. And as a pre-requisite for the talks it has also called for the reinstatement of Article 370 for the erstwhile Indian state of J&K.
Incidentally, Pakistan is not participating in the SCO film festival which is going to take place in Mumbai from Jan 27-31 and is being organised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through the National Film Development Corporation.
At a media briefing on Monday Neerja Shekar, Additional Secretary, Ministry of I&B said, “There is only one SCO member country, from which entries have not been received.” Adding, “there has been no response”.
Expected agenda of key ministerial meetings starting early March
According to sources the agenda for the forthcoming meetings is still in the process of being firmed up. However, when foreign, defence and Interior ministers meet they are bound to discuss countering terrorism, radicalism, fight against narcotics, energy and food security, humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan under Taliban 2.0; International North South Transit Corridor (INSTC) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) projects.
Afghanistan & SCO
“The SCO is the most relevant organisation to ensure stability in Central Asia despite all its shortcomings and can and play a decisive role in Afghanistan. Its demand for an inclusive government in Afghanistan was an important message to the Taliban regime,” says Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU.
India, SCO & Counter Terrorism & Radicalisation
All the SCO declarations have reiterated the idea to develop common principles on issues of radicalism and terrorism. Moving a step further, the SCO, in its last Summit at Samarkand, decided to work on a plan to “prepare a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organisations whose activities are banned on their territories’. However, evolving a common principle and developing consensus on terrorist groups remains as elusive as ever.
The member states may agree on naming a few groups, such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, IS Khorasan (ISKP) and IUM, but are unlikely to come to an agreement on many other groups which target India and have links with Pakistan.
Sharing his views on counter-terrorism and radicalisation, Prof Rajan says, “There are several obstacles to the evolution of an SCO consensus on the policy of terrorism: states view terrorism from the prism of narrow geopolitical and national interests; second, states prefer bilateral diplomacy to multilateralism in their dealings, as in the case of the Taliban in Afghanistan; and finally, Islamabad’s hostility towards New Delhi. Given these limitations, it is unlikely that New Delhi-Islamabad and Beijing will agree on naming the organisations with links with groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Therefore, while one is unlikely to witness a breakthrough in the SCO’s efforts to curb terrorism, its relevance lies elsewhere. The fact that it has managed to evolve a broad agreement on terrorist organisations operating in Central Asia is a significant contribution. Regional organisations are instrumental in bringing such issues to the spotlight, putting pressure on member states, and evolving mechanisms to counter the menace.
“To its credit, the SCO has developed an institutionalised structure called the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) to tackle the issue of terrorism. It shares information on cybersecurity, drug trafficking, and financial networks supporting terrorism. It claims to have prevented several terrorist attacks in Central Asia,” Proj Rajan opines.
The grouping covers more than 60% of the area of the Eurasian landmass, 40% of the world population and 30 % of the global GDP. More and more countries have shown interest in becoming part of the grouping, especially from the Arab world, many of whom have got the status of the dialogue partner.
“After the Samarkand summit, Uzbekistan (2022), it’s time for India to pull off the chariot of global harmony and regional cooperation through dialogue & diplomacy with the inclusion of Iran, that leads to access to new markets and countering the economic deadlock of Washington over Iran since 2018-2022,” Prof Sanjiv Ranjan, Dept of Political science, MotiLal Nehru College Evening, Delhi University tells Financial Express Online.
According to him, “Modi has already quoted Sufism as a road to counter extremism and terrorism for bettering regional security. With the chair comes the responsibility and so the challenges for India under the presidency (2023) will be seen as a substantial tool to mitigate Russia-Ukraine conflict via CHAIR DIPLOMACY and provide oxygen to Kyiv as was seen during the Prime ministerial speech. It’s up to Delhi to make Moscow understand that states can initiate war but cannot control the consequences of the war.”
In his opinion, “India will be looking to invest diplomacy capital to counter the Galwan conflict and negating Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) as raised by external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar for supporting the cause of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the member states. India’s presidency on one side will optimistically provide impetus to Chabahar port and the passage for trade while on the other side will use the platform to solidify its position contrary to growing nexus between China-Russia, China-Central Asia & China-Pakistan CPEC in terms of trade by International North South Transit Corridor (INSTC) and TAPI projects.”
“Additionally, the SCO National Coordinator meeting in Kashi (Varanasi), SCO Film Festival in Mumbai, SCO as a partner organisation in Surajkund mela will try to cement India’s global position on cultural front which cannot be ignored from the fact that Kashi has been named as Tourist and Cultural Capital of SCO for 2022-23. Delhi will be also looking to actively work for the establishment of Special Working Group on Start-ups & Innovation and Expert Working Group on Traditional Medicine to provide global outreach for Make-in-India and Ayurveda respectively,” opines Prof Sanjiv Ranjan.
SCO is a two decades old grouping and has India, Russia, China, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. In the last summit in Samarkand, Iran became a new full-fledged member and will now be present in all meetings under India’s presidency.