Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | SCO FM meet | India’s bilateral tensions vs multilateral ...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | SCO FM meet | India’s bilateral tensions vs multilateral ambitions

In this episode of Worldview with Suhasini Haidar, we discuss the SCO Council For Foreign Ministers, bilateral ties, India-Pakistan tensions over terrorism and more

Ahead of its big summit in July, is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation setting itself up as a counter to the Western narrative in the world- or will bilateral ties like India’s tensions with China over the boundary or India-Pakistan tensions over terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir overshadow multilateral talks? 

We are going to tell you about all that’s expected in the next few months of India’s tenure as President, and we have an exclusive interview ahead with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto speaking about just what bedevils India-Pakistan ties. 

Those ties saw yet another big rupture in them during this week’s meeting- as Bhutto travelled to India, the first Pakistani Foreign Minister to do so since 2011.

-As host of the SCO summit this year, India hosted the Council For Foreign Ministers in Goa this year- the main event prior to the big summit, due to be held on July 3-4 

-Invitations went out to all 8 members: Russia, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan- all of whose FM’s attended 

-On the main agenda for the ministers were 3 items, apart from reviewing about 100 SCO meetings held so far 

1. Finalising the draft outcome statement- which will be called the Delhi Declaration to be released in July, when Putin, Xi Jinping, Pakistan PM Sharif, leaders of all Central Asian states are hosted by PM Modi 

2. Signing off on about 15 Decision points which would be agreements during the summit- including on making English an official SCO language and setting up working groups on innovation, start-ups and traditional medicine and reform and modernization of the SCO 

3. Agreeing on the induction of new members to the group this year- Iran and Belarus. Also on joining as observer countries are UAE, Kuwait, Myanmar and Maldives  

However it quickly became obvious that bilateral differences would overshadow the outcomes of the meeting. 

1.     Even before the CFM meeting, during bilateral talks between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese FM Qin Gang, differed over their understanding of the situation at the Line of Actual Control. After the Chinese MFA said that Qin said the situation was “stable”.

2.     On the Belt and Road Initiative – CPEC too, Jaishankar said connectivity must be transparent, and India’s opposition to the project was made clear 

3.     There were also some differences that came through in talks between Jaishankar and Russian FM Lavrov over how to deal with the Rupee talks  

4.     But the real showdown clearly came between India and Pakistan

After Bilawal Bhutto said this at the Council:- in a veiled reference to the August 2019 reorganisation of Jammu Kashmir 

India violated international law and UNSC resolutions and bilateral arrangements by taking these steps on August 5 on Kashmir made it difficult for us to talk to them.

Why does India even need to be part of the SCO- an organisation founded in 2001 by Russia China, and Central Asian countries, which it joined in 2017, the same year it became part of the revived Quad grouping? 

How does India benefit from the SCO membership and presidency? 

1. Part of a growing Eurasian grouping – that represents most of the world population, most of the GDP growth, much of its energy reserves 

2. The SCO strengthens New Delhi’s positioning as a “Balancing Force”- part of SCO, IBSA, BRICS, but also Quad, I2U2, G-7 outreach, and other groupings  

3. Post-Ukraine war, this is also a grouping of those resisting sanctions, like India does 

4. The fact that more Middle East/West Asian and Gulf countries want to join SCO shows its growing relevance in the Eastern hemisphere 

5. Useful platform for meeting countries with differences – like India-China and India-Pakistan 

6. Also useful this year to build consensus for a joint communique at the G20 where Russia and China have been holding out 

Downsides of the SCO engagement 

India has to be in a grouping with its two biggest threats- China and Pakistan

India even has to take part in SCO RATS terror mechanism with Pakistan, which it sees as the perpetrator 

The SCO is increasingly seen as an anti-Western grouping, and this could make things uncomfortable for India on other fronts, especially in coalitions countering China 

All other SCO countries are members of the BRI, or support it, which India is strongly opposed to-  this becomes an issue each year in the joint communique where other countries endorse the BRI 

Members of the SCO are large countries with poor human rights records and democracy issues- and India risks being bracketed in a western-termed “club of dictators” 

India’s challenges as the SCO President have clearly increased: 

It is clear that India’s presidency is being overshadowed by bilateral differences- which are normally not allowed into the room at SCO conferences 

As a result, the SCO grouping could face the same fate as the SAARC grouping- especially as Pakistan will host the SCO in 2026 

As the Russian war in Ukraine progresses, there will be greater pressure on India not to host Russian president Putin in July, particularly after he was named an offender by the ICC- not one of the countries in SCO has criticized the Russian war 

As Iran and Belarus are inducted, also Myanmar as observer- the SCO will seem more and more like an anti-Western outfit 

As SCO takes a more economic role- global polarization will become more acute- especially as all the major sanctioned countries by the US and EU are in SCO

PM Modi’s next few travels are all in the opposite direction

 Japan for G-7 outreach on May 19 

 Papua New Guinea for a visit coinciding with US President Biden on May 21 

Sydney for the Quad summit on May 24

Washington for a State Visit on June 21 

Paris, just after the SCO summit, on July 14 

So that when he welcomes Putin and Xi to Delhi, or hosts them virtually in July, it could make for some awkward moments. 

The fact is India’s decision to be part of the SCO is an extension of its traditional policy of non alignment, multi alignment and strategic autonomy. To this New Delhi must add India’s traditional policy of being a good host at all times- to complete its Presidential tenure successfully, the government, particularly PM and EAM will need to put aside their bilateral differences with members for the moment if they hope to forge a consensus at the SCO and other events India is hosting this year.  

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