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Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit’s Relevance Endures, but Terrorism Threatens – IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

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Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit’s Relevance Endures, but Terrorism Threatens - IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Anil Trigunayat

SCO’s original mandate since 2001 has been to fight against terrorism and it has a robust tool in its kit for cooperation among members under the aegis of RATS. However, Pakistan has not only sheltered and supported large number of terrorists but has also used them against India.

On July 4th, India successfully hosted the 23rd SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) Summit even though virtually.  India was holding the SCO Chair this year along with that of the G20. Incidentally, the meeting was held within weeks of PM Modi’s superbly successful State visit to the US, and on the US Independence Day, though Washington often considers SCO as a geo strategic competitor in the security domain, given Chinese predominance in it and Sino-Russian bonhomie.

PM Modi had invited all the leaders of nine members, including new member Iran, who responded positively to the invite and participated to address the regional issues of security, counter terrorism  in all  its dimensions and new and erstwhile challenges including trade and investment and connectivity despite several internal dividing issues .

It also included leaders of Belarus -next member and Turkmenistan-only Central Asian country out of SCO. Several regional organizations apart from the UN were also there. A comprehensive New Delhi Declaration along with two other documents on de-radicalization and digital public infrastructure were issued.

Both President Xi Jinping of China and PM Shehbaz Sharif  attended the virtual meet even as the LAC (Line of Actual Control)  and LOC ( Line of Control)  + cross border terrorism respectively remain the major issues of concern and cause of adversarial relationship for  India.

President Putin, who recently praised PM Modi a great deal for the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat ‘ initiatives and had conferred with him to discuss various bilateral and regional and global issues was an enthusiastic participant. Iran became the newest member of this security driven important organization. Leaders of four central Asian countries would have preferred a physical meet but were very much part of the Summit. Kazakhstan is the next Chair .

Why Virtual SCO Summit?

Even though conspiracy theories are aplenty as to why India decided to hold the Virtual Summit- the fact remains that India had hosted over 130 meeting during its presidency of various verticals including the 14 Ministerials and the meeting of the Foreign Ministers in Goa where diplomatic spats between visiting Pakistan Foreign Minister and his Indian counterpart became the side show yet taking the limelight as Bhutto Zardari chose to abuse the Indian hospitality yet again. 

India is known for creating innovative themes which are also very relevant. SCO was no exception.  Hence this was aptly “For a SECURE SCO”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken of the concept of SECURE at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in China in 2018. Explaining the SECURE concept, the Prime Minister said ‘S’ for security for citizens, ‘E’ for economic development, ‘C’ for connectivity in the region, ‘U’ for unity , ‘R’ for respect of sovereignty and integrity, and ‘E for environmental protection.

SCO during the last two decades has been conservative in expanding its base but since 2017 when India and Pakistan became full members, it has become the world’s largest regional organisation in terms of area, covering approximately 60 per cent of Eurasia and 40 per cent of the world population, with a combined GDP of over 20 per cent of the global GDP.

Its popularity and enigma have remained a cause of concern for the West as more and more West Asian countries are showing keen interest in joining it . Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt etc. are either dialogue partners already or some are in the process of advancing their levels of association with SCO. 

Five pillars of cooperation

India also enshrined five pillars of cooperation at the SCO which include start-ups and innovation, digital inclusion, empowering youth, traditional medicine, and shared Buddhist heritage which obviously have the Indian imprint and where it can contribute the most given her stellar achievements in these areas.  PM Modi reiterated these including the importance of millets so integral to prevailing food insecurity.

Connectivity especially to Central Asia remains a major priority for India and even others including China and Pakistan which might act at cross purposes with Indian interests . Iran is a critical pivot in connectivity. On the other hand ,Chinese BRI ( Belt and Road initiative) encompasses its Central and West Asian corridors that is part of its six regional connectivity projects  which will complete the loop of transport and energy and infrastructure corridors linking China with Europe.

Even though these Central Asian countries might be the proverbial back yard and security periphery of Russia and are becoming battle grounds for nearly all major powers, India ‘s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policies and increasing institutionalisation of the relationships as a group and also bilaterally and regionally with all the five countries.  However, Chinese President recently hosted the leaders of all the 5 Central Asian countries for the first China- Central Asia Summit shortly after they attended the Victory Day parade at Red Square with President Putin.

Hence a physical meeting of SCO would have brought them to New Delhi too as they are trying to diversify their closer partnerships with various friends and stakeholders and India is an important one in that matrix .  

Fight against terrorism

SCO’s original mandate since 2001 has been to fight against terrorism. India has suffered from terrorism for over four decades. SCO has a robust tool in its kit for cooperation among members under the aegis of RATS . However, Pakistan has not only sheltered and supported large number of terrorists but has also used them against India through cross border terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy. They have just come out of the FATF’s gaze for financing terrorism after four years . Its ironclad friend and the big satrap of the SCO, China has helped them in their enterprise by shielding the terrorists  every time at the UNSC.

Therefore, as expected, PM Modi indirectly called out both when he emphasized in no uncertain terms saying;  “Terrorism has become a major threat to regional and global peace. Dealing with this challenge requires decisive action. Regardless of its form or manifestation, we must unite in our fight against terrorism. Some countries use cross-border terrorism as an instrument of their policies, provide shelter to terrorists. SCO should not hesitate to criticize such nations. There should be no place for double standards on such serious matters.”  He also underscored the need for cooperation is stopping radicalization. Pakistan PM spoke to counter terrorism being used as diplomatic tool but surely, they can’t go scot-free. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping came up with several proposals including setting up a SCO Bank and enhancing cultural and linguistic connect while underscoring the UN centrality for the emerging world order speaking of their own model of development and using  his pet phrase of ‘common security’ and to  promote political settlement of international and regional hotspot issues, and build SCO as a solid barrier for regional security.

He also called for  “opposing hegemonism and power politics” which is very much their own diplomatic currency. President Putin called terrorism a serious  threat to regional and global security urging greater collaboration to combat it supporting Indian position.  He recalled Anti Russia security threats in the context of Ukraine and also spoke against unilateral sanctions which he was determined to defeat . Local currency settlements were highlighted which has become a standard approach given the weaponization of financial instruments.

While Indian Presidency delivered on its promises through perseverance and innovative ideas the fact remains that continuing support to cross border terrorism by member countries could derail the very pedestal the SCO stands upon.

This article was first published in CNBC TV18 as 23rd SCO Summit — no doubt, its relevance is sustained but terrorism may undermine it on July 6, 2023.

Read more by the author: PM Modi’s state visit to Egypt — here’s why it is highly significant in the Asian context.

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