By JK Verma
New Delhi. 16 June 2019. The most interesting ear and eye catchingnews emanating from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit was Iranian President Hassan Rohani saying that U.S. actions pose a “serious” threat to regional and global stability. But the news motivating a billion plus Indians was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not meet his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan.
Modi met most of the world leaders present but he refused to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan despite a desire to meet Modi by the latter and him having written two letters to this effect. Pakistani media also anticipated that there can be meeting at the side lines of SCO, but the spokesman of Ministry of External Affairs made it clear that there will be no meeting between Indian and Pakistani prime ministers. Modi continued with tough posture and refused to use Pakistani airspace on his way to Bishkek to attend SCO summit.
In Bishkek only “usual pleasantries” were exchanged between both the prime ministers and Imran Khan congratulated Modi for getting a landslide victory and defeating an important political family. The relations between both the nations became tense after ISI sponsored terrorist outfit attacked a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy at Pulwama in Kashmir in which about 40 valiant soldiers were martyred. India took revenge by bombing a terrorist training camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on 26 February 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first leader to reach at Manas International airport in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and the only Head of State staying in a hotel, by choice and not in the President’s Palace.
It was his first multi-lateral summit after winning landslide victory in 2019 parliamentary elections. Beside condemning terrorism and castigating the nations which support terrorism Modi had bilateral meetings with several world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kyrgyzstan President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the side-lines of SCO. Modi also had a ‘pull-aside’ meeting with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. A bilateral meeting was fixed with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but the meeting was cancelled as the banquet for the SCO leaders was extended.
Modi not met his Pakistani counterpart despite two letters written by Imran Khan and a letter was written by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for the meeting. It infuriated Qureshi and he told that Pakistan wanted to have talks with India on the “basis of equality”. He also clarified that Pakistan is not in haste to have the meeting. He also alleged that India is still on “election mindset”. However, Qureshi told to Geo news that the meeting took place, there was handshake and pleasantries were also exchanged. It appears that Qureshi told this to Geo news for the consumption of Pakistani masses as in reality there was no meeting only pleasantries were exchanged.
On 14th June Prime Minster Modi without naming Pakistan, made a strong statement against state-sponsored terrorism in SCO summit. He stated that the states which are sponsoring, aiding, abetting and funding terrorism must be held liable for it. He also emphasised the need of a global conference to fight the menace of terrorism. In presence of Imran Khan, Modi reiterated that all the countries should be united in fighting against terrorism and try to build a terrorism free world. He also mentioned that he visited St. Anthony’s church in Sri Lanka and there he saw the shameful face of terrorism which can “crop up anytime anywhere and take the lives of innocent people”. PM also stated that “A united, peaceful, safe and prosperous Afghanistan is an important factor for the stability and security in the SCO region”. He mentioned that India “support the efforts of the government and the people of Afghanistan for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled inclusive peace process.”
Modi had several bilateral meetings but the most important were with Presidents of China and Russia at the side-lines of SCO. Modi in series of tweets mentioned that his meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping was very fruitful and the talks included full gamut of India-China relations. President Xi congratulated Modi for landslide victory in the recent elections. Chinese President told that China “does not pose threat” to India and he desired to have closer relationship. He also mentioned to sort out differences and the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) should be strengthened.
The state-controlled Xinhua news agency mentioned that “China and India offer to each other chances for development, and do not pose each other threats”. President Xi also emphasised that both China and India are the two most populous states of the world and are developing rapidly hence they must work together, which will not only be good for them but also righteous for the tranquillity, prosperity and stability of the world. Xi also mentioned that contentious border issue is dealt by Special Representatives. Ajit Doval National Security Advisor and Wang Yi Chinese Foreign Minister are the Special Representatives and so far, there are 21 rounds of talks. Xi emphasised about the need of more cooperation in the fields of tourism, production, investment, regional connectivity as well as development of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM).
Discussions were also held on Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which India has refused to join. Modi made it clear that India want to solve disputes with Pakistan through bilateral mechanism, but Pakistan is not creating a conducive atmosphere for starting the peaceful negotiations. Meeting was important as it was held after China lifted its technical hold in declaring Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Chinese President also accepted the invitation to visit India for informal summit this year.
The Chinese economy has slowed down and trade war is going on with USA. President Trump has adopted a hard line hence China is seeing India as a big market. There are not many takers of BRI which China claims as an economic project but in reality, it is an strategic project. Several smaller countries feel that China may occupy their prime land through BRI as Sri Lanka had to give Hambantota seaport to China on 99 years lease as it could not repay the debt. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of Maldives is also slashing some projects already awarded to Chinese companies. India is getting a good response from neighbouring countries under its ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’. United States, Japan and India jointly want to curb the increasing Chinese threat in Indian Ocean Region (IOR). In view of all these President Xi was very friendly with India and wanted to have closer relationship.
Modi also had very fruitful meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale mentioned that meeting was “brief but very, very rich”. Both countries agreed to increase trade and people to people contact. Putin came to India in October 2018 for the 19th India-Russia annual summit in which multi-billion-dollar S-400 ‘Triumf’ was inked. Modi accepted Putin’s invitation to be the main guest at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia’s Vladivostok in September 2019. Modi thanked Putin for the establishment of the unit in Amethi to manufacture AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles. In nutshell the summit was quite useful for India as Pakistan was ashamed and Modi had very useful meetings with Chinese and Russian presidents.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which was created on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation. The members of SCO include the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Republic of Tajikistan, the Republic of India and Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In July 2015 in Ufa SCO decided to include India and Pakistan as full members and both the countries joined SCO in the Astana Summit held in 2017. As the name indicates it is a Chinese commanded eight-member security and economic group. This is the second Council of Heads of States (CHS) of SCO summit after India joined SCO.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)