SCO — India walks into the ‘Unknown’?



M. Ziauddin

Donald Trump has shown an open animus for NATO and at the same time supported Brexit and populist, Euroskeptic parties across the continent. This has riled European leaders. At the NATO and G7 summits in Brussels and Italy Trump further damaged transatlantic relations by refusing to support NATO’s doctrine of collective defense. He then withdrew from the Paris climate agreement making it abundantly clear that he has chosen a path away from Europe.
Reacting to Trump’s emphatically negative signals German Chancellor Angela Merkel had brooded: “The times in which we could rely fully on others (read the US)—they are somewhat over.”
As Trump alienates his Western allies, and the United Kingdom begins its departure from the EU, China has been quietly reaching out to Western nations. Both Beijing and Brussels hope to move ahead with economic globalization, and during the annual EU-China Summit held in Brussels on June 1–2, the two sides forged a new green alliance to combat global warming, telling Trump ‘look we don’t need you.’
With the EU and the United States increasingly divided, this moment is seemingly marking the beginning of a new China-EU axis in global politics and security.And with London leaving the EU and Trump alienating his Western allies it is certainly making it easier for Brussels to further ties with China on a whole range of issues that have the potential to challenge the United States’ global primacy.
This development has made India’s presence in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) highly untenable because its original objective of joining the Organization to keep an eye on its activities on behalf of the US now appears to have become largely invalid in the backdrop of Trump’s post –election foreign policystumbles.
With the US seemingly losing its primacy in the world super power ranking there is no way Washington would be able now to help India play its proxy and stop China from challenging the American global hegemony.
That is perhaps why there is a growing feeling in India following its joining the SCO that the Organization was both a threat and an opportunity to its geostrategic interests in the region and the world.
New Delhi’s long-standing desire to become a full member of the China and Russia-led central Asian bloc stems ostensibly from its desire to increase regional connectivity, bypassing what it believes to be the obstructionism of Pakistan.
As a full member, India also gets the chance to share its concerns on terrorism in a bloc that has been formed primarily as a reaction to world-wide terrorism. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at the SCO Summit, therefore, mainly focused on terrorism.
Modi used the opportunity to highlight the menace of what he called the state-sponsored terrorism by Pakistan, without naming it, at a forum that had leaders from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan listening in along with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
He said: “it is impossible to reach a solution (on terrorism) till all make concerted efforts on preventing radicalization, terrorist recruitment, training and financing”.
Calling terrorism a “major threat to humanity,” Modi added that “we have full faith that SCO would give a new push to fight terrorism”. He also flagged terrorists as the chief violators of human rights.
He said it is impossible to reach a solution till all make concerted efforts, on radicalization, terrorist recruitment/ training/financing issues.
This leads one to believe that India intended to use SCO as a forum to expose Pakistan’s alleged role in promoting terrorism in India, particularly in the Indian Held Kashmir.
But this would only make Pakistan come up with all the evidence it has of India’s state sponsored terrorism against the unarmed people of IHK which under Article 370 of India’s Constitution is not a part of India but enjoyed a special position outside the Indian Union. And Pakistan would also be able to use the opportunity to put before the forum evidence of India’s hand in fomenting separatism in Balochistan, an integral part of Pakistan.
Apart from greater cooperation among inner Asian nations on terrorism, Modi’s other focus area in the SCO Summit was greater connectivity and access to regional resources in central Asia.
Hemmed in by geography and its fixation with idea of isolating Pakistan, India has been working for long to create an alternate route through Iran to reach Central Asia. Chabahar Port provided an option before India got sucked into the vortex of Donald Trump’s disruptive politics.
So, the only alternative left to India under the circumstances for reaching Central Asian Markets and enhancing its regional connectivity is to agree to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) letting its objections to the Corridor passing through the disputed Gilgit Balistan region to be taken care of, as already suggested by Beijing, in due course of time by Article 6 of Boundary Agreement signed between China and Pakistan.
Modi spoke forcefully of connectivity at the forum but without realizing its implications for India’s foreign policy and for one of its major core concerns—the Kashmir dispute.
New Delhi joined the SCO also because of its keenness to ensure that it is not kept out of the heartland power perimeter in a China-Russia coalition where Pakistan also stands to gain immensely.
Viewed from this angle, India’s joining is imperative if only to prevent Pakistan and China from making SCO a platform for a one-way discourse on Kashmir. India fears that despite its stated position of “non-interference”, China’s stakes in Kashmir are considerable.
Beijing has refused to listen to India’s protests about the CPEC cutting across the disputed Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K). India fears that this would steadily alterthe geopolitical balance of the disputed Himalayan region through massive infrastructure projects.
SCO is not SAARC where bilateral disputes are not discussed. The main objective of SCO is to create peace, amity and stability in the region and the world. So, even if it tried India would not be able to prevent Kashmir dispute coming up for discussion and mediation at the SCO. It would be almost impossible for India to leave the SCO in protest if SCO took up Kashmir for discussion because that would render it totally isolated in a world where its best friend, the US has already lost its global primacy.
For now at least, in securing the full membership of SCO and flagging India’s concerns on terrorism and regional connectivity, Modi has made the right start. But harder, more disruptive work seems to lie ahead.
For Pakistan there are many opportunities in the SCO. But it will have to be prepared with its own plan ‘Bs’ in case China decided in the interest of SCO’s unity or by way of a trade off against India agreeing to join the CPEC pushing into the background its territorial objections to allow India’s entry into the Nuclear Supplier’s Groups (NSG) and give up its objections to designating Masood Azhar as a terrorist.
Again in the interest of connectivity and enhancement of regional cooperation the SCO could request Pakistan to allow India and Afghanistan conduct their trade via land route through Pakistan. And perhaps Islamabad would also find it increasing difficult to resist the SCO’s efforts to nudge Pakistan and India to establish normal trade relations while efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue would continue on the back-burner.
The summit was a signal that all members are willing to look at the bigger picture and hedge the ties on increasing trade and people-to-people links while simultaneously trying to keep all channels of communication open. Importantly, all leaders appeared to hit the right notes, focusing on areas of convergence and avoiding the issues of divergence except in broad terms.Indeed all the eight members of the SCO should tap their potential in cooperation, strengthen communication and coordination in international affairs, respect each other’s core concerns and appropriately handle their disputes.