Concluding his two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned to Delhi on Friday. This is his first multi-lateral summit following his party’s landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections 2019.
During the meet, the PM exchanged “usual pleasantries” with his Pakistani counterpart, while urging the group of nations to hold those promoting terrorism accountable.
All member nations signed the Bishkek Declaration condemning terrorism.
Modi also met Russian President Vladimir Putin, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, while cancelling the scheduled meeting with Iranian PM Hassan Rouhani.
He also promised aid to Kyrgyz President Sooranbay Jeenbekov. During the summit, Modi notably called out US protectionism, a day before India raised counter-tariffs on US imports; he also called for a rules-based tradition system and deepening cooperation in the SCO region.
The SCO is a China and Russia-led Central Asian economic and security bloc, with India and Pakistan admitted to it in 2017. It is seen as an eastern counterweight to NATO.
The Heads of State Council (HSC), SCO’s supreme decision-making body, met in the recently concluded summit, which took place a month after the Council of Foreign Ministers met to discuss several pressing issues in the region, chiefly terrorism.
Here is the list of people Modi met, and key announcements he made at the summit.
Charter against terror
Endorsing a strong statement against terrorism, Modi became one of the signatories to the Bishkek Declaration on Friday.
Calling for greater cooperation in combating the menace, SCO members urged the global community to work towards a consensus on adopting the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT).
The charter reads: “Increasing challenges and security threats that are becoming cross-border in their nature like terrorism, spread of terrorist and extremist ideology including on the internet, returning foreign terrorists, proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, the risk of an arms race among others need special attention, close coordination, and constructive cooperation of the global community.”
According to it, the members also believe that one of the key factors of preserving and enhancing security and stability in the SCO space is a prompt settlement of the situation in Afghanistan.
Interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs “under the pretext of fighting terrorism and extremism as well as using terrorist, extremist, and radical groups to achieve one’s own mercenary ends is unacceptable,” the declaration said.
A toast to HEALTH
Modi set the agenda for the summit by coining the acronym HEALTH, according to TOI, which is a template for strengthening cooperation amongst SCO nations.
H stands for Healthcare Cooperation, E for Economic Cooperation, A for Alternate Energy, L for Literature and Culture, T for Terrorism-free society, and H for Humanitarian Cooperation.
Message against Pakistan
Ahead of the summit, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi expressed eagerness to resume bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit.
The HSC meeting marks the first direct encounter between Modi and Khan since the latter’s election last year. It also follows the devastating terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14, which killed 40 CRPF jawans and spiked cross-border and diplomatic tension.
Notably, the PM’s flight took a longer route to Bishkek, through the airspace of Oman, Iran, and Central Asian countries, bypassing Pakistani airspace, despite Islamabad awarding permission for overflight.
Foiling expectations of a meeting, Modi sent a tough message specifically against Pakistan during the summit, saying it must create a terror-free atmosphere first.
Nations have to abandon their narrow views to unite against terrorism, he added, also raising the issue of supporting, aiding, and funding terror, against which India has railed on various platforms like the FATF and UNSC.
China and Russia
During his bilateral meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit on Thursday, Modi reiterated India’s stand that Pakistan should take concrete action against terror before talks can resume. He also refused to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Hindustan Times reported.
“Pakistan needs to create an atmosphere free of terror, but at this stage we do not see it happening. We expect Islamabad to take concrete action” to resume talks, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale quoted the Prime Minister as telling President Xi. He also acknowledged that relations had improved as both sides were able to resolve long-pending issues, like China’s stronghold over the UN regarding Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar’s blacklisting.
In his meeting with Putin, Modi is believed to have accepted the Russian President’s invitation to attend the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok this September. The two also had wide-ranging discussions on how to ramp up defence and strategic cooperation.
There will be a Russia, India, and China trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Gokhale informed.
Russia will host the next SCO meeting, an MEA briefing announced Friday.
Iran meeting in the lurch
Due to the extension of a leaders’ banquet, Modi failed to make time for his bilateral talks with Rouhani, according to news reports. It was a highly awaited meeting, especially for Iran, given the US sanctions on its oil exports.
India, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, imports over 80% of its oil needs. Iran was its third-largest supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia, while India was Iran’s second-largest oil market after China.
Former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had assured her Iranian counterpart last month that a final call on whether or not India would purchase Iranian barrels despite the US ban would be taken after the Lok Sabha polls, based on energy and economic needs.
Iran’s relations with India have recently been on an upswing with Modi looking to find new allies in West Asia, even visiting Tehran in 2016 where he signed a dozen agreements. One of these, the implementation of the Chabahar port project, would also have been a talking point at the bilateral meeting.
Credit for host
Modi announced a $200 million line of credit for host nation Kyrgyzstan and held a one-on-one restricted meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart Jeebenkov.
This was followed by a delegation-level talk as both sides signed 15 agreements to step up their bilateral engagement and explore new areas of cooperation. These include the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement, the Bilateral Investment Treaty, and MoUs in the fields of health, security, defence, and IT.
Modi also met President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. His efforts at connecting India to central Asia, while laudable, leave a lot more to be desired especially in terms of patching up relations with China and sustaining stronger ties with Russia. This, experts believe, will come in handy to navigate geopolitical turmoil in the continent and forge a stronger front against the US.
On the other hand, the SCO must also address human rights violations its member nations commit, often against each other. A territorial conflict between two of its newest members poses the biggest threat to SCO’s relevance; the latest chapter has failed yet again to bring them to the negotiating table.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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