SCO Summit Anti-terrorism stance dominates the show India vs disinformation 05 Jul 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


SCO Summit: Anti-terrorism stance dominates the show India vs disinformation 05 Jul 2023

          Addressing the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) heads of state forum, Indian PM Narendra Modi spoke out against terrorism in all its forms, an aspect which has impacted India for a prolonged duration. In the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pak PM Shehbaz Sharif, Modi stated, ‘Terrorism has become the prime danger for both regional as well as global peace, and decisive action is necessary to deal with it. Terrorism in whichever form or expression, we have to collectively fight against it. Some countries use cross-border terrorism as instrument of their policies and harbour terrorists. SCO should not refrain from criticising such nations.’ The hint was obviously Pakistan.

          PM Modi continued with targeting China when he stated, ‘There should not be any place for double-standards on such a serious issue (terrorism).’ China had recently blocked an India-US proposal to list Sajid Mir, responsible for Mumbai terror attacks as a global terrorist at the UNSC. Continuing from the joint statement post his US visit, he added, ‘We should also increase cooperation to deal against terror financing.’ It was a warning to Pak that FATF (Financial Action Task Force) would again be prodded to look at Pakistan if it does not desist from backing terrorist groups. With elections around the corner, India would not accept any major terrorist strike.

          The SCO, founded in 2001, was the successor to the erstwhile Shanghai Five, which included, China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan joined in 2001. India and Pakistan joined the organization in 2017, after being observers from 2005, Delhi on the backing of Moscow while Pakistan’s entry was pushed by China. Russia wanted India as a counter to China, while Beijing wanted Islamabad to balance India. This year Iran became a full-fledged member of the organization.  

The organization is dominated by China as all Central Asian nations and Pakistan are part of China’s BRI (Belt Road Initiative) and indebted to it. With the entry of Iran, the organization will shift to US and western bashing as Iran, US and China face different forms of sanctions and pressures. The SCO charter prohibits raising of bilateral issues however nations raise their concerns without naming specific nations and attempting to keep statements as general.

          Differences between members of SCO was evident in the statements by heads of state. Pak PM, Shehbaz toed the line of his foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto, who had stated in Goa, ‘Let’s not get caught up in weaponizing terrorism for diplomatic point scoring.’  Shehbaz stated in the summit, ‘The Hydra-headed monster of terrorism and extremism must be fought by full vigour and conviction. Any temptation to use it as a cudgel for diplomatic point-scoring must be avoided under all circumstances.’ He was obviously hinting at India.  

          To further accentuate his anti-India tirade, Shehbaz raised treatment of minorities, mentioning, ‘religious minorities should never be demonised in the pursuit of domestic political agendas.’ He also indirectly mentioned Kashmir when he stated, ‘fundamental rights and freedoms must be guaranteed to all, including those under occupation.’  

Shehbaz ignored his own nation’s blasphemy laws which only targets minorities and have faced global criticism as also that it is Pakistan which is in illegal occupation of POK. India should consider interpreting that Shehbaz’s fundamental rights comments were targeted more towards China which has subdued rights of Muslims in occupied Xinjiang and Tibetans in Tibet.

          Xi defended his BRI and called against de-coupling, hinting at western actions to make India a manufacturing hub to counter China. His frustration against the west was evident when he mentioned, ‘we must be highly vigilant against external attempts to foment a new cold war or camp-based confrontation in our region. We must resolutely reject any interference in our internal affairs.’ India being in the western camp is something China cannot digest.

Apart from India, other nations endorsed China’s BRI. India has never supported the concept as it transits India-claimed Gilgit Baltistan. The joint statement listed the countries backing the BRI, excluding India. Uzbekistan and Russia backed Indian demand for countering terrorism. Putin stated, ‘countering terrorism, countering extremism and religious radicalization, curbing drug trafficking and combating militant formations must remain a priority for the SCO.’ 

The Delhi declaration, issued at the end of the summit, was almost a repeat of last year’s Samarkand declaration with miniscule changes. Terrorism, was given emphasis as India desired. The statement mentioned, ‘Reaffirming their strong commitment to fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism, member states are determined to continue taking active measures to eliminate conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, disrupt terror financing channels, suppress recruitment activities and cross-border movement of terrorists, counter extremism and radicalization of youth, dissemination of terrorist ideology, as well as to eliminate sleeper cells and places used as terrorist safe havens,’

None of the points raised by Pakistan or China, apart from terrorism were included in the joint statement. At the end of the day, the declaration and statements were nothing much to write home about. Differences between major members, India, China and Pakistan remained as earlier.

Each nation came with its own agenda. For India it was terrorism emanating from Pakistan and support to it by China. For Pakistan, it was diplomatic exploitation of terrorism by India resulting in the subject being raised at global levels, protection of Muslims and reinstatement of Article 370 in Kashmir, which Islamabad believes resulted in reduction of human rights. For China, it is India joining the west in containing China, QUAD and India becoming a manufacturing hub to impact its economy. For Russia, it was western sanctions and support to Ukraine. The declaration, a near repeat of last year, brought forth no new ideas.  

With such rivalry, it is unlikely that the SCO will ever be an effective organization. This brings to fore India’s correct decision of converting the summit from an in-person event to an online one. Simultaneously, raising its concerns, India has reconveyed that unless its terms and conditions are met, talks with Pakistan will not go forward. The SCO, possessing almost 40% of the world’s population and nearly one-third of the global market could have been an organization which could have made a difference. However, differences and an anti-western bias has forced it to look inwards.