SCO Summit: Anti-terrorism stance dominates the show
At the SCO summit, hosted by India in a virtual format, terrorism dominated the agenda of the meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again calling for collective fight against the menace, while mincing no words in stating his opinion on Pakistan’s continued support to terrorists
On July 4, while addressing the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) heads of state forum, Prime Minister 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, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, PM Modi said: “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 an instrument of their policies and harbour terrorists. SCO should not refrain from criticising such nations.” The hint was obviously towards Pakistan.
Prime Minister Modi even targeted China when he said, “There should not be any place for double-standards on such a serious issue (terrorism).”
China recently blocked an India-US proposal to list Sajid Mir, responsible for Mumbai terror attacks as a global terrorist at the UNSC.
Taking a tough stand on terror financing, he said, “We should also increase cooperation to deal against terror financing.” It was a warning to Pakistan that FATF (Financial Action Task Force) would be again prodded to look at Pakistan if it does not desist from backing terrorist groups.
Uzbekistan and Russia backed India’s 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 after the summit reverberated with SCO member states’ stand on terrorism; it called for elimination of “sleeper cells” and terrorist safe havens, and counter the radicalization of youth and dissemination of terrorist ideology.
The SCO members noted the effective activities of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in promoting cooperation between competent authorities in countering terrorism, separatism, and extremism.
In fact, pushed by the Indian side, another joint statement on countering radicalization was issued.
The joint statement on countering radicalisation said SCO members will develop cooperation to fight radicalisation that leads to terrorism, separatism and extremism. This will include sharing experiences and best practices in accordance with the SCO Charter and international law.
The member states will implement programmes to rehabilitate and reintegrate radicalised individuals into society and prevent their return to terrorist activity. They will also exchange practical experiences to ensure the security of major international events held by member states.
Overall, by hosting the SCO summit, India took the opportunity to make member nations realize that terrorism is a major threat to the safety and security of the world and that without a unified fight against it, there would not be peace and development.
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. While New Delhi received the backing of Moscow, Pakistan’s entry into SCO 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.
Nonetheless, differences between members of SCO were evident in the statements by heads of state. Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif 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.”
At the summit, the Pakistan Prime Minister stated, “The Hydra-headed monster of terrorism and extremism must be fought with 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 Sharif raised the treatment of minorities, stating, “Religious minorities should never be demonised in the pursuit of domestic political agendas.” He also indirectly talked about Kashmir when he said, “Fundamental rights and freedoms must be guaranteed to all, including those under occupation.”
But Shehbaz Sharif ignored his own nation’s blasphemy laws which only target minorities and have faced global criticism as also that it is Pakistan which is in illegal occupation of POK.
India should consider interpreting that the Pakistan Prime Minister’s fundamental rights comments were targeted more towards China than India as the former has subdued rights of Muslims in occupied Xinjiang and Tibetans in Tibet.
At the summit, Xi defended 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 said, “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.”
Apart from India, other nations endorsed China’s BRI. India has never supported the concept as it transits India-claimed Gilgit Baltistan. The Delhi Declaration issued after the SCO summit, listed the countries backing the BRI, excluding India.
*** The writer is a security and strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own