Casting a shadow on SCO ministerial meet - GulfToday

Casting a shadow on SCO ministerial meet

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. File

Some acerbic exchanges took place between India’s S. Jaishankar and Pakistan’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s ministerial meeting held at Panaji, capital of the western state of Goa, last week.

The SCO is a major political, economic and international security organisation with members from Asia and Europe. It covers about 60 per cent of the area of the two continents and 40 per cent of the world’s population.

The SCO originated as Shanghai Five in 1996. When Uzbekistan joined it in 2001, the founding members — China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — gave it its present name. India and Pakistan joined the group in 2017. More countries are eager to join it. Some of them are already associated with it as observers or dialogue partners.

A treaty on deepening military trust in border regions was signed by Shanghai Five at the time of its founding. The exchange of barbs would not have taken place if the spirit of that treaty had been imbibed. Media reports said the Indian and Pakistani ministers clashed at the meeting over cross-border terrorism.

Jaishankar gave the media his own version of what happened. He said that Bilawal Bhutto- Zardari was the foreign minister of a SCO member country and was treated accordingly. He added, “As a promoter, justifier and spokesperson of a terrorism industry...his positions were called out and countered, including at the SCO meeting itself.”

India has for long opposed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through the Pakistan-occupied areas of Kashmir.

In his speech, Zardari said terrorism should not be weaponised for “diplomatic point scoring”. He described CPEC as a force multiplier for regional connectivity that could enable all countries to move towards full regional economic integration.

The main business before the SCO ministerial meeting was finalisation of the agenda of the group’s summit meeting to be held in New Delhi in July. SCO sources said the ministers had prepared a set of 15 proposals to be placed before the summit. One of them envisages grant of full membership of the group to Iran and Belarus, and association of some countries, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives and Myanmar with the SCO as dialogue partners. More importantly, there are proposals aimed at expanding cooperation among the SCO member countries in the areas of trade, technology, commerce, security and socio-cultural relations. The summit will also consider a proposal to settle trade in between member countries in their national currencies.

The SCO, of which Russia is a member, is one of the few bodies which can try to play a constructive role in bringing the war in Ukraine to an early end. The ministers are believed to have discussed the issue but there is no word on any proposal they may have formulated in this regard. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which India and Pakistan are the most important members, has been non-functional. Thanks to the differing complexion and character of the SCO, its ministerial meeting was able to complete its work and set the stage for the summit meeting. As the rotational president, it is now India’s primary responsibility to ensure smooth conduct of the summit and turn over the presidency to the country next in line.

The India-Pakistan spat has been a feature of multilateral gatherings since both emerged as free nations more than 75 years ago. Two or three generations have moved on and a new one is rising to play its part as citizens. Forward-looking leaders in both the countries must direct their energies towards establishing an era of peace and goodwill in the subcontinent in their own best interest.

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