That India’s relations with Pakistan and China have entered a difficult phase has also generated apprehensions in Delhi about the forum creating new pressures on Jammu and Kashmir. Having waited for the membership of the SCO for a decade and more, India wisely chose not to retreat into a defensive shell at the Astana summit.
As it turns out, countering extremism, terrorism and separatism is a major objective of the SCO. Sceptics would say the apparent convergence between what the SCO does and India wants may be somewhat deceptive. They would insist that the difficulties encountered by the recent Indian bid to isolate Pakistan in various international forums on the question of terrorism should caution Delhi against expecting too much on this front at the SCO.
For China is unlikely to allow India to put Pakistan on the mat. Yet India must persist in the belief that change is inevitable and purposeful diplomacy can allow Delhi to probe for new opportunities for regional security cooperation. The recent kidnapping and killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan underlines the prospect that Beijing can’t forever remain untouched by the terror nurtured by its ally and all-weather friend. Meanwhile, the unfolding destabilisation of Afghanistan by the Taliban, which has long enjoyed sanctuary in Pakistan, is bound to have negative consequences for the Central Asian region.
The promotion of connectivity, trade and regional economic integration is the other major objective of the SCO. But differences between China’s President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not be masked in Astana. If Xi argued that the SCO could become a major vehicle for its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, Modi articulated India’s reservations, especially the impact of the project on India’s sovereignty in Kashmir.
The reported cordial tone of the meeting between Modi and Xi, however, gives some hope. Sustained engagement between India and China within the SCO framework might help narrow some of the real divergences between them on regional connectivity. In balance, the PM appears to have found the right balance between articulating India’s concerns and underlining India’s promise to strengthen inner Asian regionalism. He outlined a realistic approach towards the SCO that combined a strong emphasis on countering terrorism and a readiness to explore win-win solutions for expanding connectivity.