A Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15th and 16th.
The SCO currently comprises eight member states - China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan - and four observer states - Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia. There are six ‘dialogue partners’ - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.
Belarus and Iran are set to joint as full time members to expand the SCO in Eurasia with arms in West Asia or the Middle East.
The SCO forum does not permit members to discuss bilateral issues as per norms of the organization.
However, there is ample scope for bilateral engagement on the sidelines by the top leadership.
The Samarkand summit was the first to be held in person when top leaders of the grouping had face to face interaction.
Thus, apart from a bilateral with the host which is a standard norm, the opportunity was employed to engage with other leaders to further common objectives as well as to resolve mutual differences.
This was an opportunity for countries in the region having major bilateral differences – India, China and Pakistan to establish communications at the highest level.
However this was not to be.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi met several global and regional leaders such as Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian and Russian President as well as the host head of state during the SCO.
All eyes were on a Modi Xi bilateral in Samarkand which did not happen as relations between the two countries over stand off on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) continue to remain low despite a recent resolution of faceoff at one of the points of contention PP 15 Gogra Post.
Another important bilateral that did not happen was between Mr Modi and Mr Shahbaz Sharif prime minister of Pakistan as differences over Jammu and Kashmir have continued even though the Indian Prime Minister met with the Turkish President Recep Erdogan who has also made some caustic comments on Kashmir in the past.
Quite clearly realpolitik has trumped pragmatism for the three countries.
Need for Political Communication
Conflict resolution is best achieved through a top down approach and contacts from the high leadership.
India and China need to overcome differences to be able to promote harmony not only bilaterally but regionally especially at a time when the World is going through multiple crises.
However, factors such as India’s alignment with the United States, continued faceoff at two more points on the LAC and the demand for resumption of status quo may have been some of the factors that prevented a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi.
Internal political dynamics may also have impacted the decision not to meet.
On the other hand, Pakistan is facing a multi dimensional crisis from economy to polity and floods – wherein assistance from India to meet immediate needs of the people at large could have been forthcoming.
However internal politics over Jammu and Kashmir has prevented the Pakistani side to respond to Prime Minister Modi’s initial message of empathy for the flood victims.
Clearly from the point of view of India, China and Pakistan the SCO meeting has been a duff – of little practical import.