On way to becoming full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), subtle differences in positions between India and Pakistan, on the fundamentals of countering international terrorism and China’s ‘Belt and Road’ connectivity initiative, came into the open during the heads of government meeting of the grouping in Zhengzhou.
In his opening remarks at the conference on Tuesday, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, V.K. Singh, pointed to “zero tolerance towards terrorism” as the recipe to counter the menace. Without naming Pakistan, he said: “Political convenience can no longer provide an alibi for backing terrorist groups ideologically, financially or through material support. Today, the world has realised that there are no good terrorists.”
New Delhi and Islamabad are completing formalities for becoming full members of the SCO, which is steered by China and Russia, and includes most of the Central Asian Republics.
Analysts point out that Gen. Singh’s emphasis against an engagement with extremist groups feeds into the larger debate on a dialogue between a faction of supposedly de-radicalised Taliban and the Afghan government, within a framework of talks that includes China, Pakistan and the U.S. Diplomatic sources told The Hindu that “there is now greater resonance in China and elsewhere on India’s approach” towards non-engagement of radical groups, following the terror attack in Paris and the downing of the Russian airliner in Egypt.
Gen. Singh stressed that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan “free of external interference” was “absolutely essential” to advance regional peace, stability and prosperity.China-Pak. corridor
Without getting into specifics, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his remarks at the conference, acknowledged that the regional security situation “remains precarious”. He added: “We are seeing the threat to state sovereignty and territorial integrity. Armed conflicts continue to rage in several parts of the world unleashing forces, which are beyond the control of anyone.”
Mr. Sharif also unambiguously backed China’s ‘Belt and Road’ connectivity initiative. He added that Pakistan remained committed to making China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project — a joint undertaking of the two countries under the ‘Belt and Road’ framework — a resounding success. Mr. Sharif pointed out that Pakistan’s unique geo-strategic location at the confluence of South, West and Central Asia would allow Islamabad, as a full-member of the SCO, to fully develop these linkages.
Without stating India’s backing for the ‘Belt and Road’, Gen. Singh acknowledged that SCO member countries and their affiliates “should invest in improving regional transportation and communication networks through mutual consultation and sharing of benefits”.
The Minister proposed establishment of “new networks of physical and digital connectivity that extends from Russia’s northern regions to the shores of Indian Ocean”. He stressed that International North South Transportation Corridor was an important step in that direction.
Sources explained that India was not opposed to China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative and there were “several points of intersection” between India’s connectivity initiatives and the Chinese blueprint. “However, India has opposed the China-Pakistan economic corridor as it involved certain sovereignty issues.” Observers say India has opposed what is also called the Gwadar to Kashgar economic corridor because it passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.
Gen. Singh pointed out that the relatively smaller economies of Central Asia could take advantage of India’s rapidly growing market, while SCO could become a major source of India’s energy-security. The SCO countries could also draw on India’s strengths in financial management, especially microfinance, pharmaceuticals, services, food security and agriculture as well as training and capacity building.