To be a bridge, not fault line

The Russian town of Ufa, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits, is suddenly the most important city. President Hassan Rouhani will spend the week here even as the nuclear talks between the P5+1 and Iran have reached a critical point. President Xi Jinping will be there discussing the $100 billion BRICS-New Development Bank in a week the Chinese stock market has dropped 30 per cent of its value. President Ashraf Ghani will be there, soon after talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Pakistan, with Chinese and U.S. observers present. And Mr. Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have a bilateral meeting after more than a year. Each of Mr. Modi’s meetings will be important, but none perhaps more important than the reason he is attending the SCO: to begin the process of India’s admission into it.

India’s membership of the SCO is significant. To begin with, it opens up trade, energy and transit routes between Russia and China that pass through Central Asia, that were hitherto closed to India. Iran’s observer status will ensure the SCO serves as a platform for India to discuss trade through the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar, and link them to the Russian proposal for a North-South Transport Corridor. This circumvents India’s situation of being hemmed in owing to lack of access to markets through Pakistan. While the SCO charter disallows bilateral issues being taken up, the security grouping provides a platform for India and Pakistan to discuss them, as it will when Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif meet. With Russia and China taking the lead, the SCO could even prove a guarantor for projects such as the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipelines that India has held off on security concerns. The SCO summit will provide a valuable interface to engage with Afghanistan’s neighbours at a time when so much is changing in its security outlook, between the international troop pullout and talks with the Taliban. Finally, the SCO is an important counter-balance to India’s perceived tilt towards the U.S. and its allies on security issues. In a politically polarised world, with the U.S. and Europe pitted against Russia and China and where all the powers are economically interlinked, India’s best hope to emerge a leader lies in its ability to bridge the two. Speaking at the Nazarbayev University in Astana, Mr. Modi said Central Asia’s importance faded because it became “a new fault-line between great empires to the east, west and south”. In that sense, India’s emergence now depends on striving to be a bridge, not a fault-line, in full balance with the great powers globally.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 3:27:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/narendra-modi-at-brics-shanghai-cooperation-organisation-summits-at-ufa/article7400008.ece

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