India Poised to Turn SCO into SAARC? By Iqbal Khan

TONE of Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) recent foreign minister level meeting was set by the Indian decision of not endorsing China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. But to India’s surprise, no crisis of the type occurred which India frequently keeps causing during SAARC meetings. Result of this SCO meeting was once again a Dolklam like fiasco, India was isolated as a lone voice. “All parties support the use of the potential of the countries, international organizations and multilateral institutions in the region to establish a broad, open, mutually beneficial and equal partnership in the SCO region,” the statement issued by the SCO foreign ministers said. “The foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan reiterated their support for the BRI”. India was not mentioned in the paragraph of the joint communique by the SCO member countries expressing support for OBOR. Despite best efforts of the member countries including Russia, India refused to join in appreciating the OBOR.
However, Delhi may tone down its position ahead of the SCO Summit in June and confine its opposition to the BRI’s flagship project China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India has already allocated huge amount to subvert CPEC. China has rejected Indian contention for opposing the CPEC. India has disregarded the SCO spirit by opposing OBOR; a project focusing on enhancing global connectivity. India’s participation in OBOR would lead to the transformation of its foreign policy as well, since India would no longer be waging the Hybrid War on CPEC. Modi is thrown into a dilemma from which he might never recover.
India does not have the resources to push back Chinese influence. Yet it is likely to stay engaged in this useless pursuit, as it sounds sweet in American ears; and India is duly rewarded through pumping in strategic advantages. India is also likely to take part in joint naval exercises with America, Japan and Australia in the South China Sea to irk China. China is concerned about US efforts to draw India into a maritime ‘quad’ in a part of the world they have begun calling the ‘Indo-Pacific’ instead of the ‘Asia-Pacific’, which places China too firmly at the centre. Though Russia and China haven’t publicly complained about India’s evolving military-strategic partnership with the US, but that does not mean that they don’t have serious reservations about it.Both Pakistan and India are slated to participate in a joint military exercise with Russia and China under the SCO banner in the domain of counter terrorism. This is for the first time that Pakistani and Indian troops would take part in any joint military exercise. Exercise shall be held in Russia’s Ural Mountains in August-September. “This is under the ambit of the SCO”, said Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson during his weekly briefing. Joint venture, “Peace Mission 2018”, will focus on preventing terror attacks and dismantling terror networks. The development is significant given the fact that Pakistan and India have tense ties. SCO holds such exercises regularly but this is the first time Pakistan and India would participate. For the fight against terrorism to be system-wide, the role of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure(RATS) is poised to become increasingly significant. It will enable Pakistan to take-up India’s terrorist acts to this forum.
India’s hostility towards China is not sustainable for India, it is certainly a case of strategic overreach. And if there was any doubt, strategic embarrassment in Dolklam has made the things abundantly clear to all stake holders—India is no match to China. But now India cannot wriggle out of the situation because America and its allies have invested a lot of political, psychological and strategic capital for propping up India to take up heavy lifting against China. They won’t let India digest the strategic gains and become indifferent towards America-China dynamics. India is so deep into it that it may not be able to extricate safely from anti-China role; now, it may have no choice but to engage China, in a hostile way, as an American proxy. For the time being it will restrict itself to a spoiler’s role; whereby, it will oppose everything that could strengthen China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would do it even at the cost of India’s own wellbeing and its people’s prosperity.
Modi’s dilemma is that India can neither befool China nor America through its usual stunts. Battle lines are firmly drawn. Modi’s electoral rhetoric about China, now reinforced by brother Trump’s trade wars, has shrunk escape space for India considerably. With China in front, and RSS-cum-Trump at the rear, Modi rushed to China, on April 27, for buying time. China is a magnanimous state, it extended helping hand to Modi, but those at Modi’s rear may not, even Sonia’s Congress is drawing pleasure by coaxing Modi for a tougher stance against China.
China, with an economy five times bigger than India’s, asserts itself in the region. Differences between the two are significant. China is treading carefully to avoid giving Pakistan a cause for alarm. Ahead of Xi-Modi talks, China reassured Pakistan that their relations were as firm as ever and would ‘never rust’. For its part, India was pleased when China dropped its objections to international efforts to put Pakistan on a ‘grey list’ of counties deemed to be making inadequate efforts to tackle terror financing. Strategic security paradigm of the world is evolving and undergoing a fast shift. All regional countries need to commit themselves to finding solutions to the conflicts through dialogue and in line with the UN resolutions. Hopefully, the good sense would prevail and India would desist from degenerating SCO into SAARC.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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