Modi waves with his left hand, signalling a change?
There have been several ‘good news’ at Ufa in Russia over talks of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa Association (BRICS) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). This is the first time these two organisations have come together largely because of Russia’s current captaincy of both. While there are larger issues from EU, NATO, and Eastern European Union ideas, the matter that is of concern to the South Asian Region is India and Pakistan. The only point of conflict amongst possible member states at the cusp of joining the SCO.
What interests me is that the SCO’s charter speaks of having peaceful borders, a basic requirement of any association or agreement.
With India and Pakistan along with several other countries potentially being granted member status, it (SCO) does make a formidable balance to Western apprehensions of an alliance to counter NATO. On a larger canvas it serves to keep the US out of Central Asia, give reprieve to Russia if the US were to make Ukraine part of a NATO missile defence system. To China it helps allay its fears of Islamic terrorism in its western regions and lending support to Russia has a history of its own.
In this context, if we can look at India-Pakistan relationship from a Chinese angle, which seeks to have peaceful borders within SCO members, then China’s border insinuations are perhaps to nudge India into a cooperative that serves a larger Russian agenda. In this historic combine of BRICS and SCO, a stronger order to counter western influences will emerge. India sits comfortably in a US camp when it comes to China, but has a leaning on Russia in times of need. Similarly Pakistan sits squarely between the US and China. Therefore to placate or arm-twist these countries is in the larger interest of the SCO.
With India becoming a member of the SCO, is a forum now available to manage the Sino- Indian border, independent of relationships with Pakistan? This is yet to be seen. The border with China is not easy to define. Maintaining a status quo recognising existing positions without intrusions and claims is perhaps practical. It does seem a matter of great importance to domestic politics in India and of lesser significance in China.
It is now up to the member countries to uphold the charter of peaceful borders as there is no mechanism to enforce it. In the region, much of the burden pivots around Pakistan, not merely because of their geographical location, but also by their approach that is strongly driven by violent domestic politics and turmoil. Handing over of the perpetuators of the Mumbai attacks will be a major step, which I don’t think Pakistan will willingly accede. However, acknowledgment of terrorism emanating from their soil is an achievement. To get perpetuators to India would be a financially wasteful exercise.
SCO has a balancing act with Six Party Talks, where the US is a major player with its allies in the North Asian region. With some comparison Pakistan and North Korea are China’s protégés in the geopolitics of its neighbouring regions. While in the North Asian region, China is faced with a potential situation of military conflict, with a perceived direct threat to its mainland, towards the South and West it really has no control and can only gain by regional treaties or meddling with borders and supporting India’s adversaries.
It is therefore critical to know what China gets from closer ties between India and Pakistan, on a larger canvas of Russian, BRICS and SCO interests.
BRICS and SCO have economic cooperation on its agenda. Most of the SAARC countries and Iran also will eventually become members of SCO that links into BRICS. BRICS will develop its own Bank and Russia will foster the Eastern European Union.
China seeks membership of SAARC. Trade agreements are a possible outflow from economic cooperation. China being an export led economy has the potential to dominate markets in almost all smaller countries in the region, except for India and Russia. Considering a Chinese desire to expand its markets and its security being threatened more by internal unrest than by external ones, the SCO addresses the security aspects and inclusion of India into it is therefore to China’s advantage. In return India could have pressed China for Pakistan to accept some changed definitions of terrorism.
Mr Narendra Modi has been able to kill some birds with a stone. This will not assuage those in the country baying for the perpetuators to be brought to justice, but is relevant in a geo political context. Economic growth can thrive only in a secure regional environment. Europe and Western economies have kept their regions secure, why can’t the South Asian Region be one such peaceful region, with open borders, common visas and free trade.
It will be a full circle when India gets included in the Six Party Talks or US finds its way into the SCO.