ATUL ANEJA. India rebalancing ties with Pakistan to open path to Eurasia

In a significant gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain shook hands and exchanged pleasantries after a press conference by the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) here on Sunday.

The conciliatory moment came at the end of the media briefing which was addressed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. China is the host and chair of the SCO.

After engaging with China in Wuhan and Qingdao, India appeared to be rebalancing its ties with Pakistan in order to build bridges with Eurasia, within the framework of the eight-nation SCO.

Mr. Modi and Mr. Hussain were among the leaders who attended the media briefing after the end of the 18th SCO summit where India and Pakistan participated as full-fledged members.

The relations between the neighbours have been strained after an attack on an Army camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan-based terror organisations in 2016.

Official sources on Sunday declined to single out Pakistan as a source of international terrorism.

“Pakistan is not the only country responsible for terrorism,” an Indian official, who did not wish to be named, said. Asked if India’s position on Islamabad had shifted since the September summit in Xiamen, where Pakistan-based groups had been named in the joint BRICS statement, the official said that “the SCO format was very different from BRICS, of which India was a founding member.”

A diplomatic source told The Hindu that India was exploring the possibility of connectivity to Central Asia through the Pakistan-Afghan corridor, under the SCO framework. “The SCO has been working on connectivity among its member countries. Now that India and Pakistan are both members, it provides New Delhi with a fresh opportunity to reach out to Central Asia across the Pakistani corridor,” the source said.

An Indian official had earlier told The Hindu that as its full participation neared, the Indian side “seriously began to explore opportunities presented by New Delhi’s participation in the SCO.”

“The result is an evolving policy towards Eurasia, with a Central Asia core.”

Opposes BRI

Asserting India’s continued opposition to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, Mr. Modi said mega connectivity projects must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries. However, New Delhi, he said, would support initiatives which ensure inclusivity. Referring to the “unfortunate” example of the effects of terrorism in Afghanistan, he hoped that the steps taken by its President Ashraf Ghani would be respected by all the players in the region.

A diplomatic source told The Hindu that India was exploring the possibility of connectivity to Central Asia through the Pakistan-Afghan corridor, under the SCO framework. “The SCO has been working on connectivity among its member countries. Now that India and Pakistan are both members, it provides New Delhi with a fresh opportunity to reach out to Central Asia across the Pakistani corridor,” the source said.

An Indian official had earlier told The Hindu that as its full participation neared, the Indian side “seriously began to explore opportunities presented by New Delhi’s participation in the SCO.” “The result is an evolving policy towards Eurasia, with a Central Asia core.”

Ahead of the summit, Secretary General of the SCO Rashid Alimov had told the Tass news agency of Russia that SCO member states were working on an agreement on “creation of favourable conditions for international road transport.” Citing experts from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), he said it would cover more than 15,000 km of high-speed roads, including a 9000 km corridor that would open out the region’s landlocked countries to new economic opportunities.

On Saturday, Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale signalled India’s focus on connectivity with Central Asia by pointing out that India and Uzbekistan are set to route their trade through the Iranian port of Chabahar.

Without referring to Pakistan, Prime Minister Modi, said during his address on Sunday to the SCO’s restricted plenary that connectivity with the neighbouring countries and SCO was India’s top priority.

This article first appeared in The Hindu on 11 June 2018.

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