Indo-Pak Tensions Cloud SCO Moot

Heads of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries, including India and Pakistan, met in Bishkek for the 19th Leaders’ Summit on Friday. Despite speculation around the possibility of a more substantive pull-aside, Prime Ministers Imran Khan and Narendra Modi just exchanged pleasantries and a handshake on the sidelines of the summit. In contrast, the Pakistani premier had robust interactions with President Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China, the two biggest players and founders of the SCO. Two years following the SCO’s expansion to include India and Pakistan, it was believed that Islamabad and New Delhi might possibly use the occasion to begin the process of resuming stalled peace talks. But consistent cold-shouldering by a re-elected BJP government, including the Ministry of External Affairs’ decision to not fly Prime Minister Modi over Pakistani airspace despite first requesting and then being granted permission, has left an imprint of uncertainty on the relationship’s future. Indeed, even as the conference was underway, analysts and media channels in New Delhi continued to present the relationship as one of mutual recriminations rather than actively considering the benefits of a potential detente. Instead, the Pakistani Prime Minister met with other heads of government on energy and infrastructure projects and on enhancing regional trade and connectivity, including the construction of a 700 km railroad connecting Uzbekistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At the meeting, Prime Minister Imran suggested that the world was seeing the “advent of a multi-polar global order” for the first time in a century. On Afghanistan he maintained that the SCO’s support for post-conflict Afghanistan would remain crucial in the coming year. With Afghan President Ashraf Ghani scheduled to visit Islamabad later this month, the state of Pak-Afghan ties is likely to come under further focus as regional players look to troubleshoot the protracted Afghan conflict. Finally, in the Bishkek Declaration issued at the end of the summit, SCO member states condemned terrorism and extremism in all their forms and manifestations, and emphasised the need to expand the scope and potential of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure.