Solidified in his political positioning, not just at home but globally, Modi rode on high confidence and asserted his narrative successfully.
PM Narendra Modi flew in to Bishkek with a high head and an emphatic entry. Solidified in his political positioning, not just at home but globally, Modi rode on high confidence and asserted his narrative successfully at the second Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Kyrgyz Republic.
Welcomed by Kyrgyz Deputy PM Zamirbek Maripbaevich, Modi’s official trip was highlighted by successful bilateral talks with five nations.
He also inaugurated the India-Kyrgyz Business Forum in Bishkek with Jeenbekov.
His speech and talks contained strong vocal condemnation of terror harbouring by states and open invitation to advance trade and cooperation with India.
In the bilateral conversations, Modi raised the issue of terror and Pakistan directly with Chinese and Russian counterparts Xi Jinping and Vladamir Putin.
Modi’s talks with China and Russia were significant due to the strong influence of both heavyweights in the subcontinent. Pakistan’s biggest ally, Beijing has been urging both India and Pakistan to talk out differences. Moscow, which has historically had a soft corner for New Delhi, recently forged ties with Islamabad.
Another highlight of PM Modi’s diplomatic trip was perhaps the inaction in exchanges between India and Pakistan leaders.
Modi and Imran Khan sat in close proximity for around nine hours over two days but completely ignored each other.
The only reported action was away from media eyes when they exchanged pleasantries in the leaders’ lounge around the end of the summit.
Modi’s speech at the Summit
Expressed pleasure at taking part in the summit. He touted India’s contribution towards advancing the credibility and viability of the SCO globally, pointing to historical linkages in the prosperity of the region.
Modi advocated better connectivity between SCO nations and stated that initiatives like the International North-South corridor, Chabahar Port and Ashgabat Agreement verify India’s position.
Modi urged the gathered leaders to shed their conjectured views and form a united front against terrorism.
He also solidified India’s stance on ‘peaceful, safe and prosperous’ Afghanistan and its criticality to the SCO’s stability and security indicated pleasure at the construction of further action roadmap appreciated. Modi also mentioned the Air Freight Corridor built by India between Kabul, Kandahar and New Delhi, Mumbai in 2017.
On peace and cooperation
Modi urged the SCO leaders to formulate a strong regional force based on principles like sovereignty, regional unity, good governance, transparency, friendly relations and stability.
He opined that healthy cooperation was important and gave an acronym of HEALTH as the approach that should be taken by SCO in order to achieve its goals. Healthcare cooperation, Economic cooperation, Alternate Energy cooperation, Literature and Culture cooperation, Terrorism-free society and Humanitarian Cooperation.
Towards this cause, he mentioned India’s efforts in telemedicine and tourism proliferation underlining people to people connection as an important aspect of national cooperation.
On terrorism and veiled jibes at Pakistan
The rules of SCO restrain member nations from bringing up bilateral disputes during the summit. But that did not stop PM Modi was hitting out indirectly at Pakistan PM Imran Khan during his speech.
With Khan in the audience, Modi stated that countries that sponsor, aid and fund terrorism must be held accountable.
He urged national leaders to come out of their narrow thinking and forge a united front, reiterating his stance that India stands for a terrorism-free society. He strongly asserted the idea of formation of an international conference to discuss and resolves challenge of terrorism.
On Trade and Cooperation
Modi highlighted the need to create an open, rules-based and non-discriminatory trading system – referring to the ongoing trade war between US President Trump and China’s Jinping.
He upheld cooperation as sacrosanct during his speech, and mentioned India’s intent to contribute towards enhanced connectivity between the nations of the SCO. Modi expressed intent in sharing tele-medicine, healthcare and rendering humanitarian assistance during natural calamities to SCO members.
PM Modi had five bilateral talks scheduled on the side lines of the Summit with Russian, Chinese, Afghanistan, Kyrgyz and Iranian leaders. He also managed a ‘pull-aside’ talk with the Belarus PM. But the talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was cancelled due to disruption in scheduled.
Russian President Vladamir Putin
Modi had what he called an ‘excellent meeting’ with the Putin.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that Modi and Putin “reviewed all aspects of bilateral relations to further strengthen the strategic relationship.”
Putin also invited Modi to be the main guest of the Eastern Economic Forum. Indian government has also announced Russian language helpline on Indian websites and e-tourism services for most of the SCO nations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
The two leaders had their 10th meeting in the last 5 years which Modi described as very fruitful. The issue of Pakistan was side-lined by Indian officials, stating that the bilateral talks are not possible at this stage and they don’t need any third party to get involved. Modi also conveyed how Pakistan derailed his effort of bilateral talks and peace.
For the Indo-China relations, this meeting was a big positive. Modi invited Jinping to India for the second India-China informal summit to be held in Varanasi. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are expected to try and find solution for border issue.
Modi and Xi directed their respective foreign ministers to prepare for 70 events (35 events each side) to mark 70 years of creation of diplomatic ties between India and China next year.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
Both the heads of the states were driven to make the India-Afghanistan friendship even stronger.
PM Modi in his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani assured India’s help and support to ensure that a ‘legitimate government is chosen through the democratic process’.
Afghanistan has three elections simultaneously scheduled on 28 September for the Presidential post, the provincial councils and the Ghazni parliamentary elections.
Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov
After meeting Jeebekov, Modi declared signing of 15 documents between the two countries.
These agreements broadly focus on shifting the bilateral relations to more a strategic partnership.
The agreements emphasise on health, military and economic development and cooperation. Modi also announced the credit of $200 million for various development projects in Kyrgyzstan. India and Kyrgyzstan have decided to celebrate the year 2021 as the year of cultural resemblance and friendship between the two nations.
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko
Modi also met Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, in a ‘pull-aside’ in the Leaders’ Lounge at the Summit.
Lukashenko invited Modi to visit Belarus which was accepted by the Indian Prime Minister.
Both leaders have agreed to further talk on 3-4 key projects between the two nations.
Interactions with Pakistan
The interaction, or lack of it, or the exact that India intended. Modi and Khan did exchange pleasantries, but the brief interaction was best summed up by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
When asked how much time the two leaders spent together, Qureshi said, “I didn’t have a stopwatch.” They reportedly shook hands and Pak PM congratulated Modi on his election victory in the leaders’ lounge”.
The Indian External Affairs Ministry stated that there was ‘no meeting, no pull aside’ with Pakistan but just an exchange of greetings.
The silent treatment by PM Modi was intentional and foreseen. Earlier Modi chose to avoid flying over Pakistan airspace even though Islamabad had given clearance.
Another way in which Modi asserted his cold shoulder to Khan was by staying 30 km away from him at the Orion Hotel in central Bishkek while all other leaders, including Khan, stayed at the Al Archa Presidential Palace of the Kyrgyz President.
During the summit, Modi kept his distance at a round table dinner when they were almost facing each other. Neither did he and Khan have a word during the gala concert at the Kyrgyz National Philharmonic either.
Modi took up the issue with Xi during his bilateral talks, opining that his efforts of easing relations with Pakistan had been derailed and New Delhi doesn’t see any signs from Islamabad of wanting to create a terrorism-free atmosphere.
Khan’s comeback attempt
In return, Pakistan PM Imran Khan tried to turn the tables on Modi by using his speech to condemn state-terrorism against people under illegal occupation, referring to its stance against India on Jammu and Kashmir.
Khan also emphasized that growing intolerance and Islamophobia was a threat to the region and stated that Pakistan stands against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including State-terrorism against people under illegal occupation.
Khan opined that political differences and unresolved disputes added to common problems in South Asia such as poverty, illiteracy, disease and under-development, and cooperation being the only way to overcome the predicament.
The Bishkek Declaration and Modi’s diplomatic success
The fact that the Bishkek declaration signed at the summit mentions “cross-border” security threats in the context of terrorism, is a diplomatic win of sorts for PM Modi’s narrative.
As Madhumita Hazarika Bhagat, Joint Secretary – SCO, Ministry of External Affairs, India mentioned, “We have spoken together on terrorism. It is a strong statement and is a consensus statement.”
Growing amicability in the Central Asian region also helps India’s cause of initiating bigger ties in the region for decades, but efforts to improve trade and tourism are hampered due to lack of direct land routes and continuing tensions with transit Pakistan.
Successful bilateral talks with SCO leaders, strong resonance with Putin and a visible growing affinity with Xi Jinping puts Modi-led India in a stronger position in the region.
Confident and more credible with an increased majority post re-election, the Indian PM is now one of the most attractive prospective allies for any world nation, and perhaps the choicest one for Russia and China.
By: Chitresh Sehgal, Senior Editor, Dkoding Media