As appeared in www.saag.org
India will be the only country, amongst the members and observers of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), not to be represented at the level of the head of state or Government at the summit of the SCO being held at Shanghai from June 15, 2006. The summit will mark the fifth anniversary of the organisation. The member-States are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The observer-States are India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia. Afghanistan, though neither a member nor an observer, will be a special invitee.
2. The decision of our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, not to attend the summit and to depute instead Shri Murli Deora, the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, reflects the dilemmas faced by India in deciding what priority to give to the organisation and its objectives. The decision to depute the Minister for Petroleum and Gas underlines India’s positive perception of the potential of the SCO as an instrument for promoting trans-national co-operation in strengthening the economies of the region, promoting trade and ensuring energy security.
3. At the same time, the decision of the Prime Minister to keep away from the summit reflects —without openly articulating them—India’s misgivings over the political direction the SCO has been taking since its formation. At the time of its formation in June 2001—and even earlier when the SCO’s seed was an unstructured gathering of the so-called Shanghai Five minus Uzbekistan— its principal objective was projected as co-operation in promoting trans-border peace and security and counter-terrorism.
4. Normally, this is an objective with which India should not have any problem, but what should make India uncomfortable is the clubbing together the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism as one of the main objectives of the SCO. China refers to them as the Three Evils confronting its national security. India has had a long history of co-operation in counter-terrorism with many countries of the world without worrying about their political set-up and ideological orientation, but trans-national co-operation in counter-separatism and counter-extremism is unchartered territory for it.
5. The Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism signed at the founding meeting on June 15, 2001, defined separatism and extremism as follows:
“Separatism” means any act intended to violate territorial integrity of a State including by annexation of any part of its territory or to disintegrate a State, committed in a violent manner, as well as planning and preparing, and abetting such act, and subject to criminal prosecution in accordance with the national laws of the Parties;
“Extremism” is an act aimed at seizing or keeping power through the use of violence or changing violently the constitutional regime of a State, as well as a violent encroachment upon public security, including organization, for the above purposes, of illegal armed formations and participation in them, criminally prosecuted in conformity with the national laws of the Parties.
6. The Shanghai Five and its successor, the SCO, initially came into being mainly due to the concerns of China over the recrudescence of the Uighur separatist movement in Xinjiang and the role of the Uighur diaspora in the Central Asian Republics (CARS) in it and the concerns of Russia and the Central Asian Republics over the activities of Islamic extremists and jihadi terrorists in their territorries. The subsequent movements for democracy in some of the CARs now tend to be viewed as extremism. China tends to view the Dalai Lama and his followers as separatists/extremists and the members of the Falungong as extremists.Gen.Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan views the Baloch nationalists,the Shias of Gilgit and Baltistan and Ms. Benazir Bhutto, Mr. Nawaz Sharif and their followers as extremists. Gen. Musharraf even got Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the duly elected Prime Minister, convicted and jailed as a terrorist. Islamabad has been funding, training and arming anti-India and anti-Afghanistan terrorist groups. In Iran, anybody asking for political reforms is jailed as an extremist. It has been funding, training and arming anti-Israeli terrorist group and closing its eyes to the transit of foreign terrorists to Iraq from Afghanistan and Pakistan through its territory. The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of the Al Qaeda in Iraq, and his followers transited from Pakistan to Iraq through Iranian territory. Zarqawi was reportedly living in Karachi before he proceeded to Iraq.
7. How can India feel comfortable in an organisation in which some member-countries and observers view movements for genuine democracy as extremism and use State-sponsored terrorism as a strategic weapon? How can India reconcile its membership/observership of the SCO where it is the only genuine democracy with its membership of other groupings whose objective is to promote democracy in the world? If and when India becomes a regular member of the SCO as it is aspiring to, will it subscribe to the above-mentioned Convention and implement Article 6 of the Convention which says:
In accordance with this Convention, the central competent authorities of the Parties shall cooperate and assist each other through: 1) Exchange of information; 2) Execution of requests concerning operational search actions.
8. The implementation of this Article could entail exchange of information with the Chinese regarding the activities of the Dalai Lama and his followers and search of their offices and residences, if so desired by the Chinese. Will we do that? Will Indian public opinion permit that? That is India’s first dilemma.
9.The second dilemma arises from the political direction the SCO has taken since its formation. From its initial counter-terrorism, counter-separatism and counter-extremism focus, it has branched off in other directions. One of its objectives is now projected as promoting multi-polarity. It is an euphemistic way of saying to counter the US influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Though Russia and China deny any such intention and assert that there is no hidden motive, the US and other Western countries look upon the SCO as a politically-motivated organisation to facilitate the strategic objectives of China and Russia to the detriment of those of the US and the rest of the West.
10. In an attempt to allay fears of any hidden motive, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has said in an article to mark the summit: “Since its foundation in 2001, the SCO has rapidly gained influence and has now evolved into a powerful regional organisation and a significant stability factor across the vast Eurasian continent. It has become a reality of regional and global politics, which explains the growing interest other states and multilateral associations have in SCO’s forums and activities. Recalling that this regional organisation came as a result of a great confidence-building effort amid many pressing problems, all of its members rightly deserve the credit for their firmness, purposefulness, and perseverance. Through difficult negotiations, the parties ultimately reached an agreement on border issues that involved distances and number of signatories Asia had never seen before. We are all open to any forms of joint action, for the Organisation sees the entire Asia-Pacific Region as a reasonable scope for effort coordination and common approaches to security, and seeks first of all to build confident relations with regional counterparts who already have a record there. With such a network of partners, we would avoid unnecessary duplication and parallel action, working for our common interests without any “exclusive” clubs and lines of divide.”
11.The Chinese authorities have also been repeatedly insisting that the SCO is not targeted against any country, but many suspect that the underlying purpose of the organisation behind its benign facade is to preserve the interests of China and Russia in the Central Asian region, counter jihadi terrorism originating from the region and have a say over the utilisation of the energy resources of the region. Mr. David Zweig, a political analyst at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology, says:. “The move (My comment: towards the expansion of the SCO’s mandate) reflects Central Asia’s increasing importance as a source of oil and gas, especially for China. (The meeting) signifies to a certain extent China’s ability to have greater influence in this part of the world — in an area that is now very important to China for energy and security reasons.”
12. One has reasons to suspect that the SCO is nothing but a resuscitation of the late Leonid Brezhnev’s idea of an Asian security co-operation organisation over which even India was not enthusiastic despite its misgivings over the US policies in the region and its close relations with the erstwhile USSR. The one major difference is that Brezhnev’s idea was directed against the US as well as China, whereas China and Russia are now in the driving seat of the SCO.
13. India’s third dilemma arises from the fact that the SCO has brought together the two major nuclear and missile proliferators of the world—China and Pakistan— and one of the beneficiaries of their proliferation, namely, Iran. Moreover, the forthcoming summit is taking place at a time when the international focus is on Iran because of its clandestine nuclear programme and the virulently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements of its President, Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be attending the summit. In deference to Chinese sensitivities, he is not expected to utilise the summit for his hardline statements against the US and Israel. If he does, there could be considerable embarrassment for India at a time when its relations with the US are steadily moving forward. Iran is likely to use the summit, with the blessings of China, a major dependent on Iran’s energy resources, to whitewash its perceived sins of commission and omission. Should India get involved in this exercise at this stage?
12. Keeping these factors in view, one cannot fault our Prime Minister’s decision not to attend the summit. This does not mean any dilution of the importance attached by us to the SCO or of our interest in joining it as a full member. It only means that we should be cautious. We should whole-heartedly support its economic and trade initiatives, but observe caution in matters relating to security.
(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd.), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)