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India's SCO moment: Diplomacy full charged and beyond

by Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: Sep 19, 2022, 10:55 am IST

Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash
At the SCO Samarkand summit 2022 when Indian Prime Minister Modi spoke of the importance of dialogue and diplomacy and not war as option in today’s world while talking to Putin, we stood at the centrepoint of world attention. It was a reiteration of India’s stand of being neutral, standing by the people at large and development, not destruction. What was expressed more as a concern was the humanitarian crisis of food, energy and sovereignty amply emphasized by India’s Prime Minsiter. But it will be interesting to notice how the Western media reported this. "Modi rebukes Putin," by Washington Post, NYT wrote, "India distances itself from Russia," FT reported "Modi chides Putin over Ukraine war." This is called narrative building.  

Diplomacy is the art of the subtle. They say in diplomacy where one sits depends on where one stands. Which time to be where and for how much time, a handshake, an eye contact, body language, even a smile or a laugh defines relations between countries and interests and their future trajectory. Even a word extra is loaded with meaning and sends signals. Modi’s reaching late at the informal dinner, giving the Chinese Premier a miss, ignoring Pakistan's PM Sharif, meetings with Iran, Turkey and Russia conveyed what was intended.The twin optics of Modi standing flanked at a corner with Sharif of Pakistan at another initially and the other with Modi at the centre in the final image were indicative too.                

Bilaterals at such multilateral forums are held as opportunities to address specific country & region centric issues, some work out some don’t as per diplomatic protocols, clashing interests, personal capital of a leader, national faultlines and even egos. Reports say that a bilateral with Xi which was to be, couldn’t work out at the last moment. With Iran it was about Chabahar, regional security that included Afghanistan and trade. With Turkey it was economic relations, regional & global developments.

So when India PM categorically says to Putin at the summit that aggression is not acceptable and our longstanding stand with Pakistan that trade and terror cannot go together, China is bit of an anomaly. Despite China blatantly challenging sovereignty, trying to occupy Indian territory in J&K as also in the northeast Arunachal Pradesh, trade with the dragon is at its height. As Russia invades Ukraine our economic relations soar. Similarly Europe is buying energy from Russia and at the same time arming Ukraine with weapons to fight Russia. So with US.  Thus principals apart, as FM Jaishankar often emphasizes on global platforms that India like all nations will prioritize its needs and interests first, the economic interdependence is a bigger slice of the reality. And thus arent we are working China advantage!!The Chinese Premier knows it all well.   

The fallout of the Ukraine war has hugely affected the world as a whole. Supply chain disruption and sanctions have pushed the developing countries at the brink of starvation and Europe into an uncertain cold winter ahead. And that was the main concern voiced by Mr Modi at this world forum. Also of feelers from China and India to Russia of the support of the no win, never seem to be ending war with Ukraine was an important message. This SCO summit included Bahrain, Maldives, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Myanmar the status of SCO dialogue partner along with the Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. SCO which was born as counter to NATO is attracting major Eurasian and Middle east block. Concerns on Afghanistan both as a terror hub and its internal churnings particularly on women rights was the common thread between the leaders.      

With India having taken the Presidency of SCO 2023, the challenge of straddling the challenges of counterbalancing the eastern and western blocs will be interesting to watch. In a China dominated alliance structure India’s navigating between the powers is a huge responsibility on Mr Modi’s shoulders particularly as the next year will see India heading and holding the G20 as also becoming the Chair of UNSC for a year. It will be an opportunity to affect reforms in the organization that Modi has been talking about. The issue of countering China’s veto in UNSC for designating Pakistan terrorists responsible for India’s Mumbai terror attacks can be a litmus test for India as a nation that aspires to be the leader in the region. 
Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash

Political Commentator, Interviewer, moderator and Foreign Correspondent. With more than 15 years in journalism and experience of both print and electronic medium, she is Editor FacenFacts, news website and Managing Director, Dream Press Consultants Ltd

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