Eurasia

Modi-Imran in SCO: Be ready for some tough pictures

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It would be a hectic two days for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (June 13-14). The flight detour through Oman and Iran too wouldn’t have helped. Then there is this little matter of bilateral talks with at least five heads of states:  Xi Jinping (China), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Hassan Rouhani (Iran), Ashraf Ghani (Afghanistan) and Sooronbay Jeenbekov (Kyrgyzstan) besides the actual SCO Summit.

Modi’s diplomacy in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) isn’t just about his time. It’s also about the long shadow of United States which would follow his every move and not just with China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran—all in US crosshair for one reason or the other.  Modi has the image of a tough leader, engaging the world but never aligned to any particular bloc. Much of it would be tested by Friday.

Modi, of course, can’t overlook the probing audience of a billion and a half people in India and Pakistan. There would be photo-ops with Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan. Every nuance of arched eyebrows, warm or cold smile, firm or limp handshake, would be dissected in reams of papers. A hug though is as good as ruled out.

In many ways SCO would be about optics. Its’ stated goal is to fight against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. But Pakistan would be spared this embarrassment. Our troublesome neighbour is making its debut in SCO since its formal induction in 2017—as is the case with India. This  powerful  Group of the East has had always China behind the wheels. Modi can enjoy the ride but can’t change the course.  China is friends with Pakistan for nothing.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have chosen to embarrass each other on the eve of the 19th SCO Summit. India first sought a free airspace for Modi’s passage to Bishkek. However once it was granted, wisdom prevailed and Modi opted to decline the offer. Pakistan, or its propped-up separatists in Jammu & Kashmir, then killed 5 CRPF jawans in Anantnag on Wednesday. Be ready for some tough pictures from Bishkek.

It isn’t to say that SCO is without merit for India. US needs India for its Asia strategy and by appearing shoulder-to-shoulder with Putin and Xi, Modi would keep Donald Trump sober when the two meet in a fortnight’s time in Osaka for G20 Summit (June 28-29).  Modi’s bilateral with Rouhani in Bishkek would further force Trump’s hands. That the host in Osaka would be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who is outreaching to Iran later this week, is no little matter.

India also needs to have the right thermostat to keep matters with China from running too hot or too cold. Modi’s recent visit to Maldives must have prodded the wounds of China. Bishkek would be a good place to straighten out the ruffled feathers since the two leaders, Modi and XI, are slated for a summit in October, a la Wuhan style.

There is no gain denying India sees a friend in Russia. It was Russia which facilitated the entry of India into SCO which, to begin with, was primarily a Central Asia lobby that needed an axis after Soviet Union exploded in 1991. Modi and Putin aren’t taking any steps back on S400 missiles or their growing defence cooperation and Bishkek would afford the two leaders a moment to align themselves against the evil eye of US.

SCO is as good a moment as any to keep Afghanistan in India’s good books. The mountainous country could be fuming for having been not invited for Modi’s oath ceremony last month.  Kabul is insecure for more than one reason—Taliban, fostered by Pakistan, is gaining international currency; and US is vowing a retreat of its armed forces. India has always been an all-weather friend and Bishkek couldn’t have come at a better time.

India also needs access to information and intelligence from the Tashkent-based RATS (Regional Anti Terror Structure). China’s push for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also can’t be allowed a free goal. India also  can’t afford to be hemmed in by Pakistan and China on its two flanks. A global economy can’t be known as only a South Asian behemoth. India needs physical access over and above its northern borders into Eurasia and SCO affords an excellent opportunity.  A rising India is critical to all big powers and it must keep all its suitors on tenterhooks. A stronger and more empowered Modi by his people would only help.

 

Modi’s visit to Pakistan: the big picture

This is a reprint from Newsbred.

 

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s unscheduled stopover for his counterpart Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan is not symbolic alone. It has a domestic and international substance which would only annoy those who don’t want peace between two combustible nuclear-ed neighbours.

And who don’t want peace? We now know of forces who would like Middle East to be terrorist-infested; that in its second phase could export terror on to north, east and south of Eurasia. Russia, which has grappled with terrorism in Caucasus longer than any other nation; and China which is struggling with Uyghur Muslim in its Xinjiang region; fear such a flood of separatist trouble if Middle East is completely submerged with terrorists.

Pakistan, which has had a hand in creating the first lot of terrorists through its Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) in the 80s to drive out Soviets from Afghanistan (it’s all documented), is now in a historical correction mode. It’s more China than US-centric and has no interest in being the shoulder from which Washington fires its guns. The US drone warfare in Pakistan has lasted for almost a decade now. The tutelage of US for decades has yielded Pakistan nothing but mass killings on its streets and schools and the epitaph of a near-failed state.

Modi, like leader of any sovereign nation, has two compelling narratives: to ensure peace at its borders and to economically grow the country. There is no sense to remain mired in China-Pakistan vs India narrative (which of course is what imperialist forces of divide-and-rule would like) and miss out on all the infrastructural, gas and communications highways presently underway in Eurasia for its integration.

Hostile borders is what allows terrorism to flourish and which is a common fear of Russia, China, India and dare I say, Pakistan. A move to protect Eurasia’s security is what prompted the creation of Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) in 2001. The Asian powers clearly saw the game of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to spread to  Asia and wreck the region (e.g Iraq, Libya, Syria etc) so as it never gets integrated and challenge the dominance of West.

Interestingly, both India and Pakistan are to be formally inducted as members of the SCO in 2016. Their cooperation is sought by SCO founders China and Russia who exert a considerable influence on Pakistan and India. Modi’s impromptu visit to Pakistan must be seen in this light. The parley of last few weeks in Paris, Bangkok and Islamabad has been a build-up for this Lahore bonhomie.

That all this has overtaken the preceding acrimony has been most pleasant. Pakistan had submitted three dossiers in the United Nations comprising alleged role of India in subversive activities in Karachi and Balochistan. India had cried foul when China didn’t allow 26/11 perpetrators to be listed as terrorists in UN books. The border skirmishes and killings had scaled up. All this has been too recent.

Economically, India wants its roads to lead deeper into Eurasia rather than be hemmed in by Pakistan and China. The recent signing of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline was a sign of changing winds in the Indian subcontinent. Don’t be surprised if decks are also cleared in long-delayed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline in 2016.

Modi would reap the most from this peace harvest. He has realized that domestic opposition would’ve only one stick to beat him up with: to show him as communal and promoter of “intolerance.” This clearly orchestrated Modi-demonizing method flares up before any state elections and is the handiwork of Marxist-Congress-Media-CIA “gang of four” in this country.

Modi’s overture to Pakistan has taken the sting out of poison-tipped arrows of opposition. It would be difficult to portray him as anti-Muslim after such a breezy outreach. They haven’t been able to pin him down on corruption—“intolerance” is the only hammer at their command. These destabilizing forces would now have to come up with something new.

It’s also time not to judge India-Pakistan relations on Kashmir alone. Kashmir would remain insoluble in near future. But Kashmir shouldn’t deny low-hanging fruits to the two neighbours.

The only solution to Kashmir would be to declare it a non-militarized zone just as it exists between North and South Korea. All conflicts would then go to the UN table and both India and Pakistan would be denied an arbitrary stance.

After Modi’s visit to Pakistan, the usual peace-bashers would be up to their tricks. You could hear of clashes at the border, terrorist attacks and compromised NGOs hogging the headlines. Mark them out and the newspapers which promote them. There are the enemies which lie within.