September 29, 2022

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)’s 22nd Summit in Samarkand

The SCO that had a small beginning with China in the lead has grown into one of the major world organizations because a large number of Asian countries have joined it.
Keywords: SCO, Asia, China, Uzbekistan, Multilateralism, Cooperation, Diplomacy, Terrorism, Central Asia, Iran, Ukraine, War, Russia
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Samarkand, the fabulous capital of the Timurid Empire in the 14-15th century still retains visible impressions of the glory of a great conqueror. The tomb of Timur called Gor-e Amir, the Sherdar Seminary and the Bibi Khanum, the largest and most magnificent mosques in the 15th-century Islamic world transport a visitor to an age of architectural renaissance in Central Asia. While a new shape of modernity was given to the city under Soviet rule yet its middle- ages aura was left as it was.

Uzbekistan will be hosting the 22nd Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 15-16 September 2022 in the historic city of Samarkand. Heads of many Asian states, the members of SCO, assisted by their advisers will meet and discuss regional and global issues in detail. 

Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the President of Uzbekistan is making a big effort to ensure that the proposed summit meeting is a success. The expectation is that President Putin of Russia, President Xi of China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will attend the meeting physically. The previous summits were held in Russia and Tajikistan, in virtual and hybrid formats respectively and the last in-person SCO Summit was held in Bishkek in June 2019. Therefore, the September 2022 Summit will be the first in-person after 2019. This adds to the significance of the Samarkand Summit. Owing to its geographical centrality in Central Asia, Uzbekistan is important for other reasons also. Its southern boundary touches the northern border of Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has economic credit with Afghanistan as its largest electricity supplier and has proactively continued its engagement with that country, and thus can play a significant role in influencing the Taliban regime.

The observers think that since it is the first in-person meeting after three years, the presence of top leadership will be of much importance. There is a fairly good chance of bilateral meetings on the sidelines in which common issues could be discussed. President Putin will certainly like to put his views before the SCO and rationalise his action against Ukraine.

For the Indian Prime Minister, the meeting has much significance. A bilateral meeting on the sideline with President Putin will certainly strengthen the Indo-Russian perception of the global political scenario and, of course, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its repercussion on member countries.

The suspense remains over a bilateral meeting between PM Modi and President Xi because no pre-meeting exercise is reported between the two sides on diplomatic levels. Though meetings between the military commanders on both sides are held as per schedule but no thaw appears to be in the frozen relations along the border in Ladakh. China does not appear to be in a mood of resolving the differences and takes resorts to intermittent sword-rattling to which India responds adequately.

Iran is expected to participate in the Samarkand summit because it will be for the first time that Iran is represented as a full member. For Prime Minister Modi, it will be a very fruitful meeting because firstly hopefully in the matter of the Chahbahar – Central Asian road link issue, a long-term consensual policy may be hammered. Secondly, the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road routes for moving freight between India, Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe will also come up for review. India is eager about this project as it opens the road for her to conduct smooth commercial relations with the countries mentioned above.  The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road. The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali, etc. A joint survey with the objective of identifying the bottlenecks of the route has already been conducted.

Prime Minister Modi is expected to have a bilateral meeting with Shovkat, the Uzbek President. They are good and trusted friends and have tried to widen the scope of friendship. Since Uzbek President has good relations with the Taliban regime in Kabul, and India feels a security threat from the irresponsible Taliban commanders who are subject to the vagaries of temperament, he would like to convey assurance to the Taliban that India is interested in the developmental projects in Afghanistan as also support in the healthcare sector.

Under the students’ exchange programme the exchange protocol between the two countries is adequately functional. India and Uzbekistan have been expanding their trade and cultural relations. Uzbek President paid two visits to India and both resulted in the strengthening of ties.

However, bilateral talks between PM Modi and Pakistani PM Shahbaz Sharief have no chance so far. Modi did convey to his Pakistani counterpart a message of sympathy for the victims of recent devastating floods in Pakistan. There were rumours of Pakistan asking India for humanitarian help and easing trade conditions but the recent statement of the spokesman of the MEA trashed all such rumours and decisively said that there was nothing on the subject that he has to share with the reporters.

While Putin will make all efforts to convey a message of confidence to the Central Asian Republics, particularly Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan that Russia’s engagement in the Ukrainian war will not at all have any impact on the defence treaty Russia has with the Central Asian Republics (CARs),  President Xi of China’s concern is mainly her B&R Initiative and CPEC. China has good relations with the CARS, particularly Kazakhstan where from China imports gas and oil. China has also concluded a deal with Turkmenistan for the import of Turkmen oil but as Turkmenistan is not a member of SCO, that subject is not within the purview of the Samarkand Summit.  

The SCO which had a small beginning with China in the lead has grown into one of the major world organizations because a large number of Asian countries have joined it. Though initially, its agenda was of meeting the terrorist challenge, but with the passage of time and growth of better understanding among its members, the SCO seems to have changed its complexion. An important addition is of Iran, a country of immense strategic importance. If Iran provides connectivity of the Central Asian region to the Persian Gulf, programme in which India is deeply interested, Iran will have a pivotal position in shaping the future and strengthening of the organization. Providing extensive road and rail connectivity means a big boost to inter-state as well as global trade. Therefore its impact on the world economy as well as on the economy of respective member states will be of much significance.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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