Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ Meet


Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ Meet

The upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) defence ministers’ meet in New Delhi would be keenly watched by analysts,.

The newly appointed Chinese defence minister, Gen Li Shangfu — the man behind PLA’s modernisation drive — is expected to attend the meeting. Li, who headed China’s Equipment Development Department, is under US sanctions since 2018 for procuring Russian weapons, including a Su-35 fighter aircraft and an S-400 missile system. His appointment, writes P Stobdan (Former Ambassador) “is viewed as a rebuke by President Xi Jinping, indicating the latter’s scant regard for Washington’s ban on his military personnel. Instead, the appointment reflected a reward for Li’s contribution to China’s military……

“The defence minister holds a symbolic and ceremonial role in the Chinese system. Also, Li seemingly never dealt with or served along the Indian border, which means he would not be having any direct say in India-China matters, but as the highest-ranking state councillor and a CMC member, he enjoys direct access to Xi.”

Pakistan defence minister Khawaja Asif’s participation is doubtful amid Islamabad’s recent display of verbal belligerence, perhaps intended to spoil India’s presidency.


Meeting agenda:  tackling counter-terrorism

The ministers will discuss pressing regional security matters — tackling counter-terrorism, cutting off terror financing, curbing cross-border recruitment. They will devise action plans and issue a joint communique.

Lashkar-e-Toiba was banned by the SCO in 2007. Pakistan had to put the Hafiz Saeed-backed terror outfit Tehreek-e-Azaadi Jammu & Kashmir on the list of ‘proscribed organisations’ a day before Pakistan joined the SCO in 2017. “Compliance with the FATF’s norms was cited as a pretext,” states Stobdan.

The SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) plays an important role in tracking terrorist entities and their activities. “But that is easier said than done. Numerous Al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated outfits continue to operate from Afghanistan. Getting hard inputs on terrorist hideouts is difficult when Pakistan is a member of RATS.”


India’s defence cooperation with the SCO

The scale of India’s defence cooperation with the SCO nations is limited, broadly covering training and assistance, military exercises, etc. The annual joint military exercises, ‘Peace Missions’, to combat terrorism are beneficial, but, according to Stobdan “efficacy in terms of interoperability remains rather feeble due to the absence of a common operating language…….

“China’s offer to train SCO’s security personnel in Beijing intends to establish direct links with the internal security setups of member countries. India should restrict itself to holding of military exercises, music/band festivals, mountaineering and rock-climbing events.”

Defence ministers normally highlight their respective strategic perspectives. The Eurasian region is more fractured today because the Central Asian security outlook towards Russia has undergone a change since the Ukraine conflict. But with the recent harmonisation of policies between Russia and China, concern over the Ukraine crisis is unlikely to feature in the joint statement.


India’s interest is to benefit from economics, connectivity and counter-terrorism cooperation

And “as the SCO gains traction beyond Eurasia, the focal point of India’s interest is to benefit from economics, connectivity and counter-terrorism cooperation. But real benefits remain elusive due to a lack of clarity in terms of specific functions. Multiple conflicting interests intersect at the forum. India has drawn certain redlines of ‘respect the territorial integrity, unite against terror’.

“Pakistan is already playing spoilsport, putting a spanner in the SCO goals. If the issue of ‘right to transit trade access’ for India’s connectivity with Central Asia hurts Pakistani interests, the use of incorrect maps depicting India’s borders irks New Delhi.”

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