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India's Clear Stance on Critical Issues Wins Western Allies During SCO Summit

India’s unhappiness with Russia in Ukraine would've pleased Western allies who questioned its neutrality in the past

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Opinion
4 min read
India's Clear Stance on Critical Issues Wins Western Allies During SCO Summit
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to walk a fine line in Samarkand during the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) first in-person summit in recent years. That was inevitable given the current global stand-off between the West and Russia. But Modi did manage to walk it successfully.

In the process, though, he seems to have more or less avoided dealing with India’s own problems relating to China and Pakistan.

Modi finessed the Ukraine issue by bluntly telling Russia's President Vladimir Putin that “the era of war is over” and that the only path to the resolution of the problem was through “diplomacy and dialogue.”

This stance, for the first time publicly expressing India’s unhappiness with the Russian actions in Ukraine, would have heartened India’s western allies who have been uncomfortable with New Delhi's studied neutrality on the issue.
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India Clears Stance on the Russia-Ukraine War

Indeed, in the past few months, there have been a number of voices in the West questioning the value of the Indian contribution to the western coalition dealing not just with Russia but China as well. Now, even as Russia is suffering battlefield reverses, New Delhi has added some more nuance to its so-called neutral stance. Though in all fairness, from the outset, New Delhi has been calling for the warring parties to work along the path of dialogue.

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Russian President Putin seemed quite prepared for Modi’s remarks and his rejoinder was that he was aware about India's position on the conflict in Ukraine and also about its concerns. "We want all this to end as soon as possible. We will keep you abreast of what is happening there," Putin said to Modi.

The meeting with Putin was one of the four that Modi held on the sidelines of the summit. His first meeting was with the host, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. He also met with President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. The meeting with Raisi was important both in the context of the oil imports which the Iranians want India to resume, as well as the deepening of connectivity links through the Chabahar port.

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India To Oil Ties With Iran? 

India had cancelled oil imports at the instance of the US sanctions in 2018-19. Given that New Delhi has been willing to ignore American ire on the issue of oil imports from Russia, the Iranians want India to take a similar stance in relation to their oil exports. Looked at from any angle, oil trade with Iran is beneficial for India, given the quality of the crude and its proximity to Indian refineries. But so far there is no indication as to whether New Delhi is willing to resume oil trade with Iran. Needless to say, this is also linked to India’s Eurasian ambitions expressed in its commitment to the Chabahar and International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) projects.

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What Went Amiss in Modi’s SCO Agenda?

The two big misses in Modi’s Samarkand visit was the lack of any forward movement in ties with China and Pakistan. The mutual withdrawal of Indian and Chinese forces from PP15 (Gogra-Hotsprings) in eastern Ladakh was said to be aimed at setting the stage for a possible Xi-Modi meeting at the SCO summit, but clearly India is holding out for a Chinese withdrawal from all areas of Ingress, especially the Depsang and the Charding Nala areas, before it is ready to engage the Chinese in a normal mode.

As for Pakistan, despite indications of an improvement in ties over the past year, there was little change in Samarkand where there was no bilateral meeting between Modi and Pakistan President Shehbaz Sharif. Indeed, the big issue now is whether Islamabad will attend the 2023 summit of the SCO which is scheduled to be held in New Delhi.
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However, Modi did make an oblique reference to Pakistan in his remarks when he called on members to give each other full transit rights for trade. As is well known, Pakistan blockades all Indian trade and commerce with Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. One consequence of this has been the Indian compulsion to develop alternate routes through the Chabahar port in Iran.

India at SCO Summit: A Synopsis

The SCO summit was fairly anodyne, with the one key development being the admission of Iran into the organisation as a full member. In his remarks at the summit, Modi took the high road, selling India’s economic prospects and achievements to fellow members.

 “The pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine caused many obstacles in global supply chains, due to which the whole world is facing an unprecedented energy and food crisis,” Modi remarked also adding that “SCO must make efforts to develop reliable, resilient and diversified supply chains in our region. This will require better connectivity, as well as it will be important that we all give each other full rights to transit.” 

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Jinping's Cautionary On 'Colour Revolutions' 

In his remarks at the summit, President Xi Jinping called on SCO members to “guard against attempts by external forces” to instigate “colour revolutions” or interfere in their affairs. He also levelled criticism at the Quad, without mentioning  it by name, by saying that some countries had “An obsession with forming a small circle” and called on the Quad to make a more just international order.

Both Putin and Xi emphasised the importance of shaking up the world order and without mentioning the western challenge, Xi  called for the global community to “abandon zero-sum games and block politics.” For his part, Putin hailed the rise of “new centres of power who cooperate with each other.”

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There is little doubt that India walks a tight rope between its growing ties with the West, manifested by its deepening ties with the Quad and its recent membership of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework(IPEF) and its role in the SCO. In one way they reflect the realities of India’s geopolitical compulsions which drive a foreign policy that must cater for its oceanic and continental interests.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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