India on Monday launched a thinly veiled attack on Pakistan for using terror as an instrument of state policy during a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) council of heads of government, calling for collective efforts to combat the menace.
Vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu, who chaired the virtual meeting, indirectly criticised Pakistan for attempting to use SCO to raise bilateral matters and said this went against the grouping’s charter, which safeguards the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member-states.
In his opening remarks, Naidu pointed to the importance of efforts to boost economic recovery amid the Covid-19 pandemic and took a tacit swipe at China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), saying trust alone determines sustainability of global trade and countries must demonstrate their compliance with the rules of multilateral trade.
The council is SCO’s second-highest body and is responsible for handling the economic agenda and approving its annual budget. This was the first time India hosted a meeting of the body since it was admitted into the grouping in 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan didn’t join the virtual meeting. Pakistan’s participation was at the lowest level – it was represented by parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Andleeb Abbas – and Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan were represented by their prime ministers.
Naidu said trade can flourish only in an environment of peace and security, and the most important challenge faced by countries in the region is cross-border terrorism. He described terrorism as “the enemy of humanity” that needs to be combated collectively.
“India condemns terrorism in all its manifestations. We remain concerned about threats emerging from ungoverned spaces and are particularly concerned about states that leverage terrorism as an instrument of state policy,” he said, without naming Pakistan.
Naidu said SCO is key to cooperation based on universally recognised norms, rule of law, openness, and it is “unfortunate …that there have been attempts to deliberately bring bilateral issues into SCO and blatantly violate the well-established principles…safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of SCO member states”.
Secretary (West) Vikas Swarup of the external affairs ministry told a news briefing after the meeting that it is up to Pakistan to join initiatives proposed by India, but the SCO charter includes a provision that one country cannot hold up cooperation, and also allows other members to take cooperation forward “with the exclusion of the country which is opposing it”. “If SCO member-countries have the will, I’m sure we can all find common ground and that is why the SCO charter specifically prohibits bilateral issues from being raised in SCO forums,” he added.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said, “When India joined as an observer in 2005, there was optimism about India-China ties, Today, we are de-coupling with China. Pakistan and China have an unholy alliance that will thwart Indian initiatives,” he said.