By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, June 17: Last week, there were two very important international gatherings in the Central Asian region with the involvement of a large number of Asian and Eurasian countries including Russia, China, India and Sri Lanka.
One was the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek on Friday, and the other was the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) at the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe on Saturday.
The eight-member SCO comprises: India, Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia have Observer Status. The CICA is a much larger body of 27, comprising: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The US and Japan have Observer Status in CICA.
Alternative to US
In both the SCO and CICA, the most important countries are Russia and China with India trying to catch up. The two bodies provide a non-US rallying point. The present US-centric world is being gradually replaced by a bi-or a multi-centric one. This is because all the key members have faced some problem or the other with the US and are seeking alternative support systems.
The Bishkek Declaration emphasized the need to fight the “three forces of evil,” namely, separatism, terrorism and extremism. Member countries are to challenge “cross-border crime” and build a “multi-polar” world order (in contrast to the present US-dominated one).
CICA members are seeking a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and are to promote development and progress based on common understandings reached so far.
They reaffirmed their commitment to effective multilateralism, with the United Nations at its core, and to maintaining and promoting peace and stability, pursuing peaceful settlement of disputes without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.
The declaration said that the CICA will develop dialogue on a regional security architecture that is open, inclusive and based on universally recognized principles of international law and the UN Charter, and promote international relationships based on mutual respect, fairness and justice, and mutually beneficial cooperation.
The members stressed a cooperative approach to fighting terrorism and separatism. They felt that separatism is a threat to national sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, security and stability.
They also expressed readiness to strengthen cooperation in accordance with international and respective national laws, in countering transnational organized crimes and corruption, such as drug trafficking, financial crimes, money laundering, human trafficking, trafficking in cultural property and illicit arms flows in all their forms.
The member states reiterated their unwavering support to the Iran nuclear deal, called for reviving negotiations on the Middle East peace process, and underlined that the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan should be inclusive, Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned.
CICA members said that inclusive and sustainable economic growth as well as elimination of poverty and illiteracy, are among the most effective measures to remove the breeding grounds of terrorism and extremism.
The leaders called for greater market access and non-discrimination in trade. They welcomed all initiatives of the member states to promote and strengthen cooperation in various fields, including economy, finance, transport and trade within the geography of the CICA at bilateral and multilateral levels.
The members stressed the importance of building an open world economy enabling all countries and all peoples to share the benefits of globalization. They remained firmly committed to a rule-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system centering around the World Trade Organization, taking into consideration its reform process, and firmly opposed to all forms of protectionism.
President Maithripala Sirisena raised the issue of powerful countries interfering in weaker countries using human rights issues as an instrument. The reference was clearly to the US and the West, but Sirisena did not name them
Though bilateral issues could not be raised in such forums, the Indian Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar spoke about the dangers of cross-border terrorism and the non-inclusive and non-transparent development aid given to countries, putting them into debt. But this was done obliquely without naming the countries concerned, namely, Pakistan and China.
With the US trying to get out of its futile and costly misadventure in Afghanistan, the SCO could take on the role of peace-builder and development promoter in that war-ravaged country.
While other countries couched their anger against antagonistic forces in generic terms, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told a receptive audience that the US has been “violating all the international structures and rules and using its economic, financial and military resources, has taken an aggressive approach, and presents a serious risk to stability in the region and the world.”
In the context of the US sanctions against Iran, Rouhani revealed that a joint Iran-Russia Commission for Cooperation meeting is in the offing this week.
Turkey used the CICA meeting to condemn US actions for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Anger against the US had to come out in these forums, given the fact that the US has a trade war going against China, has sanctioned Russia and Iran, and has taken a hostile posture vis-à-vis Turkey, for buying the S-400 air defense system from Russia.
At SCO’s Bishkek Declaration reiterated support for upholding multilateralism and developing equal partnership. It sought an effective and constructive multilateral mechanism to promote national development and prosperity. All parties pledged to enhance mutual understanding and communication through the SCO.
Terrorism And Separatism
All member states reiterated their support to the UN-centered international system. They strongly condemned terrorism of all forms, vowed to step up efforts to counter terrorism and to firmly oppose the use of counter-terrorism or counter-extremism, as an excuse to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs or profit from it.
Regarding issues related to Syria, the SCO stressed that dialogue is the only way to resolve problems, noting that collaboration within the framework of the Astana process had created necessary conditions for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2254. However, the US disagrees and disregards the Astana process drafted by Iran, Turkey and Russia.
On the issue of Afghanistan, SCO supports the efforts of Afghanistan and its people to rebuild peace and promote stable economic development and reaffirms its support for the “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned” political reconciliation process at the bilateral level and within the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group framework.
India, which is the third big player in SCO, has plans to join the connectivity projects in Central Asia. It has already established itself in the Chabahar port in Iran. But India’s economic links with Central Asia is much weaker compared to China and Russia.
India’s bilateral trade with Central Asia stands at about US$ 2 billion. But China’s trade with the same region is over US$ 50 billion. Lack of connectivity has hampered development of energy ties between India and the hydrocarbon-rich countries of Central Asia and India.
The opening of Chabahar port and entry into the Ashgabat agreement give India launching pads in the region. These should be utilized by India for having a stronger presence in Central Asia and Eurasia. The Ashgabat Agreement, instituted in April 2011, is meant to establish an international multimodal transport and transit corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.