Understanding India’s response during the SCO Goa meeting in light of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers Meeting this month at Goa had an intense war of words. The SCO is a multilateral and multi-sectoral international organisation with eight member states- China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. With the help of media statements, the tug-of-war between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan continued. This was no surprise, the much-anticipated fireworks in the form of a speech act were done by both sides.
India and Pakistan representatives were seen targeting each other on a variety of issues. Pakistan-sponsored terrorism continued to be at the centre stage. In the SCO meeting in Goa, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar was seen as firm in his body language, pretty vocal and unapologetic about his remarks. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari too was seen in the usual mode. The statements by the EAM Jaishankar and Pakistan Foreign Minister Bhutto were largely on the issues, where mutual targeting is well known between the two states: Kashmir, revocation of Article 370, Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism etc.
Pak-sponsored terrorism: A brief glimpse
The Indian position on Pakistan’s role in spreading and nurturing international terror groups has long remained clear and constant. However, there is a notable change in the way India has approached the issues in recent times. “Pakistan’s credibility is depleting even faster than its forex reserves”. The External Affairs Minister of India, S. Jaishankar referred to the failing or depleting credibility of Pakistan, hinted towards the country’s long-continued hypocritic approach to state-grown terrorism.
Islamabad has long continued to renounce that it has been supporting anti-India terror groups from its soil. India has now stopped pleading and providing Pakistan with evidence of its involvement in anti-India activities. In its present stance, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, New Delhi has ceased to engage Islamabad in the usual fashion.
For decades, India has overlooked and pardoned many sub-conventional strikes sponsored by Pakistan. But it has now largely ceased giving oneway, unilateral concessions to Pakistan by overlooking its faults like an elder brother and regional power in South Asia. In the Goa meeting too, like old wine in a new bottle, Pakistan restated the lie India has been told several times both bilaterally and internationally, that it is a sufferer and not a perpetrator of terrorism.
India was in no mood to be fooled yet again. Even after having fought four major conventional wars with Pakistan, India has several times attempted reconciliation. Largely all these conventional wars or conflicts were initiated by Pakistan. On several occasions, India has caught Pakistan red-handed with strong evidence of the ISI’s involvement in sub-conventional strikes or anti-India terror attacks including the Parliament attack, 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks etc. India has also presented evidence of the role of institutions in Pakistan in the same, but it continued to deny and overlook it. In recent months there have been many Pak-sponsored attacks in Kashmir, in the most recent one resulted in the martyrdom of five security personnel in Rajouri district which unfortunately happened simultaneously to the Goa SCO meet on 5th May, 2023.
Pakistan from the Cold War times till date has continued on its approach and has given a blind eye to homegrown terrorism. It has taken no action to counter and contain the anti-India terror elements operating from its soil. The ISI and some major of Pakistan’s institutions have supported and are fond of the “good Taliban” and this is now an open secret to the world that Pakistan shelters terrorists. The killing of the Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2012 by the US forces in his own compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; made the world know about the Pakistan government’s hand in sheltering global terrorists.
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Is the war of words at SCO meeting justified?
The SCO meet at Goa in May, 2023 was an important occasion for New Delhi and Islamabad. Not surprising that both countries arranged no bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the multilateral meeting. Mr. Jaishankar stated that “the victims of terrorism do not sit together with perpetrators of terrorism to discuss terrorism” with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan referred by him as a “promoter, justifier and a spokesperson” of the terror industry.
The war of words between New Delhi and Islamabad is nothing new but many international political analysts believe that it could have been avoided in a multilateral set-up. However, it must be noted that the issue under discussion- terrorism, falls well inside the core agenda of the SCO and the discussion on the matter brought for the role of one member state in perpetuating, harbouring and proliferating terrorism.
The United Nations define the SCO as an organisation which since its inception has focused on regional security issues, with a well-known priority combating “regional terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism”. However, in recent decades SCO has also diversified its agenda adding and prioritising regional development, cooperation in the realm of science and technology, environmental protection etc. Thus, it has emerged as a regional organisation with multi-faceted objectives of promoting diverse political, economic, technical and people-to-people cooperation.
What does this mean for India’s policy towards Pakistan?
The Pakistan Foreign Minister in December 2022 at the United Nations in an interaction with the media, was seen referring to the Prime Minister of India as ‘butcher of Gujarat’. It must be noted that the Indian EAM’s statements and responses to the press on the matter of Pakistan did not come as an immediate and instantaneous response. Mr. Jaishankar’s statements were much more than a tirade and invective speech act. It was part of a bigger response signalling a changed approach of India to one of its neighbouring state which over the years has caused it deliberate harm in more than one way.
There is a clear observation. The tug of war between India and Pakistan at the sidelines of a multilateral forum SCO hints towards a more aggressive approach of India to name, shame and blame Pakistan for its anti-India activities. Though both states have been pointing fingers at each other, kind of ritualistically, every year at the United Nations General Assembly. But now, it is visible that India has gone more vocal on the long-due matter of cross-border and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
The same has not only harmed Indian interests but also has been detrimental to South Asian stability and global peace. The analysis suggests that the long due reconciliation and strengthening of ties between India and Pakistan is difficult unless provocative actions are halted from the side of the Islamic state.