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September 12, 2022 9:48 pm

Over To Shanghai

PRIME Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Samarkand this week to attend the first in-person summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries since the COVID-19 pandemic  began in February 2022. Modi will be face to face with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian president Vladimir Putin, Pakistani prime minister Shahbaz Sharif. Other leaders who will attend the summit will include the member Central Asian countries, and Iran, besides leaders from Turkey and Belarus.

The summit is important from India’s point of view as the PM Modi will get to meet president Xi first time after Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control led to an over two year long stand-off. It is only recently that the two countries began disengaging from the Gogra-Hotsprings border area in Ladakh after reaching a consensus in the 16th round of India-China Corps Commander-level meeting. Last year, they had pulled back from Pangong Tso lake. Now only the last friction point Galwan Valley is left to be resolved. This has created a favourable climate for the meeting of the two leaders.

Similarly, the PM Modi would likely be holding a meeting with president Putin, their first after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Their meeting will be watched with interest in the west.

Since the summit will also be attended by Shahbaz Sharif, there is speculation about a meeting between the PM and him. But so far there has been no confirmation about any summit level meeting of the PM  with the other world leaders.

The Shanghai summit is held every year at the level of the heads of state and deals mainly with the trade and economic agenda of the SCO. The event, however, allows a chance for the leaders to meet. Also, as happens in the multilateral meetings attended by India and Pakistan,  they indirectly take potshots at each other. India always brings up terrorism sponsored from across the border, and Pakistan makes counter-accusations and also seeks to highlight the situation in Kashmir. This acrimonious exchange is a routine spectacle at the United Nations, where the mutually antagonistic positions are ritualistically rehearsed at various meetings.

The SCO meetings have witnessed the reiteration of this spectacle. If anything, it also underlines the lingering estrangement between the neighbours that has further deepened since New Delhi’s withdrawal of Article 370 in August 2019. The situation can be expected to improve if the leaders of the two countries deem it in their core interest to engage.

The only hope for a redeeming difference lies in a summit meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries. They owe it to the peoples of their respective countries to resume a long-stalled dialogue to forge a way forward and renew hope for reconciliation and lasting peace in South Asia.

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