By: ASHOK SAJJANHAR, Former Ambassador
External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan this week, for the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries.
Dr. Jaishankar also participated in the meeting of the SCO-Contact Group on Afghanistan. This was established in 2005 but abandoned in 2009 and resuscitated in 2017. It held three meetings after its revival in 2017, ’18, and ’19 at the level of Deputy Ministers. This is the first time that the Contact Group met at the Foreign Minister level which underscores the importance that SCO attaches to trying to manage the rapidly worsening situation in Afghanistan which has adverse implications for its neighbors also.
The SCO meeting and that of the SCO-Contact Group on Afghanistan assume great significance as they both came amidst growing global security concerns over the Taliban fighters rapidly seizing control of large swathes of territory in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. and NATO troops pull-out.
Since the United States announced that it would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, the Taliban significantly increased its attacks around the cities and on borders with its neighboring countries.
This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of SCO’s establishment in 2001. Six countries viz., China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan comprised the original membership. India and Pakistan joined the Organization in 2017. The SCO Foreign Ministers used this opportunity to discuss the achievements of the Organization over the past two decades and exchanged views on current international and regional issues. The Foreign Ministers assessed the preparation for the upcoming SCO Summit of Heads of States on 16-17 September 2021 in Dushanbe.
In his opening statement at the SCO Ministerial Meeting, Dr. Jaishankar identified Afghanistan, public health, and post-Covid economic recovery as the core concerns facing the global community today. With Foreign Ministers of China, Russia, Pakistan, and others in attendance, the External Affairs Minister said that combating terrorism and extremism is the key purpose of SCO and it must do everything possible to stop terror financing. On the rapid capture of territory by the Taliban. He cautioned that the world was against seizure of power by violence and force and would not legitimize such actions. Dr. Jaishankar asserted that the world, region, and the Afghan people all wanted an independent, neutral, unified, peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation.
It was imperative to cease violence and terrorist attacks against civilians and state representatives, settle the conflict through political dialogue and respect the interests of all ethnic groups and to also ensure that neighbors were not threatened by terrorism, separatism, and extremism. He declared that conducting peace negotiations in earnest was the only answer. It was essential to arrive at an acceptable compromise that was reflective of the Doha discussions, Moscow format, and the Istanbul process. He enjoined that Afghanistan could not be relegated to its past.
External Affairs Minister also highlighted the “One Earth One Health” message and urged early universal vaccination to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. He reiterated the imperative need for reformed multilateralism.
Dr. Jaishankar took the opportunity of the presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister in Dushanbe to have an hour-long meeting with him to discuss the continuing border stand-off between India and China, particularly in the Eastern Ladakh region.
This was the second occasion that the two Foreign Ministers met in 11 months, the last time having been in Moscow on 10th September 2020, again on margins of the SCO meeting. A 5-point Agreement was signed on that occasion for disengagement and de-escalation in the friction points. Progress has been achieved only in the Pangong Tso area while face-off still prevails in the Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang sectors.
External Affairs Minister highlighted that unilateral change of status quo on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was not acceptable. He reiterated that full restoration of status quo ante and maintenance of peace and tranquility on the border was essential for the progress of bilateral ties. The Ministers agreed on convening an early meeting of the Senior Military Commanders.
Dr. Jaishankar’s engagements in Dushanbe also included meetings with his Afghan and Uzbek counterparts. Discussions on the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan as well as promoting peace, tranquility, and connectivity in the region were held with the two interlocutors.
Dr. Jaishankar’s productive visit to Dushanbe provided a strong impetus to the protection and promotion of India’s interests in Afghanistan and the region.