Political Developments - June 2017

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Astana:

India and Pakistan became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation at its 17th Summit in Astana on 9th June, 2017. Both countries had become Observers in the Organisation in 2005. This was the first expansion of the 6-member body which was established in 2001. SCO members now include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. With this addition, SCO represents 42% of the world's population, 20% of global gross domestic product and 22% of land territory. 

India’s membership of SCO will enhance the acceptability, respectability, profile and leverage of the Organisation. President Putin said that SCO’s expansion will enhance its influence and power in political, economic and humanitarian spheres.

In his statement at the Summit, PM Modi said that issue of extremism, terrorist recruitment and their financial resources will not be resolved unless all countries work together. He also asserted that connectivity projects in the region should respect "territorial integrity and sovereignty", and maintain "inclusivity and sustainability". He said that India’s association with SCO will be helpful in economic, connectivity and counter-terrorism cooperation. He spoke of India’s commitment to the Chabahar project and International North-South Transport Corridor. India expressed readiness to share its expertise in a host of areas including space, IT, renewable energy, agriculture, banking and human resource development. Expansion of SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) will strengthen counteraction to international terrorism. 

Apprehensions that tense ties between India and Pakistan could disrupt functioning of SCO are unfounded as its mandate does not permit bilateral issues to be raised at its meetings. Bilateral differences and disputes have existed between founding members of SCO on issues of borders, water etc but they have not disrupted proceedings of SCO Summits or meetings.

SCO strongly resolved to step up efforts to combat threat of terrorism and extremism while calling for political initiatives to resolve regional conflicts and differences. It adopted a declaration charting future course of action in dealing with major challenges facing the region. Leaders termed the induction of India and Pakistan to the organization as “historic.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres appreciated Kazakhstan's "increasingly dynamic role on the international stage" as a non-permanent member of UN Security Council, stressed the importance of SCO and urged it to show leadership on climate change.

A ceremony to induct both India and Pakistan into SCO was also conducted at the Organisation’s HQ in Beijing on 15th June.  Speaking on the occasion, India called for enhanced connectivity and unimpeded trade among SCO member states with due respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity besides deepening cooperation to fight terrorism and extremism. 

Entering the final months of his Presidency, President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev paid a 5-day State visit to Russia from 19th to 24th June at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. It was dedicated to 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations and Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the two countries. During the visit Atambayev held talks with Putin, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and several senior officials. He lavished fulsome and extravagant praise on Putin and Russia during the visit. Following talks with Putin, Atambayev said, “I cannot imagine the future of Kyrgyzstan without Russia.” Putin described Moscow and Bishkek as "close allies and close and reliable friends.’’ Both sides reaffirmed the importance of implementing the Eurasian Economic Union Treaty including provisions relating to free movement of goods, services, capital and labor, and a unified energy system. 

Russia wrote off all debts of Kyrgyzstan. Agreements on cooperation in healthcare, migration, statistics and finance spheres were signed. Atambayev also visited the large Russian Republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan which are linguistically, culturally, and historically close to Kyrgyzstan. Trade between Russia and Kyrgyzstan grew by 24% in first quarter of 2017. The Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund is operating successfully with Russia having invested $500 million in its authorised capital. The fund has financed 28 major projects in Kyrgyzstan. Military-technical and defence cooperation is an important element of bilateral strategic ties. The two sides reaffirmed that presence of a Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan is an important factor of stability and security in Central Asia. Atambayev said that he had discussed possibility of Russia opening a second base in southern Kyrgyzstan, rather than expanding its presence at Kant. A bilateral agreement on military-technical co-operation was signed.

A Russian security official has warned that the Takfiri Daesh terror group is now seeking to shift its main focus of terrorism from Iraq and Syria, where it is suffering fatal blows, to Central Asia. He said that Daesh is seeking to subdue some Taliban militants and other local extremist groups to create a new power base in Afghanistan and extend its influence to Central Asia.

Russia and Kazakhstan have stated that it is important that international community support a deal in Syria. Kazakh foreign minister said that Astana Talks are not a replacement of Syrian Talks taking place in Geneva but could be their culmination. 

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have dismissed reports that they could send peacekeeping troops to Syria. Kyrgyz President said that this issue was not raised during his Russia visit.

A Kyrgyz court has sentenced three persons to long imprisonment and confiscation of their property for involvement in a terrorist attack on Chinese embassy in Bishkek in August, 2016. 

In conjunction with participation in 17th SCO Summit in Astana in early June, 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a bilateral visit to Kazakhstan. This was his third visit to Kazakhstan in four years. It demonstrates the importance China attaches to its relations with Astana. China's aggregate investment in Kazakhstan is about $42.8 billion, making it the highest recipient of Chinese capital. In addition, China has provided Kazakhstan loans of more than $50 billion to help propel its economic development. The two countries expressed determination to enhance cross-border connectivity and boost cooperation in security and international affairs. They agreed to develop more international cargo train services, starting from China via Kazakhstan to Central Asia, Europe and Gulf countries to effectively lower the logistics cost. They agreed to deepen exchanges in defense and law enforcement, sharing intelligence and combating terrorism, extremism and separatism and transnational organized crime. At least 24 deals worth more than $8 billion were signed. These aimed for cooperation in energy, mining, chemical, mechanical, manufacturing, agriculture and infrastructure industries.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the five Central Asian countries in first half of June, 2017. He was criticized for being lavish in his praise of achievements of Central Asian states but not mentioning issues of human rights, press and political freedom etc.

Russia has reinforced its military base in Tajikistan on account of rising instability in neighboring Afghanistan. Russian base houses the largest ground force of Russian military outside the country. It is located in Dushanbe and in town of Kulob. In October 2012, Russia and Tajikistan signed an agreement to extend deployment of Russian assets until 2042.

Kazakhstan is working on a legislation to ban the use of headscarves and burqas by Muslim women in public spaces. Kazakh Religious Affairs Minister has reportedly stated that such a law is necessary for the country's future. 70% of Kazakhstan is Muslim, while 24.7% of the population consists of Orthodox Christians.

The fourth High Level Political and Security Dialogue between European Union and countries of Central Asia took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 8th June 2017. Afghanistan was invited as a special guest. Meeting was held at Deputy Foreign Minister level. Dialogue addresses political and security issues of shared concern. Participants exchanged views on a number of key issues including counter-terrorism and violent extremism, drug trafficking and border management, and reviewed possibilities for reinforced cooperation in these areas. Stability of the wider region, including Afghanistan, was also discussed.

 

June 30, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.