The Council of Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 27-28 July 2022. The meeting was convened by Uzbekistan, which holds the rotating presidency of SCO in 2022. Foreign ministers of eight member states – China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – participated in various sessions at the meeting.
The meeting was a precursor to the annual SCO Summit to be held in Samarkand in September – a particularly important gathering this year. The foreign ministers met specifically to discuss and finalise the agenda for the summit. Discussions involved international and regional issues such as the Ukraine conflict, pandemic, Afghanistan, trade, connectivity, terrorism, energy, and food crisis.
Uzbekistan presented over 15 draft documents which included the draft summit declaration, comprehensive plan for the implementation of the Treaty on Long Term Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation as well as on connectivity, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, amongst others. All these were approved by the ministers and will now be tabled at the summit.
Usually, a joint communique of the meeting is issued, but this year there were anomalies. Two stand out: one, Uzbekistan decided to provide a Chair Statement, as yet publicly unavailable. No reason was provided for not issuing a communique. Two, all SCO members except India adopted a Joint Statement on strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) – also with no official explanation provided by India, though China, Russia and Pakistan highlighted it publicly.
The key focus of the meeting was agenda SCO expansion. Iran was welcomed as a full member to the SCO and Belarus’s membership application process has begun with further decisions to be taken at the summit. Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are set to be accorded SCO Dialogue Partner status at the summit. The process of granting a similar status to Bahrain and Maldives is to begin shortly, alongside the requests made by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Nepal for being granted Observer status.
As is the norm, host Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev called on the foreign ministers, where he discussed multilateral cooperation and further development of SCO. The Uzbek president highlighted the key milestones achieved by Uzbekistan as SCO president, while the ministers conveyed their countries’ regards and best wishes.
India was represented by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. At the meeting, Jaishankar offered India’s view on the changing global order and the need to solve the problems brought on by the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict. He reiterated India’s position on Afghanistan for urgent humanitarian support.
Jaishankar called for “zero-tolerance” on terrorism, indirectly referring to Pakistan, well known as a state sponsor of terrorism. Welcoming Iran’s inclusion in the SCO, he reinforced how the India-financed Chahbahar Port could boost connectivity in the Eurasian region. As usual, Pakistan pushed for its own China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a connectivity solution for the SCO.
On the sidelines of the event, the foreign ministers met bilaterally with their counterparts. According to the official press release, India only held talks with the four Central Asian SCO members– Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. However, later it was confirmed that Jaishankar had also met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for a brief but “useful” conversation.
India did not conduct bilateral talks with China, Pakistan, or the Taliban delegation which had come for the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan which took place two days before the SCO meeting. Russia followed India’s ‘lead by not meeting the Pakistani delegation. Press reports previously suggested that Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar would meet Afghanistan’s Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Tashkent, but the meeting never took place.
India had its reasons and the same can be examined in a two-fold manner.
First, Pakistan’s recent decision to invite Afghanistan to join the CPEC was viewed negatively by India. Since CPEC projects pass through the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) region, India sees the corridor as a threat to its territorial integrity. Just two days before the SCO meeting, India had formally opposed such third-party participation in the  CPEC, without directly referring to Afghanistan.
Second, India has not officially recognized the Taliban government and Jaishankar’s prospective meeting with Muttaqi would have been the first Minister-level meeting with the Taliban regime. It would have sent a wrong message that India is ready to engage with the Taliban, even as political differences remained.
Nevertheless, the SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting was useful for India. Though political divides were reflected in the meeting processes, it was within India’s expectations, considering recent geopolitical developments. Now the stage is set for the finale— the SCO Summit in Samarkand on 15-16 September, where the heads of state will make decisions on how best to lead the SCO forward.
K.A Dhananjay is a Researcher at Gateway House
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 See Note 1