SCO: Pointing to ‘Non-Inclusivity’, PM Modi Urges Caution in Recognising Taliban Authority

At SCO meet, PM Modi stated that India was 'eager' to deliver food items and medicines to 'Afghan friends'.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday, September 17, that the international community should not be in a rush to recognise the new Taliban government due to its ‘non-inclusive’ nature and the way in which it was formed, without following the negotiated path.

While India has made several statements on Afghanistan, these were the first public remarks by Modi on Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul on August 15.

He was speaking through a video link at the SCO-CSTO Outreach Summit on Afghanistan at Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe. The SCO summit marked the admission of Iran as a full member and Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar as observers.

The summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which also marks 20 years of the group, was held a month after the Taliban swept into Kabul after the previous Afghan government collapsed following President Ashraf Ghani’s escape.

Stating that the developments in Afghanistan will have the “greatest impact” on neighbours, Modi called for regional cooperation on Afghanistan.

“The first issue is that the change of power in Afghanistan is not inclusive, and has taken place without negotiation. This raises questions about the acceptability of the new system,” said the Indian prime minister.

He also noted that representation of all sections of society, including women and minorities, is also important. “And therefore, it is essential that the global community decides on the recognition of the new system in a thoughtful and collective manner”.

Modi indicated that India would support the “central role” of the United Nations on this issue.

After the unveiling of the caretaker government by Taliban, there has been visible lack of enthusiasm to immediately recognise it as the new authority, even from Russia and China. The Taliban’s cabinet was dominated by Pashtuns, with only two Tajiks and one Uzbek. There were no women members.

FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

On terrorism, the Indian prime minister called upon the SCO countries to develop “a code of conduct”, with a system of enforcement to prevent cross-border terrorism and terror financing.

Modi stated that if instability and fundamentalism continued in Afghanistan, it would bolster the spread of terrorist and extremist ideologies across the world. “Other extremist groups may also be encouraged to seek power through violence. We all countries have been victims of terrorism in the past. And so together we must ensure that the soil of Afghanistan is not used to spread terrorism in any country”.

The joint statement issued at the end of the summit asserted that SCO members believe that there was “no alternative to political and diplomatic solution to conflict situations in various regions of the world on the basis of strict compliance with generally recognised norms and principles of international law”.

Calling for an “early settlement” in Afghanistan, the SCO member states supported the emergence of a nation that was “an independent, neutral, united, democratic and peaceful State, free of terrorism, war and drugs”.

“Member States believe that it is critical to have an inclusive Government in Afghanistan, with representatives from all ethnic, religious and political groups of Afghan society,” added the Dushanbe Declaration.

However, there was no indication in the joint statement about accepting refugees from Afghanistan. On the contrary, the document urged the international community to make “active efforts to facilitate their dignified, safe and sustainable return to their homeland”. Pakistan and Iran, both members of SCO and neighbours of Afghanistan, have been hosting large populations of Afghan refugees for decades.

India will be presiding over the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) mechanism from this month.

Modi suggested that RATS could play a “positive role” in monitoring the flow of drugs, human trafficking and weapons. “A large amount of advanced weapons remain in Afghanistan. Due to these, there will be a risk of instability in the entire region”.

He added that India had developed proposals for “practical cooperation” on these issues in RATS.

In his address at the morning plenary of the SCO Council of Heads of State, Modi had highlighted that “almost in all SCO countries”, there were “moderate, tolerant and inclusive institutions and traditions associated with Islam”.

“SCO should work to develop a strong network between them. In this context, I appreciate the useful work being done by SCO-RATS. We expect our SCO partners to actively participate in the calendar of activities that has been built for India’s Presidency of SCO-RATS,” he said.

As per the Dushanbe Declaration, all members spoke about the need to continue to conduct joint anti-terrorism exercises, with a special reference to the upcoming Pabbi Anti-Terror 2021 exercise which will take place in Pakistan. India, so far, has not confirmed its presence at the exercise, with some media reports stating that New Delhi will stay away.

The joint statement asserted that terrorism had to be uprooted from its social foundations, which includes eliminating poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. “They will step up their own efforts to prevent the preparation and financing of acts of terrorism in their territories and deny terrorists safe havens, enhance cooperation to identify, prevent and suppress the activities of organisations and individuals involved in terrorism, separatism and extremism”.

Taliban fighters guard a check-point on a main street in Kabul, Afghanistan August 29, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

It further stated that the member states believed that “promotion of extremist, separatist and terrorist ideas, any information support, propaganda and justification of terrorism create conditions for the spread of radical sentiments and recruitment of supporters to terrorist organisations”.

Afghanistan’s humanitarian needs

Prime Minister Modi stated that Afghanistan was also facing an economic and humanitarian disaster.

Stating that India was “eager” to deliver food items and medicines to “Afghan friends”, Modi urged the regional countries to work together to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches Afghanistan “in a relentless manner”.

Earlier this week, at the UN-convened high-level conference, India had stated that only the United Nations had the capacity to ensure that humanitarian aid reached all sections of society in a transparent and fair manner. Around $1 billion was pledged by the international community towards Afghanistan’s humanitarian assistance.

India also called on the SCO to build “suitable norms” to develop connectivity projects in the region, which could allow Central Asian nations to tap the Indian market. 

“Unfortunately, many connectivity options are not open to them today due to lack of mutual trust. Our investment in Iran’s Chabahar port and our efforts towards the International North-South Corridor are driven by this reality,” he said.

However, he added that connectivity projects had to be “consultative, transparent and participatory to ensure mutual trust”. “In this regard, respect for the territorial integrity of all countries should be implicit. Based on these principles, SCO should develop suitable norms for connectivity projects in the region”.

The Indian prime minister’s stress on transparency and consultation was an implicit reference to New Delhi’s opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative that cross-crosses Central Asia.

“With this we will be able to restore the traditional connectivity of this region and only then connectivity projects will work to connect us, not to increase the distance between us. For this effort, India is ready to make any contribution from its side,” said Modi.