Compared to its relatively low-key past, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of State Council Summit in Samarkand was held in the crosshairs of international attention. In addition to new SCO agreements on regional engagement, talks among the eight members, including four Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), focused on Iran’s enthronement in as a member, expanding SCO dialogue partners to West and South Asia, and on trade, tourism and counter-terrorism in the region. However, there was more emphasis on bilateral meetings on the sidelines, as this was the first major such conference Russian President Vladimir Putin had attended since the war in Ukraine, as well as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first overseas visit since COVID-19. 19 pandemic and tensions in Taiwan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence was equally significant, given that it was the first time he had met Mr. Putin since the war, and Mr. Xi since the clash at the LAC in 2020. It was also the first time he had come face to face. with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and speculation was rife that he would hold meetings with India’s adversaries. While meetings with Mr. Sharif or Mr. Xi did not materialize, Western capitals focused on his meeting with Putin. Mr Modi’s opening comment to Mr Putin that the “era of war” is over was read as a “warning” of Russia’s war in Ukraine. However, it would be wrong to read Mr. Modi’s engagement with Mr. Putin as some sort of “public disgrace”, but rather an expression of concern over the war, which Mr. Putin said he understood. The day before, Putin had also told Xi that he understood China’s concerns, indicating Russia’s awareness of the need for a ceasefire and dialogue.
India is now rising to prominence as SCO chairperson and is gearing up for next year’s SCO summit ahead of the G-20 summit in New Delhi. India must ensure the participation of all SCO members, including China and Pakistan, despite the tensions, which will result in a bit of diplomatic elbow grease from External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in the next few months, starting this week at the United Nations General Assembly. India’s position in the SCO for connectivity with the Eurasian region hinges on its development of the Chabahar port through Iran and overcoming US sanctions, while continuing to compete with transit routes backed by the China and Pakistan via Gwadar. On terrorism, India will need to ensure that the SCO follows suit in establishing a new consolidated list of terrorist groups, an area where it is frequently thwarted by China. Meanwhile, New Delhi will also have to balance its ties, keeping Western partners in the Quad and other groupings reassured, especially as the polarization between the US-EU coalition and a combination led by Russia and the China continues to grow.