India and Pakistan made veiled allegations at each other during a virtual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member nations' foreign ministers on Wednesday. This is the first international, virtual panel where both foreign ministers have shared a platform ever since the global pandemic of COVID-19 began.
The security challenges that we face today are not linked to physical or political boundaries, said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishakar. “Even as the world fights COVID-19, some are busy spreading other deadly viruses such as terrorism. Fake news and doctored videos are also used to divide communities and countries,'' the minister said. Terrorism, he said, continues to be the overwhelming threat to security and stability in the SCO region and would require collective action.
The meeting was called in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and to discuss coordination of efforts to deal with trade, economic and social consequences. The foreign ministers also discussed the preparations for the SCO Council of Heads of State meeting to be held in St Petersburg later this year. They also discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of World War II.
India and Pakistan joined the SCO formally as members in 2017. The SCO is a new multilateral organisation which focuses primarily on connectivity and cooperation in Central Asia. Jaishankar noted that India attached great importance to its relations with the SCO and has contributed positively to enhance the role of the SCO in the global arena. He said India would continue to maintain extensive engagement towards strengthening SCO's potential in ensuring mutually beneficial development. Expressing concern over the ways in which the pandemic had hit humans, he said for a society like India, it meant many people would not come out of poverty for no fault of theirs. He said supply chains across the globe had been disrupted and the SCO should jointly identify new ways and means to sustain economic growth.
Pakistan also used the platform to take a dig at India, when its foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke about Islamophobia, though he did not name India. Allegations of Islamophobia in India have dented the country's international image in recent times, first during the clashes following the promulgation of the Citizenship Amendment Act, and later during the lockdown when the Tablighi Jamaat cohort of infections was discovered.
“As we observe the 75th anniversary of victory against fascism, militarism and violent nationalism, we must ensure that such xenophobic ideologies, including Islamophobia find no acceptance in today’s world,'' he said. He added that “we must not allow anyone to use terrorism related allegations as a political tool to malign any country, race or religion. We must condemn and hold accountable the perpetrators of state terrorism including against people under illegal occupation”.
The meeting was convened by Russian foreign minister Swergei Lavrov; Russia is the current chair of the grouping.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi focussed, in an indirect way, on the finger pointing towards China. The Asian giant has been fiercely fighting against accusations, mostly spearheaded by US President Donald Trump, that it hid facts about the infection, and that the pandemic could have been contained had not China remained secretive and opaque regarding developments in Wuhan, the origin point of the disease. Yi called upon countries to rise above differences and enhance international cooperation, upon people to defy pessimism and reject politicisation, upon medias to stick to facts and truth and commit to impartiality.'' He said, “Let us promote solidarity and cooperation and jointly win the global fight against COVID-19.”
China proposed to optimise SCO infectious disease notification mechanism and set up an SCO epidemic database. Yi said cooperation on bio-security related risks require close attention. “We need to positively study the establishment of an SCO cooperation and consultation mechanism to strengthen communication on regional and international developments,'' he said.