Walking the tightrope could well become the brand name of Indian diplomacy if recent developments are taken into account. And the ongoing Shanghai Cooperation (SCO) deliberations are proving to be no exception.
On Wednesday, a highlight of the 18th meeting of secretaries of security councils of the SCO member states in New Delhi was the mention of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) in the address by India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval.
Doval said, “India is also committed to fulfilling our obligations under the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and for the inclusion of the Chabahar port within the framework of INSTC.”
The NSA added that India’s approach is in sync with the Charter of the SCO for “comprehensive and balanced economic growth for integration into the global economy and improvement of transit capabilities”.
India’s latest assertion in the backdrop of refusing to toe the US-led Western bloc’s position on the Ukraine conflict despite being part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad) along with the US, Japan and Australia and being at the forefront of the US Indo-Pacific strategy is akin to a very fine balancing act.
While key military foundational pacts have been signed with the US, India is partnering with Japan and Australia in developing military ties.
Significantly, the 7,200-km-long INSTC, for which key ministerial visits have already been exchanged with Iran, connects the Russian hub of St Petersburg with the Mumbai port.
The multimodal INSTC using a network of sea, road, and rail routes, will cut down the time taken for the movement of goods between the two countries from the existing 40 days to about 20 days bringing down carriage costs between India and Russia by about 30 per cent.
But what is very significant is that the route can skirt around the western-imposed economic sanctions on Russia as it is an alternative to the traditional India-Russia trade route via the Suez Canal.
Incidentally, China state councillor Wang Xiaohang and Pakistan NSA Amir Hassan attended Wednesday’s SCO meeting in online mode.
On the other hand, besides Doval, Gizat Nurdauletov (secretary, state council, Kazakhstan), Lt Gen Marat Mukanivich Imankulov (secretary, security council, Kyrgyzstan), Nikolai Patrushev (secretary, state security council, Russia), Nasrullo Rahmatjon Mahmudzoda (secretary, security council, Tajikistan) and Viktor Makhmudov (secretary, security council, Uzbekistan) attended the conference in person.
The India NSA’s address was peppered with oblique references to China and Pakistan without directly naming them.
In an obvious reference to China, Doval said that the SCO Charter calls upon member states “to have mutual respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity of states and inviolability of State borders, non-use of force or threat of its use in international relations and seeking no unilateral military superiority in adjacent areas.”
India and China are engaged in an ongoing border stand-off since 2020 that has seen huge and unprecedented military mobilization and deployment by both countries.
In an apparent reference to Pakistan, the NSA said: “Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and its financing are among the most serious threats to international peace and security. Any act of terrorism, regardless of its motivation, is unjustifiable. It is important therefore for all countries to fulfil the obligations enshrined in relevant counter-terrorism cooperation protocols, including UNSC Resolutions 1267, 1373 and successor Resolutions, for the purpose of identifying and implementing sanctions against global terrorist entities.
India accuses Pakistan of fomenting and encouraging terrorism in India.