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SCO Tiptoeing Toward South Asia

Wednesday 9 November 2011

(Rediff, M.K. Bhadrakumar) – The regional diplomacy forestalling the United States’s New Silk Road, which surged at the recent Istanbul conference on Afghanistan (November 2), gained further traction at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Heads of Governments meeting at St. Petersburg on Monday. From the Indian viewpoint, the outcome can be significant in three directions.

For the first time openly, Russia endorsed Pakistan’s SCO membership, signalling a qualitatively new level of trust and understanding in the bilateral relationship. In essence, Moscow has “de-linked” Pakistan’s SCO membership from India’s.

Second, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin pledged that Moscow will invest “at least” 500 million dollars in the regional project bringing electricity from Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan. The transmission lines are expected to pass through regions that have been the strongholds of the erstwhile Northern Alliance [NA] groups, over whom both Moscow and Dushanbe have much influence, and who will now be ’stakeholders’ in the regional project. This is also a major Russian initiative toward Tajikistan and comes within the orbit of Putin’s “Eurasia Union” project.

Third, Pakistan PM Yousuf Gilani (یوسف گیلانی) made a major speech at St. Petersburg. The intellectual content that buttresses Pakistani regional policies in the recent period is highly impressive. Unsurprisingly, Putin voiced support for Gilani’s proposals, which on the whole would open the door for SCO’s extensive involvement in Afghanistan. Most important, Gilani spoke of an Afghan settlement by “taking all Afghans on board, regardless of ideological, ethnic or political preferences.” This pledge has been made in the presence of Putin and Chinese PM Wen Jiabao.

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