Tuesday, Defense Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman announced the South Asian country will be participating in a military exercise held by Russia near the end of summer. India will be joined in the military drill by neighboring China and Pakistan. The military exercise will be organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a bloc of Eurasian countries of which Russia, China, India, and Pakistan are a party to.
The joint military drill will focuses on preventing terror attacks and dismantling terror networks. They have been dubbed “Peace Mission 2018.” The SCO training will be held between the end of August and beginning of September in the Ural Mountains in Russia.
India will be participating in the multi-nation military exercises despite tensions with China and Pakistan. Sitharaman explained India’s participation during the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Beijing on Tuesday:
“Our shared neighborhood facing a range of issues such as cross-border terrorism, extremism, cyber security, and narcotics trafficking. These issues require solutions based on cooperative frameworks that involve all countries and stakeholders.
“India will participate strongly in SCO Peace Mission joint military exercises being held in Russia later this year. We believe the cooperation in SCO framework will help further strengthen India’s bilateral defense ties in the region.”
What is the SCO?
The SCO was established in 2001 by founding members China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. It has since grown to encompass India, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan, with four other countries holding “observer” status and another six acting as “dialogue” partners.
The Eurasian organization serves the economic, security, and political interests of its member states. Observers include Iran, Afghanistan, and Belarus, while Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, are among the nations holding dialogue partner status.
Tensions in the SCO
Joint military exercises are no extraordinary occurrence. What makes the upcoming SCO military drill of interest is the fact that Pakistan and India will be participating together. Although there have been four previous SCO joint military training drills, this is the first time Pakistan and India will participate alongside each other. The two countries became full SCO members last June.
Between growing violence in Kashmir and CPEC projects advancing in Pakistan, tensions between the neighboring countries have been increasing in recent months. The SCO drill marks the first time India and Pakistan will participate in military exercises together. Islamabad and New Delhi have, however, worked together in the past on United Nations peacekeeping missions. Sources indicate India is planning on sending 200 forces to the SCO training.
Defense Minister Sitharaman did not mention Pakistan during the announcement, “India enjoys excellent bilateral defence cooperation with a large number of SCO countries, especially with Russia, as well as with all of India’s Central Asian partners represented in the SCO.”
In recent months, tensions have also appeared to be growing between India and China, due largely to Beijing’s large economic investment in Pakistan through CPEC. CPEC projects are currently valued at $57 billion.
Tuesday saw the conclusion of the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Beijing. India was the sole member state refusing to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which encompasses the CPEC projects in Pakistan. India takes issue with CPEC because it plans to build transportation networks through Kashmir, the long contested territory sitting between India and Pakistan.
In Beijing, New Delhi’s Defense Minister spoke to concerns over Sino-Indian relations,“We are guided in our relations with China by the consensus reached between our leaders that at the time of global uncertainty, India-China relations could be a factor of stability and that we must not allow our differences to become disputes.”
The Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
Keynote speaker Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe, set the tone for the meeting, “We should continue to uphold the ‘Shanghai Spirit’, and strengthen pragmatic cooperation in high-level exchanges, joint exercises, military culture, education and training.”
Russia was expected to speak at length about the civil war in Syria, while it was anticipated that China would attempt to garner support for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
According to a statement issued by the SCO, the foreign ministers discussed a number of concerns including the military strikes led by the US, UK, and France against Assad’s chemical weapons facilities in Syria.
Amid fears that ISIS is moving militants into Central Asia, terrorism was also an important topic of discussion. The delegation from India made their concerns clear. Defense Minister Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj both spoke at length about the threats of terrorism, urging other member states to “work actively with India towards a partnership of peace and shared prosperity.”
Swaraj said, “There are a number of challenges that are being faced by the world today, foremost being the threat of global terrorism and the imminent need to build a strong security architecture to combat it. Terrorism is an enemy of the basic human rights: of life, peace and prosperity.”
She also seemed to take aim at Pakistan, saying terrorism cannot be eradicated without addressing the states that finance, support and provide sanctuary to terrorist networks. Islamabad has long been accused of doing all of the above, losing security aid from the US amid similar allegations.
Sitharaman echoed these statements, “Arguments of political convenience to provide an alibi for terrorist organisations that support terrorism through material support or otherwise are no longer tolerable. Indeed, as the world has realized, there are no good terrorists.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting China later this week for an informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Prime Minister Modi will be joined by External Affairs Minister Swaraj.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the meeting will “not only will benefit the two countries and two peoples, but will also have an important effect on peaceful development in the region and around the world.”
Pakistan has revealed some concern over the meeting between close ally China and regional rival India. Beijing has assured relations between China and Pakistan will “never rust.”
An SCO summit will be held in June in Qingdao, China.