Modi in Samarkand: Terror & Taliban will top India’s SCO agenda

The SCO summit in the historic city of Samarkand is set to be a high visibility diplomatic show as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will join the leaders from eight member countries and other observer states  and dialogue partners to sculpt new pathways of regional peace and prosperity amid a polarised international landscape. Uzbekistan, the host of the summit, is leaving no stone unturned to make the summit a success as this will be the first in-person summit after a hiatus of two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

The world will be watching the Samarkand summit closely as it will not be just about SCO, but many important bilateral meetings are expected to take place on the side-lines,  including the talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. This will be President Xi’s first foreign trip after the pandemic. There is a strong possibility of a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Putin. The prospects of a bilateral meeting between PM Modi and President Xi, which appeared far-fetched only a few days ago, have brightened as Chinese and Indian troops have agreed to withdraw their troops from Gogra-Hot Springs in Ladakh by September 12.

The geopolitical context of the SCO summit has imparted this multilateral meeting an added gravitas and weight. The summit is taking place at a conflicted time when new competitive mini-coalitions are emerging within the SCO, making the region a geopolitical chessboard. Three seminal developments have further complicated the fault-lines and challenged the international community to think on its feet and come out with innovative solutions. First, the brutal coronavirus pandemic which has killed millions across geographies and radically altered the world as we know it. The pandemic also underlined the imperative for enhancing trans-national cooperation in forums such as BRICS and SCO. Secondly, the Russian military operation in Ukraine has renewed the spotlight on issues relating to national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Third, the summit is taking place a little over a year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. These three events have affected Central Asian countries in varying degrees and the larger Eurasian region and form the backdrop of the SCO summit in Samarkand.

India’s Priorities

For India, there will be three major priorities at the summit. First and foremost, India will be leveraging the SCO to deepen counter-terror cooperation and to mobilise regional pressure on Pakistan to abandon the use of terrorism against India for political ends. Secondly, given its vital national security interests, India will join hands with like-minded countries to promote an inclusive Taliban government in Afghanistan which includes minorities and women. Third, India will be pushing for regional economic integration which have a direct bearing on its economic interests in the region.

Thwarting Terror

Counter-terror cooperation is the raison d’etre of SCO and is also the driving factor behind India’s SCO outreach. India is the current chair of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) and is therefore in a position to take the lead in deepening regional cooperation on security issues. In this context, PM Modi is expected to highlight the role of cross-border terror networks operating from the Pakistani territory. He will not mention Pakistan by name, but a reference to cross-border terror will make it clear who his remarks are aimed at. At least, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who will share the stage at the summit, should get the message. Sharif has reached out to India, and New Delhi has also struck a positive note by providing relief to the flood-hit Pakistan, but PM Modi’s intervention at SCO will once again underline India’s bottom-line – terror and talks can’t go together – for any dialogue or rapprochement with Islamabad. India will also voice concerns over continuing support to anti-India terror networks such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) by the current regime in Pakistan and ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan. Going forward, India will host the SCO counter-terror drills in Manesar, Haryana, in October. Despite strained relations, Pakistan is likely to join in as an observer at the closing ceremony of the meeting.

Taliban & Afghanistan

Linked to the issue of terrorism is the fraught situation in Afghanistan where the new Taliban rulers have yet to deliver on their promise of severing links with terror groups. The Taliban’s well-known patronage  of terror networks is a cause of huge concern for the entire region. In this backdrop, enhancing regional cooperation to shape a broad-based representative government in Afghanistan will top the agenda at the SCO summit in Samarkand. In this context, India has to factor into account differences in approach among SCO countries over engaging the Taliban regime.

While Russia, China and Pakistan and some Central Asian countries are engaging with the Taliban regime, India remains firmly opposed to any international recognition of the Taliban government unless conditions laid down for an inclusive government are met.  India has, however, re-opened its embassy in Kabul, signalling that it’s ready to rethink if the Taliban decides to mend their ways. Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Modi is likely to stress that any decision on recognition of the Taliban regime should be taken by the global community collectively and support the central role of the United Nations on this issue. PM Modi will also highlight the organic linkage between instability and fundamentalism persist in Afghanistan with terrorist and extremist ideologies in the region and all over the world.

Trade & Connectivity

On the positive side, India, which has emerged as the world’s fifth largest economy, will take the lead in accelerating regional economic integration to enhance the arc of prosperity in the Eurasian geography. India sees Central Asia as an untapped geography of opportunity and will harness the Samarkand summit to widen the web of trade and investment linkages. The region, which has experienced an economic downturn since the pandemic and the Russian military operation in Ukraine, is badly in need of economic uplift, and in this area the SCO can play a pivotal role. Here also Pakistan’s obduracy remains a key obstacle as it has refused to grant India overland access to Central Asia due to entrenched hostility. But India will not allow this to come in the way of cleaving closer to the region. PM Modi is expected to press the region to embrace International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and Chabahar. The induction of Iran as full-fledged member of SCO and the presence of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Samarkand summit will help drive the connectivity agenda forward.

Looking ahead, the SCO summit in Samarkand could also broaden the agenda of the grouping by taking concrete initiatives to rope in youth, civil society, media and think tanks. Issues relating to enhancing P2P contacts will also figure in discussions at the SCO summit, said officials familiar with the evolving agenda.

(Manish Chand is CEO, India Writes Network, India and The World and Director, Centre for Global India Insights, a think tank focused on global affairs)

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.