Beijing, April 24 (IANS) Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sithraman on Tuesday called upon members countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism which she said is the biggest threat to peaceful societies.
Speaking at the SCO Defence Ministers’ meeting here, Sitharaman said that terrorism threatens to derail developmental aspirations and create sustained instability both within countries and across national borders, according to a statement issued by the Indian Defence Ministry.
She called upon the member countries to closely coordinate on this. India is participating in the SCO Defence Ministers’ meeting for the first time.
The SCO is a Eurasian inter-governmental organisation, the creation of which was announced in 2001 in Shanghai by Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was preceded by the Shanghai Five mechanism.
India, along with Pakistan, were granted full member status at the SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, in June last year.
In her speech, Sitharaman contended that arguments of political convenience to provide an alibi for terrorist groups or organisations that support terrorism through material support or otherwise are no longer tolerable.
Stating that the world has now realised that there are no good terrorists, she said that India will continue to engage strongly with the SCO-Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure based in Tashkent in this regard.
In this context, she also called upon SCO member states to work towards the goal of a stable, secure and peaceful Afghanistan.
“The SCO must adopt an uncompromising approach towards the persisting threat of terrorism in Afghanistan, as it is essential to advance peace and prosperity in the region,” Sitharaman said.
“India is committed to doing all it can to assist Afghanistan in its quest to regain stability and reconstruct its economy and polity,” she stated.
“This includes cooperation in building capacities and capabilities of the Afghan national security forces. In doing so, India will continue to be guided by the requirements of the government of Afghanistan and the shared objectives of the international community.”
Sitharaman also highlighted India’s keen interest in developing an expanded partnership with the broader Eurasian region.
“In doing so, India has sought to build on her long-standing ties of deep mutual trust and confidence with Russia, vibrant historical and cultural linkages with countries of Central Asia and closer development partnership with China and to further enhance and deepen ties with all the member countries for mutual benefit,” she said.
The Indian Defence Minister said that her country India would work with the SCO partners to energise and revitalise the age-old ties of affinity with the countries of the region.
She sought a forward looking partnership based on robust dialogue and concrete initiatives to enhance the economic, trade and cultural cooperation as well as mutually beneficial interactions on defence and security matters.
She said that many problems that confront the region, such as climate change, cyber security, narcotics trafficking or violent trans-national crime require solutions based on cooperative frameworks that involve all countries and stakeholders.
Since defence cooperation, especially enhanced linkages between armed forces is an important dimension of SCO, Sitharaman stated that India is keen to explore the full potentialities of this engagement.
“India will engage with a positive approach and an open mind on all issues related to defence cooperation within the SCO framework,” she stated. She said that India had noted the decision to set up an Experts Working Group (EWG) mechanism under the SCO Defence Ministers’ meeting to support greater cooperation in the defence field.
“There is a need for further discussions on how the EWG mechanism can be best developed to meet our shared requirements and objectives for defence cooperation in the SCO framework,” Sitharaman said.
“India has already commenced practical steps to take forward defence engagement under the framework, as reflected in our first ever presence at this ministerial meeting and participation of the Indian Army Band at the Fanfare for Peace Military Tattoo being held in conjunction with our meeting today.”
The Indian Defence Minister also stated that her country will participate in the SCO’s peace mission and joint military exercises being held in Russia later this year.
As 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, she expressed the belief that cooperation in the SCO framework will help reinforce India’s efforts to strengthen bilateral cooperation with the partners in the region in the field of defence.
Recognising the value of improving regional transportation and communication networks through mutual consultation, sustainability and sharing of benefits, Sithraman opined that it can create a network of physical and digital connectivity that extends from Russia’s northern regions to the shores of Indian Ocean.
Stating that the International North South Transportation Corridor is an important step in that direction, she, however, noted that it would also be essential that such initiatives respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.
Sitharaman arrived here on Monday and is here at the same time as Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who also attended the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Tuesday.