Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the world at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit 2022 that ‘this is not an era of war, let's talk about peace’. He urged Putin to an early end to hostilities in Ukraine. The G20 summit Presidency presents a challenge to India in devising an opportunity in bringing Russia and Ukraine closer to facilitate a ceasefire and bring an end to the confrontation between the two UN Member States.
India takes pride in its dexterity in maintaining a harmonious equilibrium in the relationship between the two warring parties. China and India both have declined to denounce Moscow's ruthless attack on Ukraine in several United Nations resolutions. But unlike China, India has strengthened its ties with the West, especially with the US, despite having strong strategic relations with Russia.
Recently, China has demonstrated its inclination towards mediation between Ukraine and Russia. But the effort is yet to gain momentum. Beijing's proximate association with Moscow could be one of the reasons. Conversely, the possibility of China furnishing military equipment to Russia looms large, which conjures up a perilous strategic imbalance. Here India is striving assiduously to avoid being pigeonholed into one side as it could risk antagonising both the US and Russia.
The most overriding rationale is the fear of the Black Swan Syndrome in Asia. For the next 50 years not only economic gravitas will be decisively shifted towards Asia, developments in Asia and Asia only, will be characterized by what a trader-turned-philosopher once said ‘rarity, extreme impact and retrospective predictability’.
Secondly, the first reaction has to be at a premium speed in managing these security problems. Diplomacy and de-escalation have to be moved fast, very fast. If they fail, military force must be applied quickly. Humanitarian or post-terrorist attack relief has to come speedily in hours and days or it will be too late-"swans don't wait".
Thirdly, it is very expensive and difficult for countries like Bangladesh to train and equip a military to deal with these events. In the 2004 Tsunami, India moved a sizable member of her military assets to the affected areas. The US moved 25 ships, 45 helicopters and 15,000 personnel to provide 4 million pounds of food and 10 million pounds of relief supplies. The preparation was like going to a small war. India brought succour to all the neighbouring countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Asia is hit by as many as 18 earthquakes every year. Bangladesh is likely to have one with an 8 Richter scale Magnitude. Different researches suggest that with 7 Richter scale earthquake Dhaka may be completely destroyed. A coup in North Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan is always a possibility. Pakistan is already in the midst of its worst crisis since 1947. Both social and political meltdowns may happen.
In this situation, Delhi G20 Summit centred on the theme ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ signifying ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’ has become a beacon of hope in the war-torn world. Though two ministerial meetings ended sans joint communiqué due to the Ukraine imbroglio, the Foreign Ministers’ meeting happily ended with a ‘Chair’s summary and outcome document’. The document noted that ‘most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy’. It was a reiteration of G20 Bali summit’s declaration, though Russia and China refused and objected to label the Ukraine conflict a ‘war’.
The sideline meetings of G20 carry some significance. For the first time since the Russia-Ukraine ‘war’, top US and Russian diplomats had met. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met for about 10 minutes. In the brief tête-à-tête, the question of nukes figured prominently.
Bangladesh is the only South Asian country invited to G20 summit due to its burgeoning strategic significance. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the new Avatar and one of the most successful Heads of Governments, will also be a part of the Summit. Under her charismatic leadership Bangladesh as an emerging voice from the Global South may utilise the G20 Summit to advocate issues of importance impinging on the development of the Global South. Additionally, Bangladesh has the potential to function as a liaison between South Asia and Southeast Asia, providing India with a strategic edge to establish a regional hub via land and sea.
New Delhi’s accomplishment in bringing together contrasting perspectives to the negotiating table deserves universal recognition. Looking forward, India’s friendly connection with Ukraine as well as the US and close ties with Russia position it well to serve as a mediator to bridge the chasm and effect a ceasefire between the belligerents. And if President Putin is on hand, cessation of hostiles will be that much easier. But all these prognostications may be overtaken by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.
The writer is a former Diplomat and Researcher