PM to attend BRIC summit

This will be Singh’s first foreign trip after being sworn in as Prime Minister for the second term.

New Delhi, however, is yet to decide if the PM would also attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, which will precede the BRIC summit at the same venue.

As India is not a full-member of the SCO, but only an observer; the PM has in the past years avoided attending the summit. New Delhi, however, did sent ministers to represent it in the past summits. But, with the BRIC and SCO summits are being held at the same venue this year, it has put New Delhi in a dilemma.

Highly-placed government sources said that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has been asked to find out what could be the format of discussion at the SCO summit.
“We have no problem if it is held like a discussion among the equals. But if the format is such that the Head of the Government of an observer State cannot speak unless he or she is spoken to, it would not be acceptable to us,” said a senior official. “And, in that case, the PM would not attend the SCO meet.”

China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan gave birth to Shanghai Five in 1996. The grouping was renamed as SCO after Uzbekistan joined it in 2001. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan enjoy observer status in the SCO.

The SCO’s main focus is on enhancing regional cooperation on security issues in Central Asia and curbing terrorism and fight against drug trafficking. The cultural and economic cooperation among the SCO members have also been on the rise in the recent years.
The Indian PM’s absence in SCO summits earlier fuelled speculations that New Delhi either did not take the SCO seriously or refrained from taking active participation in the organisation, which Washington was believed to be seeing as a grouping aimed at opposing or restricting US influence in Central Asia.

If the PM attends the SCO summit, it will mark a subtle change in New Delhi’s policy in Central Asia and desire to be seen in a more pro-active role in the region.

The SCO summit could also be the first occasion where Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari would run into each other for the first time after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai on November 26 last year. But New Delhi has not yet decided if the opportunity could be seized to end the post-26/11 diplomatic chill between India and Pakistan.

“We are not even sure whether the PM will attend the SCO or not, let alone deciding on the prospect of a bilateral with the Pakistani President,” said another highly-placed official.

The BRIC meet in Yekaterinburg is going to be the first full-format summit of the four-nation grouping and it is expected to be focused on trade and economic ties among the members in the backdrop of the current global financial meltdown.

Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese premier Hu Jintao will also attend the BRIC summit.

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