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Six PMs to attend SCO heads of government summit hosted by India

The meeting will be chaired by Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu.

India will host the Heads of Government (HoG) council meeting of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on Monday, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not attend the meeting, which will be chaired by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu instead. According to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, the virtual conference will be attended by six Prime Ministers, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, as well as the PMs of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has also decided to miss the meeting, deputing his Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Andleeb Abbas in his place.

“It will be the first time that a Summit-level Meeting will be held under India’s Chairmanship, since it gained full membership of the organization in 2017,” the MEA statement read, adding that, “This Summit is held annually at the level of Prime Ministers of SCO and deals primarily with the trade and economic agenda of the organization.”

Prime Minister Modi is expected to spend the day in Varanasi, his Parliamentary constituency instead.

Officials explained that while the SCO Heads of Government Council consists of Prime Ministers, PM Modi had been deputing others for the event in previous years as well, with the External Affairs Minister attending the SCO HoG meets in 2017 and 2018, while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh filled in for the PM in 2019. They also pointed out that Mr. Modi had already attended the SCO “Heads of State” meeting in November, which is normally held at the Presidential level. Mr. Khan, too, had attended the SCO Head of State meeting chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin this year.

One of the reasons, suggested sources, is that as Parliamentary democracies, the Presidential positions in India and Pakistan are “ceremonial” in nature, and the Prime Minister’s position is more equivalent to the President in the other SCO member countries. Moreover, tensions between India and Pakistan, which have played out in previous meetings, may have played a part in Mr. Khan’s decision to decline the invitation from India. During the SCO meeting of National Security Advisors, NSA Ajit Doval had walked out of the videoconference over his Pakistani counterpart’s decision to use a Pakistani map claiming Indian territories as his backdrop. Significantly, tensions between India and China have not spilled over into the SCO meetings thus far, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had even held bilateral meetings with their Chinese counterparts during visits to Moscow for the SCO Ministerial meetings in September 2020.

Apart from the eight SCO Member States, the meeting on Monday will be attended by four Observer States of the SCO: including the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, the First Vice President of Iran, the Prime Minister of Belarus, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia. Turkmenistan has been invited as a Special Guest by India and will be represented by the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers.

​“By Chairing the 19th meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government on 30 November, India hopes to further strengthen greater trade, economic and cultural cooperation within SCO by putting human beings at the centre of SCO activities and to foster greater peace and prosperity in the region,” the MEA statement said, adding that India will present initiatives for overcoming the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

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