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Friday, July 1, 2011     GET REAL

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO): Afghanistan, Pakistan welcomed; U.S. is not

By Fariborz Saremi

The ongoing evolution of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which marked its 10th anniversary at a summit meeting held in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 15, continues apace.


Front row from left, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon and Kyrgyzstan's President Roza Otunbayeva, and back row from left, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other guests pose for a photo after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, Wednesday, June 15. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a regional security group dominated by China and Russia.
AP/RIA Novosti

Although a major force for integration in central Asia, SCO still has a lot of potential for expansion in the entire Eurasian area. Almost half of that landmass has not yet been drawn into the organization’s influence. As a result overtures have been made to various countries to try and gain footholds there. These include Ukraine, which president Hu Jintao visited before the Astana summit, Belarus and Sri Lanka, both of which have been admitted as dialogue partners.

More importantly, perhaps, is that India and Pakistan are close to finalizing membership, with negotiations having been held to set down the terms and conditions of participation. Much of their motivation and indeed much of the thinking behind the expansion of SCO has been the desire for greater regional security. SCO has, it appears, adopted a similar strategy to the USA by trying to strengthen relations between Central and South Asia, weakening Russian and Chinese links at the same time, but has added its own touch by extending out towards the Indian Ocean.

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Moreover, as military cooperation is deepened among SCO members – by means of security drills, enhanced interoperability and cooperation between law-enforcement agencies — the inclusion of the huge populations of India and Pakistan will also serve to weaken NATO’s role in the region.

The Astana Summit has seen a stronger assertion of regional independence and confidence in solving its own problems. There has been a strong sense that countries within the SCO area are capable of managing their own development towards greater democracy. Furthermore, there is agreement that member states should develop organically based on their history and cultural traditions rather than having an alien form of political establishment forced on them. Despite greater military cooperation and an endorsement of Russia’s missile defense strategy, dialogue is seen as the ideal way of resolving differences.

In this new thinking the international community would be confined to a more mediatory role, helping to reconcile conflicting parties but not actively interfering in other country’s sovereign affairs. Of primary importance would be the international community’s respect for international law and the individual integrity of each state.

The first major example of how this new strategy might challenge conventional western wisdom is in the case of Afghanistan. Concerned by the American military presence there and its recent efforts to establish a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government led by president Hamid Karzai, the senior members of SCO — Russia, China, and Central Asia — have made it clear they do not foresee a permanent U.S. or even NATO presence being retained there. This was reinforced at the Astana conference, which called for a neutral Afghanistan. Significantly Karzai attended this conference. Thus step by step SCO is doing its best to maneuver itself into a position from which it can help determine what should happen in Afghanistan once U.S. troops have been withdrawn.

Dr. Fariborz Saremi is a commentator on TV and radio (German ARD/NDR TV,SAT 1,N24, Voice of America and Radio Israel) on Middle East issues and a contributer to, and Defense&Foreign Affairs.

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