While 2013 Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Bishkek is getting closer its agenda is taking practical shape. For obvious reasons the current dominating trend is to focus the SCO’s agenda more on security issues without neglecting their socio-economic context. Russia’s interest as well as other SCO member states’ is to make the SCO a viable mechanism both for Afghanistan’s peace co-development with its neighbors and for effective reaction to the security threats in the region.
While 2013 Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Bishkek is getting closer its agenda is taking practical shape. Kyrgyz Republic as the country hosting the SCO Summit this year has launched a number of high-level meetings for preliminary consideration of various issues related to the SCO further development. For obvious reasons the current dominating trend is to focus the SCO’s agenda more on security issues without neglecting their socio-economic context.
As a part of the preparation for the SCO Summit the 8th meeting of SCO’s Security Council Secretaries, which took place in Bishkek in the late April this year, discussed the key issues of joint concern for the SCO member states in the security sphere. The SCO’s Security Council Secretaries meeting is an important mechanism of law enforcement and security coordination between the SCO member states. It comprises the secretaries of national security councils and senior officials from all six SCO member states (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), the SCO Secretary General and other SCO senior officials.
The issues examined by the Security Council Secretaries this time are very likely to become a part of the SCO Summit agenda as well. Addressing the Security Council Secretaries the President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev also stressed the vision of a more security-oriented discussion at the upcoming SCO summit. The situation in Afghanistan remains the most pressing problem for all SCO member states. The year 2014 will become a serious watershed in the regional situation. The withdrawal of the main part of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rearrangement of the remained contingent in Afghanistan after 2014 may trigger a serious rise in the terrorist threat not only to Afghanistan but also to its neighboring countries. As many experts note, the most troublesome scenario implies the rapid mobilization of the radical groups which are currently based in the northern Afghanistan. According to the Secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s Security Council Busurmankul Tabaldiev, there are evidences of a rising number of ethnic insurgent groups of Central Asian and Northern Caucuses origin currently gathering in the Afghan part of Badakhshan, a geographical region divided between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In case these groups’ activity continues its rise Central Asian states and Russia may face a direct threat of growing extremism not only in Afghanistan but also at home.
Given these circumstances the key task for the SCO is to raise the coordination among its member states and dialogue partners, Afghanistan included, as well as between the SCO and Common Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to prevent any military threat to the secular regimes in the region. Keeping the secular regimes will not only provide a kind of regional stability guarantee but will also give a chance for region’s modernization and socio-economic development. The SCO program on cooperation to tackle terrorism, separatism and extremism for the period of 2013-2015 adopted by the SCO Beijing summit in 2012 provides the organization with a necessary short-term normative tool to manage the mentioned threats. The working plans which specified the further steps under the program imply joint actions to define and curb the channels of financing terrorist activities, to struggle the cyber terrorism and to provide the security of important international events on the territory of the SCO member states.
However to find regional solutions for the threats emanating from Afghanistan the SCO member states need to resolve the contradictions still existing between some of them. Thus despite of the overall positive dynamics in the sphere of border demarcation and delimitation which is a hallmark of the SCO activities some border incidents between Central Asian state still take place. Territorial disputes disturb relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The most recent border incident between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan was settled due to the coordinated actions of national security councils’ secretaries.
Drug trafficking poses another security challenge for the SCO. According to the UN Drug Report (2012) Afghanistan accounts for over 60% of global opium poppy cultivation and remains the leading producer of opium in the world. A constant rise of the drug production which takes place in Afghanistan since 2001, with the exception of the year 2010 when opium poppy plants suffered from a plant disease, is currently acquiring new geographical dimension. Afghanistan witnesses a growing drug production not only in its northern regions but also in the south. In addition the drug trafficking routes are also evolving alongside with the regional situation. Nowadays these routes tightly connect Afghanistan with Kazakhstan, other Central Asian states and Russia, the main targets of the drug trade apart from Europe. Experts foresee even higher amounts of drug smuggling when new infrastructure routes from China via Central Asia to Europe will start operating in their full scale.
In order to react to the mentioned challenges the SCO members are now considering the option to create a special center which could work in close contact with the Regional Anti-terrorist Structure (RATS). Russia’s interest as well as other SCO member states’ is to make the SCO a viable mechanism both for Afghanistan’s peace co-development with its neighbors and for effective reaction to the security threats in the region. For the sake of regional stability such a mechanism needs both a well-developed normative basis and common vision how to coordinate the joint efforts. To deal with these tasks 2013 SCO Bishkek summit is becoming of high practical importance.
Ekaterina Koldunova is Associate Professor, Department of Asian and African Studies, Deputy Dean, School of Political Affairs, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University), the MFA of Russia.
The author is a laureate of the Valdai Club Foundation Grant Program .
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.