The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: chaos prevention is possible

The Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism was among the very first documents signed during the SCO summit in 2001. And already in June 2002, the heads of the SCO member states met in Saint Petersburg and signed an agreement on regional anti-terrorist structure (RATS). In other words, since the SCO foundation tasks of suppressing terrorist crimes, as well as, acts of separatism and extremism in Central Asia were given to the SCO executive bodies. According to the Chinese Foreign Minister at that time Tang Jiaxuan, the SCO became the first international organization which determined to make the fight against terrorism the major pillar of its activities.

However, with the existing set of geopolitical actors it was just impossible to respond effectively to the problems caused by terrorism, extremism, drug trade, etc. in such a large region. As a result of diplomatic efforts undertaken by the Russian side, India and Pakistan officially joined the SCO at the Astana summit in 2017. Judging by the summit held in the capital of Kazakhstan, the task of combating terrorism which had been previously announced became a priority. The statement of Russian President Vladimir Putin at this summit stood a clear testimony of it. He emphasized the need to resume the work of the SCO-Afghanistan contact group. And the Pakistani Prime Minister was the only head of the SCO national delegation who had official meeting with Putin. But this is not surprising, as it is exactly Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan’s ‘tribal zone’ that are de facto territories beyond the control of local authorities. This ‘terra incognita’ serves as an excellent staging area for drug mafia and various terrorist organizations that threaten not only Central Asia, but also Eurasia as a whole. President Putin publicly warned his colleagues that Islamic terrorists seek to destabilize Central Asia.

Today it is quite clear to any observer that the USA, even with the aid of NATO and corrupted local administration, cannot stabilize situation in Afghanistan, as well as, solve its long-standing economic and social problems. Afghanistan is quickly plunging into bloody chaos of yet another civil war. Obviously, the role of radical Islamists and terrorist organizations is enhanced through money flowing from drug trade. The repeated calls made by a number of Western politicians to withdraw NATO troops from this country, also pour oil on the fire. Thus, the negative effects of Afghani problem on the security of Central Asian countries are set to increase soon because of eventual withdrawal of the main body of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

It is easy to understand that if even NATO troops leave the country without such result as immediate seizure of power by the Taliban (but this scenario is a distinct possibility), it will still destabilize situation in Northern Afghanistan where there are large diasporas of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks. This development will undoubtedly pose a threat to the security of neighboring states; contribute to activities of various extremist organizations that are using Afghanistan’s territory as their home base. We have witnessed activities of Caliphate’s militants in Iraq and Syria, and it is a sad example of rapid development of ‘terrorist cancer’. If religious extremism which is typical and also implicit in a number of Central Asian countries, corruption that is undermining political elites and governmental authorities, which is traditionally exacerbated by social clannishness and complex socio-economic problems, unresolved inter-ethnic conflicts and the failure to resolve the question of transfer of power at the top level of the State (especially in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan) are considered, it is perfectly possible to envisage the scale of future horrors. Chaos will be followed by massive flow of refugees, arms, illegal drugs and radical jihadists into Russia.

However, all these horrors are preventable. And it is the SCO itself that offers the greatest potential for solving the Afghani problem and non-traditional threats associated with it. This is because, in addition to Russia and China, practically all the Central Asian states, except for Turkmenistan, are members of this organization while Afghanistan and such countries actively involved in its problem’s settlement as Pakistan, Iran and India have observer status in this organization. But China which constitutes one of the pillars of the SCO activities shows little sign of its wish to be involved in preventing the fire in Central Asia. Beijing is patiently analyzing the Afghani problem and trying passively to minimize future risks. It seriously hampers the SCO effectiveness in the Afghani area. Such short views can be costly for Beijing, given the problems associated with Uighur Islamists in the north of the People’s Republic of China. However, the salient point here is that the SCO really has diplomatic, financial and military capabilities of delimiting threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the region.

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