Representatives of the member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) came together in the 14th Heads of Government Council meeting of SCO in Zhengzhou, the capital of the central Henan province of China on 14-15 December, 2015. CEO of the Afghan government, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah also participated in this meeting.
The Afghan CEO had meetings with premiers of Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs on the sidelines of the latest meeting of this organization.
The background of SCO and Afghanistan and their impacts on each other, the factors behind SCO’s interest in Afghanistan and the Afghan regional diplomacy in latest years are analyzed here.
The Background of Shanghai-5 and Afghanistan
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the interference of regional and international countries increased in this country; however, with the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, regional interference not only stopped but it was increased also. The reason behind these interferences was that the most of the countries present in Afghanistan were divided into two blocks during the soviet invasion: A: Pro-Soviet countries; B: Pro-Mujahedeen countries. Therefore, the war was between these two blocks at all. However, the war changed its course after the soviet soldiers withdraw from the country and the war started among proxy groups of different countries. At the time, the war did not start between two blocks, but it started among several regional rivals. Civil War initiated in Afghanistan due to this proxy war and it became famous for the land of so-called “radicalism, terrorism, narcotics and separates”.
Five regional countries became influenced by the situation of Afghanistan in 1996; they gathered and established the Shanghai-5 Organization. These five countries were: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan; because, at that time, 3 countries out of these 5 were impacted by the situation in Afghanistan. Russia has faced the uprising of Muslims in Abkhazia and Bosnia; the civil war had been started with Islamic Movement of Tajikistan and former Tajik Communists and the Eastern Turkistan Party had upraised in China.
Besides that, the other factors behind establishing this organization were implementation of “Brzezinski’s Eurasian Theory” and formation of geo-politic alliance against American in the post-cold-war era.
At the beginning, in general, the aim of the organization was focused on trust-building between member states and non-militarizing that borders; however, the struggle against radicalism, terrorism and separatism became included in the goals of this organization.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
In 2001, with the addition of Uzbekistan the Shanghai-5 changes its name into Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In 2004, Mongolia became the first observer of SCO, in 2005 India and Pakistan also became observers and in 2012, due to Chinese support, Afghanistan was also awarded as an observer of this organization.
In 2015, SCO grant memberships to India and Pakistan and by 2016 they would start as permanent members of SCO.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization is working as a forum for the mutual trust, neighborly relations and boost cooperation in politics, trade, economy, culture and education, energy and transport between its members.
SCO’s rising interest in Afghanistan
During the 1990s, the members of Shanghai-five (predecessor of SCO) expressed deep worries about Afghan situation. In 1998, the foreign ministers of the shanghai-five members expressed their anxiety on the tense situation in Afghanistan; in 1999, it expressed ‘deep worries’, in 2000, the defense ministers of Shanghai-five expressed ‘grave concern’.
In the post-2001, the SCO not only condemned terrorist attacks of 9/11 but also supported US operation enduring freedom in Afghanistan. Moreover, some of SCO members also give military bases to American forces.
After 2004, when the insecurities rose and the opium production in Afghanistan increased, the SCO made a contact group in 2005 on Afghanistan. In 2009, it called a special conference about Afghanistan and later in 2012 it made Afghanistan an observer in SCO.
The SCO growing interests in Afghanistan is due to the production of Opium and its trafficking to SCO member countries, and concerns about terrorism, extremism and separatism.
Afghanistan and the Regional Diplomacy
In general, Afghanistan’s foreign policy is transforming since 2009 but more specifically it moved more towards regional diplomacy with the Presidency of Ashraf Ghani. Kabul established closed relation with Central Asian republics (CASA-1000 and TAPI); closed ties with Pakistan and China; taking military assistance from Moscow and Delhi and in the issue of Yemen it published a pro-Saudi statement. These are the steps that can shows that the country has moved more towards regional diplomacy. On the other hand, requesting for membership in Chinese AIIB bank and SCO permanent membership, the recent RECCA and Heart of Asia conferences are also its examples.
The 14th SCO summit
The SCO concerns about Afghanistan have been increased due to Afghanistan’s situation; that’s why the SCO has given more attentions to Afghanistan. Therefore, the ongoing 14th SCO summit was important for Afghanistan.
The importance of SCO summit is as follows:
- Request for the permanent membership of SCO: In this summit, Afghanistan requested for permanent membership in SCO, which would impact Afghanistan in security, economic and diplomatic sectors.
- Sino-Afghan relations: Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah visited China to attend SCO summit on Chinese Vice President’s request when the later visited Kabul. Afghan CEO met with Chinese Prime Minister, the agenda of their meeting were: bilateral relations, Afghan Peace Process and Investment.
In this meeting the afghan side once again requested China to use its influence on regional countries to sincerely cooperate with Afghanistan. The Chinese side reiterated its support from Afghan peace process and called stability of Afghanistan, stability of China. Moreover, the afghan side talked about the prospects of investment in Afghanistan and emphasized Chinese investment in Water, Energy, and building infrastructure. The Chinese Prime minister promised to encourage Chinese investors to invest in Afghanistan, however, told the afghan side to take proper measures for the safety of Chinese workers and investors.
- Relations with regional countries: Afghan CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah at the sidelines of 14th SCO summit met with the prime ministers of few regional countries. He invited Kazakhstani Prime minister to Kabul, talked with Russian Prime minister on security and economic cooperation and moreover talk on bilateral ties with Tajik and Indian delegation.