China, Russia and Central Asian countries of SCO want more involvement in Afghanistan
By Giorgio Fiacconi, Times of Central Asia
As seen from Central Asia, the SCO meeting in Beijing is full of announcements and declarations but with very little practical results.
The two-day meeting in Beijing is dominated by the Afghanistan issue and the consequences of the pullout of American military forces in 2014.
Declarations and various interviews show the emergence of a new relationship between China and Russia with the clear intention to counterbalance western influence in Afghanistan and elsewhere as their joint position on Iran and Syria has already showed.
In the bilateral relationship between China and Russia, there is much more than Afghanistan and it is clear that at the meeting the parties discussed international affairs and security.
The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) potentially can be an element of cohesion and military and economic cooperation between all its members but in actual fact in too many occasions it has showed the inability to perform due to the evident contradictory interests and distrust between its members.
The SCO, founded in 2001 by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, can be a military, economic and strategic group but so far it has not achieved very much. Iran, India, Pakistan and others have also attended SCO summits, but not as full members. All have an interest in Afghanistan's future but coordination between them inside and outside the SCO has been missing so far and in the present circumstances it seems practically impossible. On the other side, if all countries have an interest in the economic potentiality and natural resources of Afghanistan, none of them is prepared to commit from the military side in order to guarantee the country’s security that is the key to any future development.
It is clear that all Central Asian countries worry about the stability of Afghanistan and will do their best to facilitate the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from the country. The recent agreement signed by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to allow land transit for NATO equipment and material through the Northern route via Russia is a clear prove of such intention. On the other side, Russia and China consider that the planned withdrawal is going to create a security vacuum and potential resurgence of terrorism that should be avoided. Such vacuum should be filled by NATO or other security forces since the Taliban insurgency is not going to stop and will create serious problems to all members of the SCO, whether they want it or not. This of course will also hamper any reconstruction and development of Afghanistan and consequently the economic interests of all SCO members, not to mention neighboring Iran, Pakistan and India.
An alternative to western forces could be an expanded military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing, which must translate from simple military exercises into a clear military commitment in Afghanistan. From the present situation and declarations it seems that such commitment, even under the umbrella of the SCO, will not materialize given the fact that not only Russia and China but also all Central Asian countries are divided by many barriers that in addition to rivalry between them, involve a complex of economic interests that span from energy to water to free trade to infrastructure.
Whatever resolution the SCO summit in Beijing is going to take it is clear that uncertainty about Afghanistan after 2014 will certainly remain and will be the subject of many meetings inside and outside the SCO. What is clear now is that the American withdrawal may end a phase but will not solve the situation of instability that is much more complex and is going to last for many years to come after 2014. The negotiation for a new phase is now under way and it will take a while to see what the future will reserve.