By Dr Raja Muhammad Khan

Contrary to the common misperception that, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a counter weight to the NATO, the sounding from the forum is that, it is a regional organization having no military motives to pursue. Its charter highlights the principles of non-alliance and non-confrontation. China, the initiator of this organization, still considers itself as a regional power. Being a regional organization, in July 2005, this forum demanded United States and NATO to, “fix a date for their departure from military bases in Central Asia” which were initially set up to support the military operations in Afghanistan in 2001. U.S and NATO forces were maintaining these bases in Central Asia; Karshi-Khanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan, commonly known as the K-2 base and Manas Base in the northern Kyrgyzstan.

Nonetheless, the super power out rightly rejected the demand, but later on, vacated the military bases once directly demanded by the host states. However, there remained the game of cat and mouse, the vacation and occupation of these bases and troubles in both these states like change of the regimes and civil war like situation. The forum (SCO) remained quite thereafter, until its 12th summit, held in June 2012. During this session, Chinese President Mr Hu Jintao said in an interview that, China and Russia would play a bigger role for the stabilization of the Afghanistan. President Hu said, “We will continue to manage regional affairs by ourselves, guarding against shocks from turbulence outside the region, and will play a bigger role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction.” Mr Hu emphasized that, “We’ll strengthen communication, coordination and cooperation in dealing with major international and regional issues.”

This indeed was a big statement from the host of the 12th Summit of the SCO. Though Hu did not specify the role this forum would like t play in Afghanistan, however, Russian envoy, Kirill Barsky said that, “We are not talking about the Shanghai group assuming responsibility for security in Afghanistan.” This means that SCO is looking for a role to stabilize Afghanistan, rather challenging the US and NATO role. In this regard, the Global Times, a Chinese daily said that, despite NATO is in an embarrassing stage in Afghanistan at the moment, SCO “is not interested in becoming a counterpart of NATO, rather SCO members are busy with pragmatic ideas.” The forum is looking for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, following the pull out of the NATO and US forces. Indeed, China has announced “$10-billion loan” for the economic cooperation within SCO and already invested a lot in Afghanistan. 

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Earlier, Mr Liu Weimin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that, “Events in Afghanistan are of great concern to the security and stability of Central Asia.” These statements clearly indicate Chinese serious concerns over the situation in Afghanistan. On the eve of its 12th Summit, the organization admitted Afghanistan as an observer in the SCO. At this occasion, Afghan President, Hamid Karazai showed eagerness of his country for a strategic partnership with China. Chinese leadership agreed to this Afghan desire in principle. President Karazai said that, “Afghanistan will be expanding and strengthening relations with China.” President Hu assured Afghanistan that, “China will continue actively participating in international and regional cooperation concerning Afghanistan.”

In another interesting development, India has cleverly moved and backed this Chinese call for the SCO’s role in Afghanistan. Mr SM Krishna, the Indian External Affair Minister, representing Indian Premier, said that, “The SCO provides a promising alternative regional platform to discuss the rapidly changing Afghan situation.” He declared Afghanistan as the most significant challenge facing the region. It is pertinent to mention that, on June 14, 2012, India and US signed a pact, for holding regular tri-lateral talks with Afghanistan. This pact would give India a leeway for engagement with US and Afghanistan. Earlier, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared Defence cooperation with India, as a “linchpin” in the US strategy, indeed, a guaranteed Indian role in Afghanistan in the post 2014 scenario.  Afghanistan and India have already finalized a Strategic Partnership Agreement.”

The new pact between US and India aims at enhancing the Indian role in Afghanistan, in the event of a likely drawdown of NATO and US forces after 2014. As per Indian external Affairs Minister, “Security would certainly form an important segment,” of this pact. In the backdrop of the deteriorating Pak-US relations, U.S is openly supporting the Indian role in Afghanistan and both are working on a strategy where Pakistani role in Afghanistan is minimized. Through the strategic partnership, it is getting all out military and economic support from US. Russia is an all weather partner and supporter of India, thus always ready to lend credence to Indian demands and objectives. After a likely membership of the SCO, India would be able to play a major role from the platform of SCO too. In a way, both SCO and U.S will back Indian role in Afghanistan. 

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Indeed, apart from Afghanistan, the Caspian and Central Asian region is very important for the regional countries as well as for the US and EU. Each one is running for the domination of this hydrocarbon and mineral rich region. For the exploration and transportation of these resources, there is a requirement that its neighbourhood, Afghanistan should be peaceful and stable.  Even in Afghanistan, there are mineral resources of over $1 trillion, as per US estimates. Some other estimates of these deposits are of over $3 trillion. In December 2011, Chinese state-owned National Petroleum Corporation and Afghanistan has signed a deal for exploring Afghan natural oil and gas reserves.  Indeed, China has invested over $3.5 billion in the mining sector of the Afghanistan. Indeed, China Metallurgical Construction Co. signed a contract to develop the Aynak copper mine in Logar province three years back.  Besides, China has contributed a lot to Afghanistan in various fields.

As far as the United States is concerned, it is ready to accommodate the Indian interest in the region and Afghanistan. However, at no cost, would allow Russian and Chinese desired role and objectives fulfilled.  U.S is preparing India as its successor in the Afghanistan after it leaves that country or assumes for itself a role of remaining in the background. On its part, India would like to happily accept such an assignment that strategically suits it. Having a major role in Afghanistan, would enable it to have a direct access and influence in its next destination of energy resources; the Central Asia. Through its relationship with SCO, India would get legitimacy from the regular member countries of this regional organization (SCO), which see US as an irritant in the regional politics. 

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At the SCO and regional forum, Russia and China have unanimity on one aspect; that, NATO and U.S should leave the region. Nevertheless, both have different perceptions and views about the dominance of oil and gas rich Central Asia and Caspian. Russia, a former super power still views the region as its backyard. It still has its tentacles of the former Soviet regime in almost all republics. Beside US, Russia is against any Chinese role in the region. It is against Chinese investment and exploration of oil and gas resources in Central Asia.  According to Mr Zhao Huasheng, Director of the Centre for Russia and Central Asia Studies in Fudan University in Shanghai, “China and Russia have no joint approach to Afghanistan. Cooperation is basically limited to a common political stance.” Perhaps the hidden differences on some of the very basic regional issues between China and the Russian Federation are not allowing SCO to play a dominant role in the regional and global politics.

India, having its closer relationship with Russia and Central Asian States has a wide acceptance in SCO too.  Therefore, in a future scenario, if given a full membership of SCO, would be able to counterbalance the Chinese role. This great success of India is not only because of its large size and growing economy, but indeed, owing to its successful diplomacy and a balance foreign policy. Despite many insurgent movements in India, there is political stability and safeguarding of national interests of India by Indian leadership, irrespective of their political affiliations and ethnic classification.

While all these developments are taking place, Pakistan is in a fix. U.S has adopted discriminatory policies to isolate Pakistan and promote Indian interests in Afghanistan. The domestic instability of Pakistan indeed is being fully exploited by United States and its South Asian.  The need of the hour is that, key policy makers of Pakistan should sit together for the formulation of a viable policy to secure the national interests of the country.