Shanghai Six Has Its Work Cut Out On Afghanistan

Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Sunday, January 6, is going to Beijing. Together with his opposite numbers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation he will have to rack his brains over how to address post-Taliban problems in Afghanistan. The meeting in Beijing is an emergency one, which is easy to explain, however. The need for it is due to changes taking place in Central Asia, which directly bear on the interests of the Shanghai Group of Six - Kazakhstan, China, Kirghizia, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. A desire to ensure stability and security in Central Asia was the main stimulus for the Shanghai Five, later transformed into the Shanghai Six. It is not accidental that the declaration on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and its other documents put the emphasis on joint efforts to guarantee security and defences and deal with terrorism, separatism, and extremism. The extremist regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the country's turning into a jumping-off ground for international terrorism constituted a common threat which further cemented the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. With the Taliban gone, this does not mean that the Shanghai Six has altered its priorities. On the contrary, loyalty to previous guidelines causes the organisation's members to join in post-Taliban settlement most actively. As is believed in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the main task of settlement is obvious: creating reliable guarantees against Afghanistan ever becoming a global breeding ground of terrorism and intolerance. The ministry is convinced that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation should occupy one of the key places in dealing with these problems. Moscow's view is shared in other Shanghai Cooperation Organisation capitals. RIA Novosti correspondents report from Astana, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Tashkent and Beijing that these capitals stick to identical or very near approaches to future political settlement in Afghanistan and to post-conflict arrangements in Central Asia. Representatives of the Six's foreign ministries, formulating their positions ahead of the special meeting, spoke in unison for a fundamentally new global system of security, with the UN playing a central coordinating role in this process. Each of the capitals points to the inadmissibility of new dividing lines in the world, of "double standards" and of dividing terrorists into "bad" and "good" guys, as well as attempts to present anti-terrorist activity as a face-off between cultures, religions and nations. However, the path from formulating a common approach to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's actual role in post-Taliban settlement does not appear to be simple. It is clear, for example, that one cannot do here without discussing the format in which the American and NATO military can be present in Central Asia. And this question, despite the general commitment of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member-countries to the ideas of an international anti-terrorist coalition, may prove to be a stumbling block. It is also obvious that in seeking the role of a key player in Afghan settlement, the Shanghai Six cannot do without coordinated efforts with such participants in the process as Pakistan, India and Turkmenistan. These countries, as indeed Mongolia, have already declared their wish to join the Shanghai organisation, but before its charter is adopted there is no sense talking of converting the Six into the Eight or the Ten. So other mechanisms should be looked for. The position of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member-countries is further complicated by a new aggravation of the conflict between India and Pakistan. While these neighbours are making threatening saber-rattling noises, it will be a very difficult thing to agree with them joint efforts on the Afghan sector. It emerges then that to go from words about participation in post-Taliban settlement to real action the Shanghai Six will have their work cut out for them.

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