Sunday, May 15, 2011

Afghanistan to gain SCO observer status?

FINALLY -- All of my final exams and papers are complete. Summer is here.  Of course, I am so excited to catch up on sleep and some reading before I head off to Kazakhstan on June 8th.

As you may know, Kazakhstan is hosting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) jubilee summit in Astana on June 15, 2011, commemorating ten years since the group's inception.  Currently, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are full SCO members. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan retain observer status, Belarus and Sri Lanka are considered dialogue partners, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are guest attendees. The SCO is a strategic alliance with two standing permanent bodies: the SCO Secretariat in Beijing, China and the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  In combatting the three evils of separatism, extremism and terrorism, the SCO hosts multi-country anti-terror drills and military exercises (such as a recent one in Xinjiang, China), and holds regular summits convening Eurasian heads of states and for the first time in April 2011, a meeting of military chiefs.

I found this interesting article in The Hindu on granting Afghanistan observer status at June's SCO meeting. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that Afghanistan submitted an application for observer status, while Pakistan and India both applied to upgrade their status to one of full members. In anticipating a new wave of terror following the death of Osama bin Laden, the SCO ministers are particularly keen on maintaining security in the region, but is granting Afghanistan observer status part of that strategy?

While the SCO is unlikely to admit Pakistan and India as full members, granting Afghanistan observer status is a significant step for the future of South-Central Asian geopolitics. First, if admitted as an observer, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan will retain equal status in a military organization that includes the hegemonic China and Russia. After all, it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that bankrupted the Soviet economy and contributed to the USSR's dissolution. Afghanistan's desire to join Russia and several other former Soviet Republics in the SCO indicates that the country's leadership is ready and eager to embrace a post-Cold War arrangement whereby Afghanistan can cooperate on strategic matters with its Eurasian neighbors. Afghanistan's observer status would also grant the SCO increased authority in assisting Afghanistan in the GWOT, particularly given the presence of NATO forces in the NDN.

Secondly, if Afghanistan is granted observer status and India is granted full status, this would place Pakistan in a difficult position given the immense security challenges. The Pakistani civilian and military leadership are under international pressure following bin Laden's death, and the country confronts various terrorist organizations (many were not affiliated with bin Laden). At Georgetown, I have a good friend from Pakistan. She told me that she fears bin Laden's death will only cause more instability in the region --- after all, he is only dead. His memory and ideology (unfortunately) do not die with his demise. Plus, other extremist groups (e.g. LeT, LeJ, LeO, etc.) threaten South Asian stability. So is the SCO the proper organization to counter these threats? Will increasing SCO membership to include terror-stricken South Asian states effectively combat extremism, or is it a way to increase Chinese military involvement and counter NATO forces in the region? Will an SCO with Afghanistan, Pakistan, India in the same military grouping as China, Russia and most of the former Soviet CARs prove to be an effective group in combatting extremism, separatism and terrorism?

Of course, these are big questions that I am still pondering. Any thoughts?

Until next time, so long!

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