SCO Defence Ministers meet, Tajikistan: Violence in Afghanistan and regional security to be the focus

By: |
July 27, 2021 5:27 PM

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on July 27, Defence Minister Singh is expected to meet his Tajik counterpart Col Gen Sherali Mirzo. The two will discuss issues of bilateral cooperation as well as issues of mutual interest.

Later this year from September 16-17 Tajikistan will be holding the SCO Heads of state summit.Later this year from September 16-17 Tajikistan will be holding the SCO Heads of state summit.

The growing instability in Afghanistan is expected to top the agenda of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) Defence Ministers Meet on Wednesday. Indian Defence minister Rajnath Singh is on a three day visit from July 27-29 to Dushanbe, Tajikistan to participate in the meet.

Agenda in Dushanbe

During the meeting issues related to the defence cooperation among the SCO members will be discussed. The minister will address the meeting on Wednesday. And at the end of the meeting a communiqué is expected to be issued.

According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on July 27, Defence Minister Singh is expected to meet his Tajik counterpart Col Gen Sherali Mirzo. The two will discuss issues of bilateral cooperation as well as issues of mutual interest.

Also, the minister’s engagement includes a joint call on by SCO defence ministers with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon.

Why Afghanistan’s current situation at SCO meet?

This year Tajikistan is chair of the grouping which has 8 member states — four central Asian countries–Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan; and also Russia, China, India, Pakistan.

As a grouping SCO occupies 60 per cent of the Eurasian continent, with a collective population of 3 billion people. Besides Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus, and Iran are its observers and countries including Turkey, Cambodia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have received dialogue partner status.

Later this year from September 16-17 Tajikistan will be holding the SCO Heads of state summit.

Afghanistan holds an observer status in SCO, which is the most appropriate forum to discuss the security situation there. SCO has all the regional powers that have security and financial stakes in that country. This means, as a regional security organisation, it can play a stabilising role in Afghanistan by neutralising the Taliban and balancing the external players.

There is no confirmation of any bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart. In 2020, Mr Singh had met with Chinese defence Minister General Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of SCO meeting in Moscow. The meeting had taken place in the backdrop of Chinese aggression at Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh.

In the last two months Tajikistan as a chair of SCO has held two very important meetings. These include SCO Foreign Ministers as well as National security advisors’ meetings.

Earlier this month during the Foreign Ministers’ meet, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Chinese FM Wang Yi held a meeting on the sidelines. The Indian side had called for an early resolution of the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control at the earliest. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) India told the Chinese side that “unilateral change of status quo is not acceptable”.

Meanwhile …

Pakistan’s Defense Minister Parvez Khattak has already reached Dushanbe for the meet and reports indicate that he will hold meetings with his Russian and Chinese counterparts as well as Tajik, Uzbek ministers on the sidelines.

Expert View

“As a regional security organisation, it can play a stabilizing role in Afghanistan by neutralizing the Taliban and balancing the external players. The SCO charter clearly mandates the organisation to take decisive steps against the forces of terrorism, radicalism and separatism. It has a Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) headed by Jumakhon Giyosov, a Tajik national,” explains Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU.

“The SCO had created an Afghan Contact Group in 2005, which lost momentum, but was revived again in 2017. The withdrawal of the US forces has re-activated the members of the SCO. Russia, China and Pakistan are actively negotiating with the Taliban,”he says.

However, in his opinion “the regional dynamics may impact the negotiations within the SCO. Pakistan, backed by China, would like India to stay away from Afghanistan. It fears that India may try to contain and influence anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan. New Delhi’s connectivity project to Afghanistan through Chabahar is also detrimental to Beijing’s and Islamabad’s designs in the region. Pakistan would seek to subvert such a project and work with China to develop alternative routes, which was not possible until the US forces were there.”

“One may expect a China-Pakistan-Afghanistan connectivity project sometime soon. Beijing would make every attempt to extend its influence in Kabul in order to cut possible Taliban support to Uighurs in its Xinjiang province.”

According to Prof Rajan, “One of the difficulties of negotiations on Afghanistan is that there are too many stakeholders and several dialogue forums. The US is having a dialogue in Doha, Russia has started an extended troika format, and Turkey leads the “Heart of Asia” conference, while Pakistan and China have their own conferences.”

“Russia is yet to confirm India’s participation in the extended troika format. President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, allegedly made a statement that “India cannot join the group because it has no influence with the Taliban”. While this may partly be true, the fact remains that the Taliban itself is not a homogenous group. Regional stability would require negotiations not only with the Taliban but several other stakeholders, where India can play a constructive role. India’s security interests in the region are similar to those of Russia and Iran. It must be the part of every dialogue process, and cannot allow an important region to slip away from its hand,” Prof Rajan opines.

In conclusion he says, “The success of India’s diplomacy would depend on its ability to present its case firmly in ongoing dialogue processes within the SCO and the extended troika.”

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