SCO meet in Tajikistan: Afghanistan to be the focus; All regional players to play a critical role, says expert

By: |
July 13, 2021 5:22 PM

On Wednesday (July 14, 2021), the minister Dr S Jaishankar will also participate in the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan, where the government of Afghanistan will participate.

This year, Tajikistan is chair of the grouping which has eight member countries including Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, India, and Pakistan.

The volatile situation in the war torn Afghanistan where Taliban is gaining more territories, will be the focus at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or SCO Council Foreign ministers meet in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. External affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar is on a two day visit from July 13-14 to the Tajik capital Dushanbe at the invitation of Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin for the ministerial meeting.

On Wednesday (July 14, 2021), the minister Dr S Jaishankar will also participate in the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan, where the government of Afghanistan will participate.

From Dushanbe, the minister will travel to another Central Asian nation – Uzbekistan for a Regional Connectivity meet.

Agenda of the SCO Meeting

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), besides discussing the achievements of the organisation, it will also celebrate 20th anniversary of its formation. The member countries would also assess the preparation for the upcoming SCO Council of Heads of States which has been scheduled for September 16-17 in Dushanbe.

Why is the SCO meeting important?

The SCO is the most appropriate forum to initiate a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan. The raison d’être of SCO formation was to counter three evils of terrorism, extremism and separatism. These issues are likely to intensify if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates further.

The SCO is opposed to military intervention in the third country. Its members endorse the idea of sovereignty and autonomy in foreign policy. Therefore, it would support an intra-Afghan dialogue to enable an Afghan-led representative government.

“The withdrawal of the NATO forces has created an opportunity for the SCO to step up its efforts and initiate dialogues with various stakeholders in Afghanistan. Fortunately, this organisation involves all the regional players either as members or observer states. A country which has the maximum influence over the Taliban is Pakistan. Russia and China share concerns about the possible spill over of radicalism and terrorism to their territories,” Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, explains to Financial Express Online.

Meet in Tajikistan

This year, Tajikistan is chair of the grouping which has eight member countries including Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, India, and Pakistan.

The ministerial meeting in Dushanbe comes at a time when the Taliban has been making gains in Afghanistan territorially, especially in north Afghanistan which is bordering Tajikistan. This has led to more than 1000 Afghan soldiers fleeing their country and crossed over to Tajikistan.

According to reports, Dr Jaishankar last week expressed concerns over the developments in Afghanistan and had called for a reduction in the level of violence.

Regional Connectivity meet in Uzbekistan

Later in the week from July 15-16, Tashkent is hosting the international conference “Central and South Asia: Regional Interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities”.

There will be three common themes of discussion, including: Economic, Cultural, Security- Connectivity. Also on the agenda of the meeting is going to be on refreshing historical ties. Invitees to the summit also include representatives of Iran, China, Russia, the US and the EU.

Will Pakistan be present at Dushanbe and Tashkent?

Yes. Pakistan foreign minister SM Qureshi will be present in both capitals for the meetings.

And, this will be the third time that both Foreign Ministers will be present at the same time at the same location in 2021. However, there were no talks between the two ministers.

The External Affairs minister is also expected to meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the SCO meet. In 2020, both ministers had met on the sidelines of the SCO meet in Moscow in September.

Expert View on the SCO Ministerial Meeting

“As early as 2005, the SCO in its Astana Summit had established a Contact Group for Afghanistan with an objective to enhance cooperation and resolve issues of mutual interests. Russia called for a special conference on the reconstruction and reconciliation in Afghanistan on January 27, 2009 in Moscow. The SCO members were watching the developments in Afghanistan carefully. But they were unable to play a constructive role because of the presence of the US forces. The SCO had criticised the NATO for failing to curb extremism, and inability to halt the narcotic trafficking from Afghanistan”, says Prof Rajan.

According to him, “A report from the UN Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) in 2009 mentioned that almost 90 percent of the opium originated from Afghanistan. The revenue from narcotics is a major source of terrorist funding in Afghanistan. Russia has consistently raised the issue of drug supplies from Afghanistan. The Tashkent Summit of 2004, followed by subsequent meetings, adopted measures to counter the menace of drug trafficking.”

“Some experts in India held a dogged view that the US would ensure a stable government in Afghanistan or retain their forces for a longer time. That view stands rejected and the entire episode raises a serious question on the capability of the US in managing conflicts anywhere in the world,” he adds.

“All the members have economic and security stakes in Afghanistan. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran have ethnic linkages there. Afghanistan is a land-locked country and it cannot function without cooperation from the regional powers. China and Russia need to put pressure on the Taliban, either directly or through Pakistan, to accept a power-sharing arrangement agreeable to the majority of the stakeholders. But the first step is the cessation of violence and avoiding a civil war kind of situation in the ‘heart of Asia”- Afghanistan,” Prof Rajan opines.

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