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SCO’s new role in Afghanistan; what benefits can Iran reap?

SCO's new role in Afghanistan becomes crucial as fears of terrorism and violence reverberate in the region with Iran aiming to secure its stakes. Will the SCO platform see the unity of three Eurasian countries whose solidarity will be a counterbalance to the US?

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The SCO’s new role in Afghanistan has become crucial as the Taliban now in power are struggling to operate the new Afghan government with mounting challenges and attaining international recognition.

With the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit taking place on Thursday and Friday in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, a lot of issues in pipeline are under discussion. They include dealing with Iran’s application for SCO membership and the consensus of SCO countries on Afghan situation as multiple stakes are tied to it.

Among many consequences of Afghan situation after the US withdrawal, the influx of refugees and spillover of terrorism are matters of prime concerns for Afghan neighbors especially Pakistan who had faced the brunt of Afghan anarchy with an intensity no country had faced.

Hence, SCO’s new role in Afghanistan is very critical as the organization deal with terrorism, separatism, and extremism issues which the region at present fears emanating from Afghanistan if political settlement collapse and violence becomes uncontrollable.

Read more: PM Imran Khan lands in Dushanbe for 20th SCO summit

Strengthening regional anti-terrorism framework through SCO’s new role in Afghanistan

All countries neighboring Afghanistan, including Pakistan and Iran, are paying great attention to the country’s situation. They are especially trying to prevent the outflow of a large number of jihadists from Afghanistan, which would lead to threats and damage in their own countries. Anti-terrorism is also one of the most important issues of the SCO. By joining the SCO or strengthening anti-terrorism cooperation under the SCO framework, Iran can ensure its regional security to the maximum.

Read more: What’s the SCO’s game plan for Afghanistan?

How SCO’s new role in Afghanistan can benefit Iran?

As Iran hopes to become a member of the SCO as soon as possible, Kazem Jalali, Iranian Ambassador to Russia, said on September 10, according to Russian news agency Tass, the country can have the opportunity to move closer to Russia and China through economic and security partnership since Iran shares border with Afghanistan.

As the threat of spillover terrorism looms on Iran as well along with the sectarian conflict in its soil, SCO role in Afghanistan in battling terrorism will be beneficial for Iran’s security as the RAT framework can help Iran to bolster its defenses.

In terms of security, the SCO’s anti-terrorism efforts are an important theme. The resolution of terrorism must involve transnational cooperation. If Iran joins the SCO, it will have more cooperation in intelligence sharing and coordinated operations with other member countries. This will be a powerful restraint to the possible spillover of extremists in the future situation of Afghanistan.

Also, Iran has long been isolated and contained by some Western countries led by the US. Washington is still continuing to impose draconian sanctions on Iran. Even though US President Joe Biden’s administration promised to restore the Iran nuclear deal, he has not mentioned about lifting the sanctions.

With Iran’s stakes are tied with Afghanistan as the country can provide transit route to the landlock country, SCO role in Afghan situation can help Iran to pump lifeline in its staggering economy that stands crippled under the US sanctions.

Given this, Iran’s new president Ebrahim Raisi and his government have no illusions about the improvement of the Iran-US relations, and Raisi has repeatedly delivered his willingness to work with China and Russia.

As Iran has been an SCO observer since 2005 and submitted its application for full membership several times, Raisi’s disenchantment with the US has further urged him to pursue SCO membership.

Read more: Is Iran on the verge of full SCO membership?

Can SCO help Iran to curtail international isolation?

For a long period, Iran has been regarded by the West as an outcast of the international community because of the Iranian nuclear issue. If Iran joins the SCO, it can, to curtain extent, avoid such diplomatic and political isolation. It means Iran would become recognized by some important non-Western countries, which would likely bring large political benefits to the country.

Moscow has called to endorse Tehran’s bid for membership in the SCO. And during the phone conversation between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian on September 3, Abdollahian thanked Wang for supporting Iran’s permanent membership in the SCO, according to the Tehran Times.

Read more: Hardened US and Iranian positions amidst the hopes for revival of nuclear deal talks

Iran’s SCO membership; a further strain in US-China ties?

China has been apprehensive about Iran joining the SCO. Previously, China had hoped to achieve peaceful coexistence with the US and avoid over-provoking the US. China had reservations about the membership of Iran, which has long harbored a hard-liner stance against the US, and China did not want to give the impression to the international community that the SCO was an organization aimed to counter the US or the NATO of the east as analysts deem.

However, the current situation is changing. As the US continues to carry out its comprehensive containment of China, the game between the two great powers is turning white-hot. China and Iran formally signed a long-gestating 25-year cooperation accord in March, reflecting China’s willingness to strengthen cooperation in various fields. When it comes to Iran’s membership in SCO, China may change its stance, as strengthening relations with Iran is not a bad choice.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. tweeted in August, “Fortunately, the political obstacles to Iran’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation have been removed and Iran’s membership will be finalized.”

Three Eurasian countries to unite under SCO

This post could mean that China and Russia – the two large countries with decisive roles – have reached a consensus on the issue. But it still could take some time to complete all the procedures. With the hardest step made, there won’t be too many problems ahead.

Against the backdrop of China-US and Russia-US confrontations, it will be a trend for China, Russia, and Iran to increase their unity. The three Eurasian countries are important for the region. Their solidarity, particularly cooperation through the SCO platform, will be a counterbalance or deterrence to the US.

And since Afghan situation matters to all, SCO’s new role in Afghanistan is imperative for regional and neighboring countries to secure their stakes. Moreover, Iran’s new administration under Ebrahim Raisi appears to be more vocal in strengthening ties with Russia and Iran as the Western pressure through UN nuclear watchdog critical report on Iran’s nuclear program released last week mounts leaving US in no mood to lift the strangulating sanctions.

Read more: Iran nuclear deal parties prepare for power shift in US

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