On September 15 and 16, the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Council of Heads of State (CHS) held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan discussed the key issues dominating global politics and the challenges faced by the member countries, including climate change. This is the first face-to-face meeting of the SCO’s Council of Heads of State since 2019 in which the heads of member states have participated. The importance of this summit also increased since it was held against the backdrop of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and the rising tension between the United States and China.
Russia and China are the founding members of this forum and due to the changing geopolitical and geo-economic factors in contemporary global politics, the proximity between them has increased.
Read more: SCO Summit 2022: An Overview
Understanding the key issues
Before the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, there was an organization called the “Shanghai Five” that included Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, three former Soviet states that share a long border with China. The purpose of the Shanghai Five was to enhance China-Russia’s joint interest in stabilizing this border as well as curbing US interference in their Central Asian region. Moscow and Beijing were also unhappy with the US military presence in Afghanistan and its potential implications for Central Asia.
Although both Moscow and Beijing are satisfied since the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, being the neighbors of Afghanistan, all the member countries have a general whereas China and Russia have a particular responsibility to establish stability and lasting peace in Afghanistan and play their special role in addressing the grave humanitarian and economic challenges faced by the Afghan people.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), established just weeks before the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, trades as a multilateral association to ensure security and maintain stability in the wider Eurasian region, as well as cultural and humanitarian cooperation are its main objectives. Its founding leaders are the two great powers of the East, namely Russia and China, while other early members were Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, in the north and northeast of Afghanistan.
On the occasion of the historic summit of SCO member states in Astana, Kazakhstan on 8-9 June 2017, Pakistan and India were granted full membership while Iran was granted full membership on 17 September 2021. Another special thing is that the President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, has attended the current SCO summit for the first time. Iran is facing several sanctions imposed by the United States, while there is currently no agreement on the renewal of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States. Along with Belarus and Mongolia, Afghanistan is also an observer of this organization.
Read more: SCO Summit 2022 and Pakistan
In this context, the troubled situation of Afghanistan is a great challenge for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization because regional cooperation is the most important need of the hour to end the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, for which the Shanghai Cooperation Organization needs to be more active in Afghanistan. This is an important opportunity for SCO to realize its dream of regional cooperation and play an active role in bringing stability to Afghanistan which will be beneficial to West Asia and Central Asia as well.
The member countries of the SCO have different expectations and in this regard, the SCO faces many obstacles and challenges. The Central Asian members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are at loggerheads. They have also struggled to adopt a collective approach to addressing their common regional security challenges. However, their stances on the Taliban have been different from each other in the past. Similarly, despite trying since 2015, Afghanistan could not get full membership in the SCO.
Pakistan PM also attended the SCO
Highlighting the bleak situation of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif emphasized to the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that as neighbors of Afghanistan, it is the responsibility of all the member countries to ensure the complete elimination of terrorism and establish lasting peace in Afghanistan and ensure effective role in de-freezing the financial assets of Afghanistan.
As far as the disputes between the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are concerned, China and India are surrounded by border disputes, while there are also fundamental disputes between Pakistan and India, including the Jammu and Kashmir, due to which, despite the passage of seventy-five years, the cordial relationship has not become possible between these two neighbors. However, Russia and China have come closer to each other to counter the growing US influence in Asia. President Xi and President Putin met in person at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, when they backed each other on the Ukraine and Taiwan stalemates, pledging further cooperation against the West, and a “no-limits” partnership was announced.
However, it is premature to say to what extent Russia accepts China’s role in Central Asia, as Russia sees itself as the sole protector of former Soviet Union territories and is expected to play a role with China. Willingness to share this role would be difficult, however, because of the ongoing war with Ukraine, and especially if Russia’s war with Ukraine drags on, there is a strong possibility that Russia may accept China’s role. Moreover, it seems difficult for members of the SCO to fully support Russian President Putin’s policy on Ukraine.
Although there has been an increase in military confidence-building initiatives under the banner of the SCO, the most important challenge for the SCO involves the establishment of lasting peace and political stability in Afghanistan. If the Shanghai Cooperation Organization cannot solve the Afghanistan crisis in a timely and successful manner, how can it work as an alternative to the US-led regional economic organizations?
Dr. Tahir Ashraf is an author who writes extensively on global politics and holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, Pakistan and can be accessed at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.