Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is considered by many experts as an important step for the international system to evolve into multipolarity.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is considered by many experts as an important step for the international system to evolve into multipolarity.

As An International Security Organisation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is considered by many experts as an important step for the international system to evolve into multipolarity.

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Research by Büşra YENGEÇ ERSIN

The world system, in which the United States of America is the dominant power, endeavours to change its course to a new system surrounded by new emerging powers. For this reason, the factors keeping the world occupied, such as terrorism, drug and arms trafficking, separatist movements, Islamic radicalism provide a basis for countries to cooperate. The newly independent states emerging in the region with the dissolution of the Soviet Union bring along various challenges both for themselves and their neighbours. The most important one of these is the problems and the security of the borders at that time. The countries in the region first had sat on the table for the resolution of the border problems, and later, this union turned into an organisation and acquired a comprehensive security dimension.

SCO was established with the participation of the People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan on 15 June 2001. As of today, the member states of the organisation are the Russian Federation, People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan; the observer states are Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia, Iran, and the dialogue partners are Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka. Considering the GNPs to comprehend the economic potential of the organisation, it is understood to own eight trillion dollars in total. The total area is equal to seventy-five per cent of the Asian continent. The total population has now reached three billion people with the membership of India and Pakistan. SCO, gaining strategic importance both economically and geographically, SCO continues its attempts that will gradually increase this effect.

It is enough to understand the importance of this organisation that some of the members have nuclear power, their wide range of military and economic resources, the rising powers among the members, their rich resources, the strategic location of them, mutual attitudes on international topics and the fact that Russia and China possess a right of veto in their United Nations memberships. SCO was first founded for safety concerns but now, it demonstrates a portrait of an organisation that tries to be effective in areas such as economic, military, cultural etc. as well as its the safety aspect.

Foundation And Principles

The Shanghai Five was constituted by China, Russia, Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in 1996, and subsequently, the “Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions in 1997” was signed with the aim of the resolution of the border problems in the fastest way. The union held consultations in 1999 for the extension of its mission to become integrated with the issues other than the security in Central Asia. Therefore, the first action to this was taken with the 2000 Dushanbe Summit where Uzbekystan was granted observer membership, and after, in 2001, full membership. Thus, the Shanghai Five was transformed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Becoming an organisation from a group of five, SCO has frequently expressed its will to continue to expand since then. It is stated by Russia in the 2007 Bishkek Summit that the mission of the organisation is to defend the multipolar world system and to destroy the perception that the US is the only dominant power. Pakistan and India were granted full membership and the number of full members increased to eight.

SCO indicated that it will not have difficulty with the integration with the participation of its final members. One of the most important reasons underlying this is that the wish not to be affected by the damages of the deep bipolar system during the Cold War era. Hence, the politics are conducted by Russia and China within the purpose of forming multipolar systems and managing the problems running multilateral diplomacy.

The SCO Charter was signed in 2002 at the St Petersburg Summit and the principles, the mission and the cooperation articles of SCO were declared. The principles of SCO is listed as follows:

  • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness between member states,
  • Promoting effective cooperation to maintain and ensure security and peace in the region and moving towards the establishment of a fair rational new international political and economic order,
  • Fighting together against separatism, terrorism and all other international crimes,
  • Cooperation not only in security but also in areas such as cultural, technical, economic and all other areas,
  • Improving the quality of life not only for the member states but the people in these states,
  • Cooperation with other countries and international institutions.

As for the mission of SCO, the perspective of the organisation that all values are respected; the interests are put ahead and preserved mutually; its members are compromising and equally treated regardless of their importance economically and geographically is crucial. As for the structure of the organisation, it can be said to have seven executive bodies as The Heads of the Government Council, The Heads of the State Council, The Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Meetings of Heads of Ministries and/or Agencies, The Council of National Coordinators, Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure and SCO Secretariat.

The Dimension Of Security Of SCO

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan

SCO primarily regarded border problems as a security issue and founded for the resolution of them. With the emergence of the regional problems repeatedly reminded the importance of security, the organisation focused on this area and began to mention fighting against terrorism, separatist movements and extremism among its principles. The fact that member states were containing the elements that could increase the tension at any moment as their locations directed their focus on this and concrete steps were taken in the organisation. In the 2001 meeting, SCO signed The Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, mentioned as the “three evils”, and set a framework for the steps it was going to take.

Through this convention, SCO moved its combat with elements threatening the international system like terrorism, separatism and extremism to an organizational level and determined a road map to tackle with these problems.

An organizational basis for combating terrorism was formed deciding the establishment of the RATS in the 2002 St Petersburg Summit. The International Code of Conduct for Information Security was published and the members focused on security issues in the 2006 Moscow Summit. The Programme on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Radicalism and Separatism was published between 2007-2009. The idea of a Universal Center was suggested by Putin in the 2012 Beijing Summit to be able to examine and observe not only the issues as terrorism etc., but also all the new generation crimes and activities.

Member states also conduct joint military exercises as a part of combating terrorism. The first military exercise was conducted between China and Kyrgyzstan in 2002. Conducting fourteen military exercises by now, SCO aims the development of the organisation. One of the important military exercises has been conducted in 2003. All the members except Uzbekystan have taken part in this exercise and it has been the first multilateral exercise. The first exercise including all of the members was conducted in 2007 with the participation of Uzbekistan. The Peace Mission 2018 exercise is crucial in terms that Pakistan and India have taken place first in this exercise after they were granted membership and it is very important for these two countries, having disagreements, in terms of being the first.

Another problem that the SCO encounters and tries to counter in terms of security is the illicit trafficking of drugs. The 2004 Agreement on Cooperation between the SCO Member States in Combating Illicit Trafficking of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursors was signed by SCO members and illegal activities were tried to be managed with the 2001 Strategy for Combating Drugs. Afghanistan is especially located in a region similar to a time bomb that forms a basis for terrorist actions and illicit trafficking of drugs. Building peace in Central Asia and operation of a secured system depend on supporting a consistent rule in Afghanistan and cleaning the region from all sorts of activities as terrorism etc. A declaration on “Terrorism, Illicit Drug and Organized Crimes” was published mutually in 2009, and therefore, it has been decided that the member states and Afghanistan would act considering the resolutions foreseen by the United Nations on the issue and cooperate especially on the drug issue. It has been determined that a mutual plan would be prepared and within the scope of this plan, sharing information, conducting mutual exercises, managing and preventing all parts related to the illicit trafficking of drugs and finally, the communication on the issue would be provided.

As it can be seen, even though SCO was formed as cooperation to tackle the border problems, today, it has not been limited to this and transformed into an organisation that cooperates for the resolution of both regional and international issues, understanding the importance of the security term.

Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan

Terrorism and separatist movements are the most important issues threatening security in Central Asia. As Central Asia is an important region, it is possible to witness the wish of the international actors and cultural powers to exist in the region by even taking advantage of these issues. This formation, with the influence of economic and social structure, created a form to make the region even more dangerous.

Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) was founded on 15 June 2001. This structure is run according to the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism.

As for the RATS’ tasks and duties, in summary, are as follows:

  • The main duty is fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism.
  • Providing information exchange in terms of security,
  • Preparation and staging of counter-terrorism exercises at the request of an SCO member state,
  • Gathering information coming to the RATS from the member states, formation and filling of RATS data bank;
  • Gathering experience in this field and turning them into a beneficial activity.

RATS, as it is seen, helps SCO member states, weary due to the separatist movements, terrorist actions and border conflicts in the region, to find the fighting spirit for security. Covering a very large area especially with its new members, SCO draws attention from other states in the region with its works and agreements. RATS give power and faith to the member states and the other states in the region in parallel with this purpose. Thanks to this structure, the member states also become conscious of mutual action and adopt a manner against the intervention of the external powers.

Case Study: The Afghanistan Problem

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Approach To Afghanistan

One of the issues that SCO is concerned about is the Afghanistan problem. The crises in Afghanistan worry the members of the organisation and they attempt for the resolution of this problem. The power gap that would form with the retreat of the support forces linked to NATO concerns SCO on that this gap could increase the tension and create a security gap. For this reason, establishing security in this region has been extremely important for SCO. Resolution of the problems in Afghanistan to establish security in Central Asia has become one of the main goals of the SCO. Accordingly, SCO has tried to take actions, sometimes in its body, sometimes via cooperation with other organisations or institutions.

The invasion of Afghanistan by the US following the 9/11 attacks did not encounter the reaction of the SCO states. As the terrorist attacks peaked and became difficult to manage with the 9/11 attacks horrified the SCO members, as it did in the whole world, and the thought of fighting against this was supported. Thus, SCO, believing cooperation for combating terrorism and extremist movements, did not even disagree with the setting up a US military base in its member states’ borders. All of this originated from the idea that the terrorist actions gathered in Afghanistan could trigger the actions in their regions and the necessary precautions should be taken immediately.

Kyrgyz Head of the State in its time Akayev’s words “Helping Afghanistan is helping ourselves” is clear proof of the importance of Afghanistan in the organisation. The major effects of illicit drug trafficking on the people of the region, soldiers of the external powers in the region and increasing terrorist actions and separatist movements are the main reasons for the importance given. As a natural result of the importance given, Afghanistan Connection Group Protocol has been released. The improvement of relations with Afghanistan has been aimed at this protocol. Therefore, a special location has been given to Afghanistan.

To observe the process in Afghanistan closely and to keep Afghanistan improved, a relocation in a certain location in SCO has been aimed. Therefore, it takes place as a visitor in the SCO summit. It has been a dialogue partner since 2012. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan also have concerns since they are neighbours to Afghanistan and the effect of illegal groups in Afghanistan could spread to these countries.

Afghanistan also plays a part as a center for drug trafficking. Against all the precautions, drug trafficking continues to operate without pausing. It will be easier to intervene if the security in the borders is provided, and it will decrease the possibility to spread to the member states. The dissolution of the Soviet Union has been a turning point creating difficulty in the protection of borders in Central Asia. SCO has been trying to fulfil its duties for the resolution of this problem. In the 2006 Statement of the Council of Heads of the Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it was mentioned issues about drug trafficking; the fact that the mutual act would continue was emphasized with a declaration in 2007, and the support for the activities running against the drug trafficking in Afghanistan was expressed in 2009.

Regarding all of this information, it is possible to say that SCO is considered possibly to become an organisation to lead the resolution of the problems in Afghanistan if it provides a foundation for adequate organization and effort. A connection between the SCO states and Afghanistan, in terms of either being neighbours or the political history, is detected, and with the adequate amount of attention, this connection can help Afghanistan to reassure stability. The contributions of the US are of course very important.

What happens in Afghanistan also concerns India which is a new member of the organisation. The contribution of India to the region could be a lot during the process of restructuring in Afghanistan. According to India, the cooperation in Afghanistan plays a major part in the resolution of economic, security and all the other cross-border problems.


Considered as one of the most important initiatives of an international system that is bent to multipolarity by many, SCO has a desire to transform its influencing policies that started as regional into an international level by adding new members, dialogue partners and collaborative institutions and organizations in its body.

First, the border problems that the member states wished to resolve among themselves primarily have shown that the actions and policies run are not sufficient, and there is the power to fight the other problems with cooperation. Thus, it has started to deal with the problems that the countries have difficulty solving, such as terrorist actions, ethnic minority issues, separatist movements, drug and arms trafficking, and they have taken important steps.

SCO has to play its part steadily in the Afghanistan problem. Otherwise, the separatist elements, drug activities and terrorist formation in Afghanistan both could cause damage to stability in Central Asia that has a high level of importance regionally, and also could form a foundation for the SCO members, acting carefully in Central Asia, that can destabilize their internal affairs.

Research by Büşra YENGEÇ ERSİN