Afghanistan, Not New Members, Will Determine SCO’s Relevance

Afghanistan, Not New Members, Will Determine SCO’s Relevance
Leaders attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, Ufa, Russia, July 10, 2015 (RIA Novosti photo via AP).

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which held its leaders summit in the Russian city of Ufa last week, remains a puzzle. Despite its potential, the organization has yet to have a major impact on world affairs. The decision at the summit to admit India and Pakistan as new members, which could occur as soon as 2016, should breathe new life into the organization. But the group’s future relevance will be determined by its ability to effectively address the continuing economic and security problems of neighboring Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been an area of collective interest for the SCO—which comprises China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—since its formal founding in 2001. In 2005, the SCO set up an Afghanistan Contact Group to increase cooperation on counterterrorism, drug trafficking and economic development. In 2009, the SCO adopted an action plan that called for joint operations to combat terrorism, narcotics trafficking and organized crime; to improve Afghanistan’s national army, police and other law enforcement agencies; and to allow collaboration with the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) on counternarcotics and counterterrorism missions. In 2012, Afghanistan became a formal observer of the SCO, and in May, the Afghan government and the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure signed a protocol on sharing information and collaborating on averting, identifying and eliminating terrorism.

Yet, thus far, the SCO’s activities regarding Afghanistan have been limited essentially to issuing joint declarations and sharing information about drug trafficking and Afghan terrorists. Friday’s gathering was noteworthy for continuing this trend.

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