Afghanistan looms large at SCO security group meeting
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization's (SCO) meeting in Kazakhstan focused on how Central Asia could be affected by the possible spread of the Arab Spring – as well as failure to stabilize Afghanistan.
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The six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Russia and China at its core, marked its 10th anniversary Wednesday with a lavish summit in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, with leaders from nearby Iran, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Mongolia attending as observers. Member states are Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
But beneath the bold official declaration that the SCO has "stood the tests" of time as a loose trade and security association, experts say there is growing concern that former Soviet Central Asia faces a potential tsunami of political destabilization on the horizon. Though the organization has been stepping up security cooperation among its members, including joint Russia-China war games, there is no talk of transforming the SCO into a cohesive military alliance such as NATO that might be capable of decisive, unified action in a crisis.
Aside from a brief condemnation of US plans to build a globe-girdling missile defense shield – a reflection of the Kremlin's near-obsession with what it regards as a looming strategic threat to Russian security – Wednesday's SCO summit, largely conducted behind closed doors, dwelt mainly on two perceived threats to the region's stability.
Arab Spring might influence the region
In the near term, the shock waves from the "Arab Spring" prodemocracy revolts are penetrating the region, whose regimes are all varying degrees of post-communist autocracy, raising the specter of mass unrest, particularly in Central Asia's most populous state – and harshest dictatorship – Uzbekistan.
"Today, the world faces very serious challenges," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said. "This year began with the so-called Arab Spring, which emerged a brand new situation in the Arab East and in Northern Africa. The consequences of what we witness there are most likely to continue over a long period," he added.
The main worry is that the democracy bug might strike Uzbekistan, where former Communist Party chief Islam Karimov still maintains total personal control, brutally suppresses signs of political dissent, and cracks down on even moderate public expressions of Islam. According to the independent Kommersant FM radio station in Moscow, Mr. Medvedev had a tough private talk with Mr. Karimov on Tuesday, and may have even suggested that he resign.