Russia and China changed Asia – and America began to lose it

Peter Akopov

Asia and Asian problems should be d-ealt with by the Asians themselves – including Russia as a great Eurasian power. External forces do not have the right to interfere in the affairs of the continent, and the states of the region will resolve all controversial issues among themselves, hindering attempts to play on contradictions or even play them off.

This is precisely the main goal of the organization, created 20 years ago and now holding its summit in Dushanbe : the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The current SCO summit was supposed to be the first face-to-face meeting of heads of state in two years – but quarantine restrictions have led to the fact that it will be held in a mixed format: most of the guests will gather in Dushanbe, and Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi will participate via video link.

But the significance of the summit will not diminish from this: not to mention the fact that Nikolai Patrushev, Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu flew to Dushanbe, the summit will definitely become one of the most important in the history of the association.

After the US leaves Afghanistan, the era of direct external interference in the affairs of the region ends – and it is the SCO that becomes fully responsible for its security. This is in the interests of all its participants – because the Afghan topic (and the issue of a foreign military presence in the region) has remained one of the most important for the organization all the years of its existence.

No, the SCO was not created to react to the American invasion: it emerged back in June 2001, although in fact it originates in 1996, when the Shanghai Five was created in the same city as part of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2001, the “Five” expanded to the “Six” (accepting Uzbekistan) and formalized its relations in the form of an agreement – and over the following years attracted more and more interest from other powers. But the Russian-Chinese alliance was in no hurry to expand: several states received observer status, others became “dialogue partners.”

And only in the mid-10s, when tension in relations between East and West began to turn to direct confrontation, the SCO began to expand: in 2015, the admission of India and Pakistan to full-fledged members was launched, and two years later the Six turned into the G8. And now it will turn into a “Nine”: the procedure for admitting Iran will begin (for its new president, Ibrahim Raisi, the Dushanbe summit will generally become an international debut).

There is no doubt that over time the SCO will become the “Ten” – including Afghanistan.

However, now this country will not be represented at all at the summit in Dushanbe: the pro-American government has fallen, and the new, Taliban (which they themselves call temporary, including representatives of the Taliban) has not yet been recognized by the SCO countries. But almost certainly, in the near future, the new Kabul authorities will receive recognition from most of their neighbors (and all of them, except for Turkmenistan, are members of the SCO) – and it is the SCO that will play an important role both in the development of a policy towards Afghanistan and in the dialogue of the new Afghan authorities with the external the world.

Over time, Afghanistan, which is now an observer in the SCO, can – and should – become its full-fledged member. After all, the main obstacle to this has disappeared – the foreign occupation. And the Taliban have already repeatedly declared that they refuse to threaten the security of their neighbors, so now it is important to make sure that a civil war will not resume in Afghanistan itself. And not only make sure – but also prevent external forces from kindling it. Only players from the West can stake on the Afghan turmoil – because none of Afghanistan’s neighbors is interested in renewing civil strife there. On the contrary, almost all of them will help rebuild the country, relying on both lucrative contracts and strengthening their positions.

Yes, these positions and interests are often dissimilar, and sometimes even opposite (as in Pakistan and India in the Afghan direction) – but the SCO is needed to reconcile them and find a compromise. Although the organization is not a military bloc, it may well be called a geopolitical alliance – not Central Asian, but Pan-Asian. With the entry of Iran, the organization stretches from the borders of the Arab world to the Far East, occupying two-thirds of Asia and uniting almost half of the world ‘s population.

In all of Asia, there remain two important regions that are not part of the SCO, but adjoin it: the Arab world (extending to North Africa) and Southeast Asia, united in ASEAN. But the SCO is also building relations with them: Vietnam and a number of Arab states, among others, are claiming observer status : Syria, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The last three at the summit in Dushanbe will first be granted the status of a dialogue partner – by the way, such an important Asian country as Turkey already possesses it.

It is clear that with the expansion of the number of participants, there is a risk of turning into an Asian semblance of the OSCE, that is, into a formal, decisive organization. But the fact of the matter is that the SCO does not seek either territorial expansion or transformation into NATO, that is, into a military alliance (which, moreover, has global goals). SCO is a format of geopolitical dialogue of sovereign powers aimed at harmonizing interests and resolving conflicts in Asia by the forces of Asian countries.

No matter how great the contradictions between its individual participants, it is almost always possible to find, if not a mutually beneficial solution, then an option that excludes confrontation, especially if you do not allow external, non-Asian forces to provoke conflicts and play on contradictions. As the United States is now trying to do with India, actively involving it in the format of the QUAD quartet (“Quadripartite Security Dialogue” consisting of the United States, Japan, Australia and India) – a format that has a pronounced anti-Chinese orientation. It is hoped that the lessons of the Afghan epic of the United States will show India (which supported Ghani and refused to engage in dialogue with the Taliban) the danger of joint work with the Americans on regional issues. Delhiafraid of Pakistan? But it is enough to look at how the geopolitical priorities of Islamabad have changed in this century: if at the beginning of the Afghan war the States could consider it mainly an allied country, now Pakistanis have practically nothing left of their former trust in the Yankees.

The first 20 years of the SCO were just the beginning of a long journey – now, with the end of the Atlantic century, it has to take on even greater responsibility for the fate of Asia. And given the importance of the largest part of the world in world affairs – and the entire planet.

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