The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit kicks off Friday in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
The SCO remains a controversial organization. Some foreign affairs specialists describe SCO as a "paper tiger." Others suspect it of being intended as a counterbalance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Meantime, the SCO plays an important role in Central Asian affairs and it will further increase its role after 2014.
Why Central Asia? Central Asia is the crossroads of four great civilizations: Chinese, Indian, Persian and Russian. A stable situation in Central Asia means peace and stability in China, India, Iran and Russia. And the SCO is the only regional organization that unites China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The root of cooperation within the SCO was the bilateral negotiations between the authorities of the then Soviet Union and China. The spirit of mutual neighborly cooperation was born in the late 1980s.
The direct reason for the initiation of the SCO was the bloody actions of extremists and separatists in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The presidents of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism on June 15, 2001.
The opportuneness of this step became obvious after the September 11 attacks. For the previous two years, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan fought against the Islamic rebels from Afghanistan, but the international community paid little attention to this new flash point. However, the situation changed rapidly after the September 11 attacks.
Afghanistan and Central Asian countries became the most important topic on the international agenda. US and NATO military bases and installations in Afghanistan and Central Asia and billions of dollars spent on anti-terrorism came to characterize the region.
The US and NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan next year. Central Asian countries will meet old and new threats and challenges after 2014. The old challenges are terrorism and drug trafficking. The new challenges are well trained and organized radical groups.
The SCO can provide its member states with the opportunity to confront the threats and challenges in effective and timely manner. This opportunity is quite important for peace in Afghanistan and Central Asia in the light of upcoming changes in their political leadership.
Tajikistan will hold presidential elections in November 2013 and Afghanistan in 2014. Uzbekistan will have parliamentary elections in the winter of 2014 and the presidential race in early 2015.
Different internal and external interest groups may contest the results of the elections by force.
Nowadays the SCO is well equipped with legal instruments against terrorism, separatism, extremism, drug trafficking and mercenaries. The SCO has founded an anti-terrorist center in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The SCO anti-drug center will start work soon.
The fruitful soil of threats is the poverty, especially the extreme poverty. Extreme poverty might be eradicated via economic growth.
The SCO has drafted the framework of economic cooperation between and among its member states. The free trade and economic zone should be established within SCO.
Meanwhile, the bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation provides SCO members with the flexible tools for mutual beneficial projects. But it will take decades for this to come to fruition. This is not a reason to halt such programs. Harvests need the fields to be weeded and sown first, after all.
There are two opportunities for SCO development: the withdrawal of US and NATO troops in 2014 and the Chinese dream.
After 2014 the SCO members will face the same situation as in 1999 and 2000 as they confronted terrorism. The Chinese dream is the new vision of China in a global world, in Asia and inside of China. Both these opportunities for SCO should be scrutinized more carefully.