Stability woes dim Afghanistan’s SCO chance

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-25 22:13:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Afghanistan has officially petitioned the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for membership, according to Dmitry Mezentsev, general secretary of the SCO. It has become the third country which has shown interest in joining the SCO since the Ufa summit in July in Russia.

Analysts presume that Afghanistan, a country that spans Central Asia and South Asia, will reinforce the SCO's role in the international community, and enhance its leverage in regional affairs. The SCO could also play a constructive role in the peace process of Afghanistan.

But compared with the benefits Afghanistan can bring to the SCO, the challenges it transfers to the duties of the organization are more obvious. Afghanistan still faces complicated security issues, and suffers from backward development.

Besides the impact of major-power rivalry, the root cause of the grave security situation in Afghanistan is the discrepancies between different political groups. At present five different relationships are most prominent: the relationship between President Ashraf Ghani's government and the Taliban, the relationship between Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, the relationship among different clans, the intra-clan relationship, and the relationships among the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network and all other militants.

None of these contribute to the country's development.  Most local governments have lost control in their jurisdictions, which are manipulated by warlords. The central government is incapable of establishing an effective cabinet and a system of administration, which makes the government clumsy and ill-informed.

Unemployment has reached a new peak of 40 percent in October, a dramatic increase of 15 percent year-on-year. After the Taliban seized Kunduz late September, the international community became deeply worried about its resurgence. In addition, protests against the current government are also ramping up.

Facing up to these pressures, Kabul intends to achieve certain political objectives by joining the SCO. The SCO's firm stance on anti-terrorism should help deter, at least psychologically, Afghanistan's domestic rebels. Afghanistan is able to draw more international support through the international organization. And Afghanistan can engage in more bilateral cooperation with other SCO members.

The SCO has been clear in its stance over the Afghan crisis. Since the US announced its decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the international community has put more faith in the SCO in boosting the peace and stability of Afghanistan. Before Afghanistan is enrolled as an official member of the SCO, there are three questions that need to be addressed.

First, the SCO needs to deal with the conundrum of collective action. Many international organizations face the same problem, and it is especially serious with the SCO. Although all SCO members believe that the resolution of the Afghan crisis is essential to regional peace and stability, they have different understandings about the severity of varying threats, making it hard to coordinate their actions.

Second, the SCO, so far, has limited capability in dealing with specific regional security issues. Afghanistan's participation will likely require the SCO to improve its ability to safeguard regional peace and stability, but it has no experience and limited capability in this regard. Given the fact that the US and its NATO allies were not able to achieve what they expect in Afghanistan, it is hard to anticipate what the SCO can do.

Third, major-power rivalry hinders the peace process of Afghanistan, which demands concerted actions by all stakeholders. However, considering the sour relations between the US and Russia, Afghanistan will be reduced to being a tool for major-power rivalry. Reckless interventions by major powers will complicate the situation. More costs have to be paid to address the crisis.

The uncertainties and risks brought by Afghanistan's participation in the SCO are likely way beyond the benefits it can produce. If the above problems cannot be properly resolved, the SCO will have to think twice before it accepts Afghanistan.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: Asian Beat, Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus