Shanghai Bloc takes first steps towards the creation of a joint strategy to combat terrorism in Asia.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
International security and the fight against terrorism are undoubtedly the most discussed topics currently in the Asian political scenario, especially in the Central Asian region. With the increasing presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, there is a fear among neighboring nations that the security crisis will become a ripple effect, affecting all states in the region.
On the one hand, this generates a “justification” for the rise in the American presence in Central Asia, but on the other hand, it also boosts cooperation among regional powers to strengthen a common defense policy. In this sense, a recent conference on the topic held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, or Shangai Bloc) brought a new horizon of possibilities for creating a joint anti-terrorism strategy in Asia.
This Monday, officials from member countries of the Shanghai Bloc met at a conference in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, with the objective of discussing the current security scenario in Asia, with a focus on the central portion of the continent. Members of the Conference on Interaction Measures and Confidence Building in Asia (CICA) also attended the meeting. Dzhumakhon Giyosov and Kairat Sarybay, leaders of the anti-terrorism units of the Shanghai Bloc and CICA, respectively, “discussed the possibility of establishing practical cooperation in combating terrorism,” according to the spokesperson of the event. Among the strategies discussed were, for example, the creation of a joint military training program to strengthen the security forces of Asian nations.
The conference was held discreetly, without much media attention, which is probably due to the delicate content of the topics discussed, considering that they involve matters of national security for several countries in the region. For this reason, there is no much information available to date about the conclusions the officials have reached. However, it is important to point out that this is the second time in less than two months that the “alliance of the East” mobilizes its representatives to discuss the issue. In September another summit took place, in Samarkand, also Uzbekistan, mobilizing the bloc’s heads of state. This time, the meeting mobilized only anti-terrorism units, not counting on the presence of heads of state. The frequency of meetings shows the urgency and importance of the subject for the organization.
Created in 2001, the Shanghai Bloc – SCO aims to form an international Eurasian alliance with broad focuses of cooperation, including political, economic, cultural and military partnerships. The group’s potential is immense, considering that it brings together 40% of the world population, and more than 20% of global GDP. Its current members are India, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan, with Iran – one of the bloc’s current observers – in the procedure of accession since September.
Due to the problems affecting the eastern world, security issues have become the main topic in the bloc’s discussions, especially with regard to combating terrorism, separatism and extremism. In practice, if cooperation policies were taken forward to form a more united and cohesive bloc of military partnership, the group could become an organization antagonistic to NATO, but several issues prevent anything from happening in this regard. Despite the military focus, the group also seeks to promote the pacification of conflicts of interest between the different countries in the region.
In this sense, for example, India and Pakistan gained access to the bloc together in 2017. And with that, many problems also arise. India maintains international military partnerships to fight Pakistan and China, favoring the American presence in the same space that should be under the protection of the members of the Shanghai Bloc. Therefore, all attempts to create a broader and more cohesive military alliance in Eurasia have failed in recent years due to internal conflicts of interests.
The current scenario, however, tends to drastically alter the status of the Bloc as a continental military force. The proliferation of terrorist organizations in Central Asia has frightened all governments in the region. Not only the chaos that can arise from proliferation is a cause for concern, but also what will be done to combat it. Washington’s plan is to install several military bases in Central Asia, which worries Russia and China, whose priority is to prevent foreign interventionism in Eurasia.
For Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which are militarily weaker states, the most interesting thing is that terrorists are banned, regardless of which world power does it. India and Pakistan, however, have each other as their main problems once again, as New Delhi fears that an alliance between Islamabad and the de facto Afghan government could mean further conflicts in Kashmir. Finally, we can see that there are two issues to be resolved to serve the interests of all the Shangai Bloc’s members: fighting terrorists without US intervention and ensuring that Pakistan and the Taliban will not attack Kashmir.
The role played by Russia and China has been very important in ensuring that the Taliban acts as a legitimate government, without terrorist-like actions or incursions outside Afghan territory, so it is unlikely that any anti-India alliance will be forged between Kabul and Islamabad. On the other hand, the Shanghai Bloc’s power is more than enough to fight terrorism inCentral Asia. The group brings together four of the greatest military powers in the world and a set of coordinated intelligence and combat actions could quickly defeat all the militias operating in the region without any Western assistance.
In this sense, the announcement of a joint military training program is a big step. India, despite its promixity with the US, will certainly not oppose it, as it maintains a strictly pragmatic partnership with Washington and knows that a greater American presence in Central Asia would be a reason for the Taliban to initiate incursions outside Afghanistan.So, apparently, one of the side effects that Washington did not consider when it decided to flee from Afghanistan is that finally the Shanghai Bloc could unite to materialize its military potential.
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