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Central Asia: Meeting In Tashkent, Regional Leaders Discuss Ways To Control Extremism

  • Bruce Pannier --> Uzbekistan saw its share of violence during the April attacks

Prague, 17 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The leaders of Russia, China, and the four Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan pledged today to step up regional efforts to fight extremism.

The six presidents were meeting in the Uzbek capital Tashkent for a one-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The six -- Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Hu Jintao, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev, Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akaev, Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov, and Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov -- focused attention on terrorism, a subject that gravely concerns all six countries.

Host Uzbek President Karimov set the antiterrorism tone of the gathering: "We should fight not only the manifestations of terrorism, not only those who blow up and kill innocent people. This is only the tip of the spear of terrorism. We should fight first and foremost the numerous radical and extremist centers that create the ideology of hatred and terrorism."

Russian President Putin said that by working to improve regional security, the SCO would be recognized as a key link in the international fight against terrorism: "By uniting our regional efforts, we can achieve a serious result that will determine the SCO's prestige in the international arena."

Terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan just over two months ago left 47 people dead, mostly terrorists, but underscored the problem of terrorism in the region. The Uzbek government said it was the work of international groups, but some blame the attacks on the Uzbek government's repressive policies.
"We are countries of one region, we are neighbors. We are linked by common problems, common interests, and common borders." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin

The six also called for a program of multilateral trade and economic cooperation to be set out before a follow-up meeting of prime ministers from the SCO countries in the fall in Bishkek.

Putin said economic cooperation among SCO states was not only essential but would help establish the organization's relevance, regionally and internationally.

"The future influence of the [Shanghai Cooperation] organization will depend on the effectiveness of our joint efforts in the main areas of cooperation," Putin said. "One of those areas is economic cooperation, and there is a lot that can be done here. We are countries of one region, we are neighbors. We are linked by common problems, common interests, and common borders."

Chinese President Hu Jintao said his country would provide $900 million in loans and trade credit to SCO member states but gave no details.

SCO leaders promised Afghanistan to help it stabilize its economy and also fight drug trafficking. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, who attended as a guest for the first time, welcomed the initiatives.

Afghanistan produces most of the heroin and opium that make its way to the SCO countries, and terrorist groups have found support and safe haven in Afghanistan and continue to do so.

Russian President Putin spoke about the need for SCO countries to help Afghanistan: "Today, the situation in that country [Afghanistan] is changing. The establishment of new political institutions and government bodies is under way. However, there are a lot of serious problems in the socio-economic area. I believe all SCO member states are interested in bringing about peace and order to Afghan soil and in the country's economic revival."

The SCO created a mechanism for allowing observers to attend and today conferred observer status on nonmember Mongolia.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was formed in 1996. It has evolved from focusing on confidence-building measures, which included troop reductions along the Sino-CIS border, to strengthening trade relations. Since 1999 it has devoted great attention to fighting terrorism.