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Central Asia: SCO Leaders Focus On Energy, Security, Cooperation

  • Bruce Pannier

SCO leaders at the summit in Bishkek (ITAR-TASS) August 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) --  The presidents of the six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization held their annual summit today in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.


Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan signed a "Long-Term Agreement On Neighborly Relations" before the summit concluded.


Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev stressed the importance of today's summit and the declaration the leaders signed, saying that the agreement sets out conditions for long-term neighborly relations, friendship, and cooperation among the member countries.

President Putin proposed the creation of an "energy club," a belt of heightened counternarcotics security around Afghanistan, and even an SCO university.

"The aim of this treaty -- which along with the SCO Charter determines the direction of future cooperation, and can serve as a main guide for promoting the Shanghai process -- is an extension of the regional integration of future generations," Nazarbaev said.


Fueling Development


The SCO leaders agreed to create a "unified energy market" that would bring energy resources from member countries rich in oil and natural gas to those that need such resources to promote their development. It also provides for exporting gas and oil to world markets.


Today's declaration stressed the importance of energy resources as "the basis for continued economic growth and security."


Russian President Vladimir Putin had lobbied hard for such an agreement ahead of the summit, saying that greater energy cooperation would be "a powerful impetus to regional projects in the interests of all SCO member states. "I am convinced that energy dialogue, integration of our national energy concepts, and the creation of an energy club will set out the priorities for further cooperation," he said.


Before the start of the summit, Putin said his country will invest $2 billion in Kyrgyzstan, adding that Russia will fund "only good projects."


Eyes On Afghanistan


Security was another priority issue on the SCO agenda today. All the leaders emphasized the importance of fighting terrorism and illegal narcotics and weapons trafficking. On this point, much attention turned to one of the observer guests at the summit, Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


Uzbek President Islam Karimov laid out the SCO's concerns about Afghanistan. "As close neighbors of Afghanistan, we are concerned by developments in that country that are characterized by a trend of further escalation, with significant military activities by the Taliban movement and continuing, uncontrolled growth in drug production and drug trafficking," Karimov said.


President Putin called for the creation of a "belt of counternarcotics security" around Afghanistan and an aggressive hunt for the financial roots of the drug trade in Afghanistan. Putin also urged the SCO to host an international conference on Afghanistan with the aim of boosting stability there.


Military cooperation was also high on the list of SCO topics. Growing links among SCO countries were underscored by the SCO's "Peace Mission-2007" counterterrorism exercises, which are taking place in Russia and involve some 6,500 troops from SCO countries. The SCO presidents are due to travel to the site of those exercises to watch the closing day of the drills on August 17.


Iranian President Ahmadinejad got a handshake, but no invitation to join (epa)

Today's declaration also carried pledges of further cooperation among member states in the areas of culture, health care, communications, and banking, among other sectors. It also touched on water usage and water rights from international rivers. And Putin suggested establishing an SCO university, although the details of such an institution were vague.


Eager To Join The Club


There was speculation the SCO would move to admit more members at today's summit. But there was no indication from the group that its members are prepared to expand their ranks -- at least not yet.


The presidents of SCO observers Iran and Mongolia attended the summit, as did Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and Indian Minister of Gas and Oil Murli Deora. The Pakistani foreign minister said going into the summit that his country wanted to receive full membership, something that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad also said in the days leading up to the summit.


Although his country was not admitted today, Ahmadinejad was vocal at the event. In a clear reference to the United States, he blasted what he described as the "threats of one of the [international] powers to deploy elements of antimissile systems in several areas of the world." Ahmadinejad, seizing on the SCO's "energy club" agreement, also pledged Iran's help in organizing a meeting of SCO oil and gas ministers.


The presence of Turkmenistan's relatively new president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, marked the first time a Turkmen leader has ever attended an SCO event.


The invitation to Ashgabat sparked speculation that Turkmenistan might be fast-tracked for SCO membership. That did not happen. But Berdymukhammedov's statement at the summit reinforced Ashgabat's message that Turkmen isolationism is over and the country now wants to be a member of international groups.


"Turkmenistan is an active participant in international relations, an advocate of equal and constructive cooperation with all states and international organizations, that brings its own contribution to world affairs, security, stability, and sustainable economic and social development," Berdymukhammedov said.


In a traditional closing announcement, host Kyrygyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced that Tajikistan will take over the SCO presidency and will host the next summit in 2008.


In a more unusual development, President Putin announced that in 2009, the SCO summit would be held in Yekaterinburg, Russia.


(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report)

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Soldiers conducting the first-ever SCO joint antiterrorism exercises, held in Kazakhstan in August 2003 (TASS)

NATO'S EVIL TWIN? At an August 3 briefing at RFE/RL's Washington,D.C., office, Central Asia experts Richard Weitz and Daniel Kimmage discussed the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a multilateral body that comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In addition, Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Afghanistan have observer status in the organization.


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THE COMPLETE STORY: Click on the icon to view a dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

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