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Russian Conference To Focus On Afghan Drugs, Terrorism

Russia says drug trafficking threatens its national security.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia, China, and Central Asian states will map a campaign against the spread of terrorism and drugs from Afghanistan on March 27, signaling Washington it must consider their interests in shaping its new Afghan strategy.

The conference falls just four days before a broader UN-led Hague meeting on Afghanistan, where the United States and its allies are fighting a resurgent Taliban. Washington is expected to outline details before that conference of President Barack Obama's strategy review for a war now in its ninth year.

"The message of the Moscow forum is clear," said Arkady Dubnov, an independent regional analyst. "We are not claiming a role in what you do in Afghanistan, but you will not be successful without cooperating with the regional states."

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members Russia, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan will be joined by observers from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Iran. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will also attend and hold separate talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Russia and its Central Asian allies are concerned that fighting in Afghanistan has been accompanied by a surge in heroin production, the main source of revenue for Afghan factions opposing the U.S.-backed government.

Much of the Afghan heroin is smuggled through formerly Soviet Central Asia and Russia to Europe, fueling crime and drug addiction. Russia's top antidrugs official Viktor Ivanov has said that the flood of heroin threatens national security.

"We hope the [SCO] forum will be able to adopt concrete agreements on joint actions in fighting drug trafficking and the spread of terrorism," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week.

Action Plan

An action plan, due to be discussed in Moscow, will be presented at The Hague conference, Russian officials have said.

Moscow fought and lost a war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and at that time firmly controlled Afghanistan's frontiers with the Central Asian territories it then ruled as Soviet republics. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and withdrawal of Russian border troops, the frontiers may have become more porous.

Russia additionally faces a problem with Islamist militancy filtering through from Afghanistan to its restive north Caucasus territories. China is concerned about what it sees as a rise in Islamic militancy in its ethnic Uyghur minority.

As part of its overtures to Obama, aimed at raising bilateral ties from their post-Cold War lows, Russia and its Central Asian allies have agreed to allow land transit of NATO's nonlethal goods to Afghanistan through their territories.

On March 25, the Russian Foreign Ministry supported Obama's idea of a dialogue between the Afghan government and moderate Taliban factions.

Cooperation in fighting drug traffic from Afghanistan could give Russia and its allies an active role in international efforts without committing them to a military contribution.

"The Moscow conference is intended to demonstrate that we have some positive and constructive ideas," Dubnov said. "It is also a message to Washington: If we don't deal with this, no one will."