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16 Aug, 2007 10:55

SCO discuss joint anti-terrorism measures

The leaders of Russia, China and four Central Asian countries have agreed on improved energy co-operation as a guarantee for their mutual security. The heads of government have been meeting in a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

They've also been discussing joint anti-terrorism measures and efforts to bring stability to neighbouring Afghanistan as well as the fight against drug-trafficking and illegal immigration.

Several treaties have been signed outlining future priorities in health and education. One of the most important of them is the Agreement of Good Neighbourhood, Friendship and Co-Operation.

The leaders have agreed on the creation of an Energy Club that will ensure energy security for the organisation's members and observer states from the Middle East and Asia.

In a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Putin has discussed Russia's oil supplies to China. Another issue in focus has been the stability of neighbouring Afghanistan. President Putin has promised to increase efforts to normalise the situation in the country.

President Putin has also met Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who was present in Bishkek as a special guest of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This summit has been special because the SCO countries have not only expressed their concern about the increasing violence in the country but also stated that they are going to play a more active part in attempts to bring stability to the region.

“Russia will try to do everything possible to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan. We are to develop not only political contacts but also economic ties,” Mr Putin said.

Then leaders will travel to Russia, where they will witness military exercises taking place in the city of Chelyabinsk as part of the SCO summit agenda.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has been very fruitful.

“It was one of the most productive summits as its participants signed very important documents, including a treaty on Friendship and Co-operation. The treaty is important as it makes clear a lot of things about the charter of the SCO. Also, member states pledged to push forward countermeasures to threats against regional security and deepen cooperation in fighting drug trafficking and illegal immigration. We also proposed to conduct anti-terrorism exercises in Chelyabinsk region on a regular basis,” Mr Lavrov pointed out.

As a Kyrgyz saying goes, a good neighbour is better than a relative. In this club of neighbours, good means safe. With two out of six countries sharing a border with Afghanistan, the security issue didn't take long to come up.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the SCO members to unite against the threat of terrorism in the region.

“The key task is to enhance security of the SCO member states. Above all, we should resist threats from terrorists, separatists and extremists That's why we should hold more consultations on that matter. We should focus on a better legal basis of the regional anti-terrorist structure. In particular, finalise documents on counter-terrorist exercises and training of counter-terrorist forces of the SCO member states,” Mr Putin said.

Mr Putin also touched upon more 'light' issues such as the upcoming summer Olympic Games in Beijing. He noted Russia could draw useful experience from its partner in view of the preparation of the 2014 winter Olympics, to be hosted by the Russian city of Sochi.

“Another important area of co-operation is interaction of the SCO member-states when holding large-scale international events, in particular, during next year's Summer Olympics in Beijing. We know China is doing a lot for that and we wish China every success. We believe the experience gained will help us hold the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. I'd like to use this opportunity to thank colleagues for supporting the city's Olympic bid,” Russia's President noted.

Among others, the floor was given to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad, who was critical of the U.S. anti-missile plans.

“The U.S. plans to deploy elements of anti-missile shield in some areas of the world pose a threat not only to one country. This affects Eurasia, Asia and SCO member states. Unfortunately, some countries still speak the language of force and intimidation while, on the contrary, peace and security are needed,” said Mahmoud Ahmadinjad.

Just days after his trip to the United States, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai is in Kyrgyzstan. He landed in the airport that, for the last six years, has been hosting U.S. aircraft deployed in Afghanistan. And while the flights have been suspended for the summit, the SCO members make no secret of the fact that they'd like Americans to vacate the air base for good.

The SCO members cannot hear the blare of the U.S. fighter jets but it's still creating interference in their communication with each other. Two years ago, the organisation demanded the U.S. set a timetable for the withdrawal of its bases from Central Asia, and this request is still on the table.

While the issue hasn't  been discussed out loud, observers say both Russia and China have brought it up behind closed doors. But Kyrgyzstan, which receives $US 150 MLN a year for the lease of the base, hasn't been too forthcoming.

“Formally the declaration of 2005 about withdrawing the American air force basis in Kyrgyzstan was signed but it has not been fully implemented. The recent visit of the U.S. Defence Minister and the U.S State Department Undersecretary revealed the intentions of Kyrgyzstan to keep this air force base. Their main motivation is not the Republic in a weakened security, but rather possible financial benefits for the Republic,” Nur Amarov, chairman of the Kyrgyz Club of Political Scientists believes.

The last message was reinforced in the summit's final declaration:

“The SCO leaders believe that stability and safety in Central Asia can be secured, first and foremost, by the states in the region with the help of established international organisations”.

After complaining at the security situation in Central Asia for years the SCO countries have decided to take matters in their own hands. It means not only pushing out other players, but also taking on new responsibilities.

All sides will next come together at the 2009 summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

The SCO was formed in 2001 by the leaders of Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhastan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China. It was later joined by India, Mongolia, Iran and Pakistan having an observer status within the organisation.

Each year there is a rotating presidency, with Kyrgyzstan presiding at the SCO at the moment. The presidency of the next year will also be decided during Thursday's talks.

The SCO mission consists in improving relations between member states and tackling a number of regional problems such as fighting terrorism and curbing drug trafficking. Some experts believe, though, its main goal was to help China and Russia balance their interests in Central Asia.