The situation around Afghanistan remains difficult, and political activity in the country is growing exponentially.
With the support and participation of the Russian Federation, official Kabul entered into a negotiation process with the extremist opposition – the Taliban movement (prohibited in the Russian Federation), and at the end of this year parliamentary elections are to be held in Afghanistan. At the same time, the war continues. The Taliban still controls about 40% of the country’s territory and has a fundamental influence in the eastern and southern provinces, where it actually replaces the government. Historically, being in the center of the Eurasian continent, Afghanistan has attracted the attention of not only its closest neighbors, but also global players. At the same time, the trend of recent years has been the political consolidation of approaches to the Afghan problem of the neighboring countries of Afghanistan and the leading Eurasian powers within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Based on the global geopolitical context, the SCO has certain levers of influence on the situation in Afghanistan and an interest in the success of its political transformation.
The Afghan government also shows interest in the activities of the SCO. In the summer of 2012, at the summit in Beijing, Afghanistan received observer status, and in 2015 applied for full membership. In 2017, the head of the executive branch, Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah, formally requested the inclusion of his country in the SCO as a full member.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that when “considering the possibility of Afghanistan’s entry, we must take into account the problems there: the country is under the influence of complex political factors, fighting terrorism.” In May this year, Russia’s permanent representative to the SCO secretariat, Dmitry Lukyantsev, noted: “when making a decision on accepting a new country, the members of the organization must be absolutely sure that the threats of terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking will not spread from its territory to the SCO countries. So far, there is no such unconditional confidence regarding Afghanistan. The foreign military presence on the territory of the country also became a deterrent.
At the same time, there is close cooperation with Afghanistan on all the issues identified above.” At the same time, official Moscow supports the efforts of Afghanistan to achieve membership in the SCO. This was announced in October 2017 by the Special Representative of the President of Russia for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov. “Moscow supports Kabul’s aspiration to join the SCO, but this process will take some time,” the diplomat said. Certain efforts are also being made by Chinese diplomats. “Since many SCO members are neighbors of Afghanistan, the country itself and the problem of Afghanistan are considered by the organization as one of the top priorities,” said Chinese Foreign Minister wang I.
It should be noted a few factors affecting the relations of the SCO and Afghanistan. Closer cooperation and potential membership in the organization could play a positive role for Kabul. First, there would be a diversification of the political capital of Afghanistan. we could talk about deepening ties with China, Russia, India, and other SCO countries. Secondly, the leaders of the organization would be forced to pay more attention and resources to maintain stability on Afghan soil. Third, at this stage, the United States does not intend to leave Afghanistan and does not see the need to weaken its influence in Afghan politics, considering the country as its stronghold in the center of Eurasia. And finally, fourth, the leaders of the SCO themselves doubt the need to put a heavy burden of responsibility for the future of Afghanistan on the SCO. The last two factors create an atmosphere, in which Kabul predictably will not be able to claim full membership in the SCO in the near future, and therefore will not have the opportunity to diversify foreign policy.
On November 9, consultations on Afghanistan were held in Moscow, in which unofficial representatives of Kabul and the Taliban took part. “The essence of this conference is to conduct a comprehensive discussion on finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan problem and ending the American occupation,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mojahed. The fact that the meeting took place despite all the difficulties speaks of Moscow’s limited diplomatic success. Obviously, the parties failed to achieve serious success in the negotiations, but their very fact can be considered a definite step forward. Relations with the SCO are beneficial and necessary for Afghanistan. This gives the country additional political capital, strengthens its political influence, expands international relations – especially taking into account China’s global economic weight and Russia’s rich experience in the field of security. However, the issue of membership requires a far greater autonomy and political subjectivity from Afghan politicians.