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Strengthening SCO: Counteracting Growing Terror Threats in Eurasia

Musaib Manzoor

The increase in terrorist activities throughout the world necessitates the development of currently known strategies and approaches for addressing the terrorism threat. 

The statement issued by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisations’ Heads of States in the Central Asian Capital city of Astana on Joint Counteraction to International Terrorism has proven to be a significant political instrument that includes approaches to consolidating joint forces in the fight against terrorism, an assessment of the current state of affairs, and a call to the international community to unite within a broadly based international anti-terrorist coalition to combat this grave global threat. 

The SCO has increased collective efforts to fight radicalization in society, which leads to violent forms of extremism, including terrorism among young people. SCO has also taken attempts to combat religious, ethnic, intellectual, and political extremism, as well as xenophobia. 

SCO’s dedicated office for counter-terrorism, established in Tashkent in 2004, ‘Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure’ (RATS), so far, has been successful in countering extremism and separatism and preventing several terrorist acts, offences, and dismantling terrorist training camps. 

The SCO or the Shanghai Pact’s transcontinental political, economic, and security alliance is the world’s largest regional cooperation in terms of geographic scope and population, covering roughly 60% of Eurasia’s land area, 40% of the world’s population, and more than 20% of global GDP. 

Since its inception in 2001, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has emerged as a multilateral association to ensure security and for maintenance of stability in the Eurasian region. 

Although the SCO is not a military alliance, its front-line fight against terrorist threats necessitates the development and enhancement of procedures aimed at the total abolition of terrorist activity. SCO should continue its anti-terrorist training exercises, notably the SCO Peace Mission exercise. Building on the Agreement on Cooperation in Ensuring International Digital Security, SCO member states shall expand collaboration in fighting radical propaganda and public justification of terrorism, separatism, and extremism through mass media and the information sphere. 

The Joint Position of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure of SCO, the Anti-Terrorist Center of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization on Combating Terrorism and Extremism was signed on February 16, 2022, in the headquarters of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Moscow. 

The Parties emphasise the necessity of conducting coordinated action against participants in armed conflicts on the side of international terrorist groups, including those who have been relocated to their home countries or to other countries. 

Within the framework of common approaches, the Parties intend to strengthen interaction and promote cooperation among SCO member states, CIS member states, and CSTO member states in counter-terrorism, including legal assistance in the search for and prosecution of terrorists and their accomplices, for the benefit of the peoples of the Organization’s member countries and regions. 

SCO member states shall also work together to combat the actions of people and groups involved in the recruitment, training, and use of terrorists, as well as the justification and funding of terrorist attacks. 

The participation of SCO member states is driven by a range of objectives and goals, which may lead to inefficiencies in their counter-terrorism cooperation efforts. China regards the SCO as both a significant and a lucrative asset, and has been closely monitoring its expansion. Russia, as co-founder of the SCO with China, does not appear to want to go all out in consolidating the SCO, as Europe is critical to its long-term strategic goals. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are concerned with the actual advantages of membership in terms of economic issues and security, rather than political incentives, and they are realistic in dealing with the SCO. As a result, members’ acts at cross-purposes and lasting debates over significant matters have been observed on occasion and will continue to do so in the future. 

While the withdrawal of soldiers from Afghanistan was a strategic failure, it will have little security ramifications for NATO nations but will almost certainly have far-reaching consequences for Afghanistan’s neighbours, as four of the Afghanistan’s six contiguous states – China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are SCO members. Given the behaviour of each SCO member, the situation might become a regional security and geopolitical dilemma. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISKP each have over 10,000 foreign militants from SCO nations. Al-Qaeda and the ISKP have regrouped and resumed terrorist actions in Afghanistan. The resurrected Taliban will rekindle violent attitudes, radicalization, and deviant behaviour among the people of neighbouring nations, posing a threat to regional security. 

To avoid an uncontrolled flood of migrants, SCO member nations, particularly those in Central Asia, have opted not to admit Afghan refugees. Moscow has also stated unequivocally that any refugee movement to Central Asia is unacceptable. According to the Russian Envoy to Uzbekistan, accepting migrants is akin to opening floodgates and encouraging uncontrolled migration from Afghanistan.

In the sake of regional peace and development, the SCO nations must reconsider their different policies and ambitions and work together to deal with the Taliban through a single framework. The best way to confront the problems posed by the Afghan situation, notably a revival of terrorist and extremist activity, is through multilateral collaboration under the SCO. 

Despite being portrayed as a platform for regional integration, the SCO has devolved into a forum of regional giants, which has weakened its coherence. One option is for member nations to utilise the SCO as a channel for aid to Afghanistan, which may also put pressure on the Taliban to fulfill world expectations. Indeed, if the SCO does not reach an agreement on the Taliban issue and counter-terrorism, peace in Afghanistan and the region would be difficult to accomplish.

Musaib Manzoor is pursuing MS in Peace and Conflict Studies at Centre for International Peace and Stability, NUST Islamabad. He is also a Researcher at Legal Forum for Kashmir.






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