The security situation in Central Asia has become more unstable in the wake of the United States withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. In such a situation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, given its 20-year experience in security cooperation, can contribute to Central Asia's peace and stability.
Security problems have long haunted Central Asia. Since the region has seen home-grown and international terrorist outfits coming together to unleash mayhem, border and territorial clashes have become more frequent.
The drying up of the Aral Sea and the subsequent soil and air pollution have led to serious environmental and ecological problems, and water conflicts have intensified between upstream and downstream countries.
As such, traditional and nontraditional security challenges have intertwined in Central Asia, with the situation worsening because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The geopolitical games of the major powers have further complicated the security situation in the region. The Joe Biden administration's diplomacy continues to be driven by policies to contain other countries' rise, including fostering or consolidating anti-China and anti-Russia alliances, in order to maintain the United States' supremacy.
While transnational security threats have increased, non-traditional security threats have created wide-ranging challenges. In addition to transnational crimes such as terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking, Central Asian countries are also under increasing pressure to combat climate change, prevent nuclear proliferation and safeguard information security.
Besides, the increasing security risks in hot spots such as Syria, Iran, the southern Caucasus and Afghanistan, could spill over to Central Asia. Social unrest has intensified because the pandemic has led to rising unemployment, poverty and social inequality. And external interference poses a serious threat to Central Asian countries' sovereignty.
As political factors have made international coordination more difficult, the security mechanisms have been finding it difficult to perform to their potential in Central Asia. But despite all these challenges, the SCO, in its 20 years of existence, has been helping resolve regional disputes through dialogue and consultation, and by cracking down on transnational crimes, and promoting military trust among the member states.
The SCO has strengthened cooperation in the fight against terrorism, separatism and extremism, established the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to carry out joint law enforcement campaigns against drug traffickers and terrorist groups, and set up multi-level meeting mechanisms and held joint anti-terrorism drills.
China has proposed a new security concept — a common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable Asian security concept — to safeguard regional security. In 2020, China proposed to build a community of shared security for all, supporting countries to advance their domestic agenda, preserve social stability and oppose interference by external forces. China has also launched the Global Initiative on Data Security to initiate security measures in the region.
As the SCO has been playing an important role in regional security, it is in a position to contribute more to safeguard regional security. Yet the SCO needs to first fulfill its current tasks based on the principle of cooperation, openness and non-alignment, and without targeting any third parties.
Also, the multilateral activities of the SCO should be aimed at achieving more concrete results in fields such as food, energy, finance, ecology and information. It should also give full play to the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in Tashkent to combat terrorism, and take measures to better coordinate the security policies of the member states in order to play a more active role in resolving regional hotspot issues, for instance, by advancing the SCO-Afghanistan contact group and helping Afghanistan to promote development.
There is also a need for the SCO to strengthen dialogues with other regional security mechanisms and fortify the central role of the United Nations. For instance, it should establish regular contacts with the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia to jointly maintain peace in the region and help the governments of Central Asian countries to overcome various challenges.
Within the SCO framework, major countries such as China, Russia and India, should establish regular consultations and strengthen strategic negotiations to enhance mutual trust, and take a common stance on regional and international security issues, so as to resolve common issues.
Moreover, the SCO should lay the foundation for security cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative framework, and help strengthen military-to-military cooperation among China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and gradually invite other SCO members to join the cooperation mechanism to realize better security coordination.
The SCO celebrates its 20th anniversary on June 15, and the SCO Summit in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, later this year will mark a new phase of SCO cooperation.
(Sun Zhuangzhi, director of the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views don't necessarily represent those of this platform.)