Afghanistan Appeals Accession to Shanghai Cooperation Organization Amidst Taliban Resurgence
Jul 22, 2021
The complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan by September 11 amidst a resurgence of Taliban forces in the country has raised concerns for the international community. Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors have already begun to feel the impacts of the Taliban’s reemergence. Over 1,600 Afghan soldiers fled into neighboring Tajikistan after advances from the Taliban intensified in the Badakhshan and Takhar border provinces. Similarly, Uzbekistan forced dozens of fleeing Afghan soldiers to return to Afghanistan after the Taliban took over a key border crossing post. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has also appealed to Tajikistan to facilitate the passage of roughly 1,000 ethnic Kyrgyz from Afghanistan as a preemptive measure amidst a worsening situation. Furthermore, both China and Russia have expressed concerns over regional security. The increasingly volatile situation in Afghanistan is likely to have considerable ripple effects across the Greater Caspian Region and will draw in players from multiple regions to quell security concerns.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a multinational organization composed of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Founded in Shanghai in 2001, the organization strives to promote regional security by formulating a regional bloc to act on issues, such as terrorism, border security, and intrastate conflict. Even though Afghanistan only holds observer status within the organization, it has remained a top priority at SCO meetings. Afghanistan has made attempts at gaining full membership since 2015, but its efforts to accede to the SCO consistently stall. None of the SCO member states has been eager to accept Afghanistan in its volatile condition, but anSCO-Afghanistan Working Group has existed since 2005 and has handled all diplomatic channels between Afghanistan and the SCO. On July 14 in Tajikistan, the Afghan government again made a bid to pursue full membership in the SCO.
Kabul hopes to obtain full membership in the SCO to combat terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking – all three of which are key concerns of the organization – to counterbalance Pakistan’s influence in the country and to employ its multi-alignment neutrality foreign policy. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani hopes that the support of the SCO will retractTaliban forces from major urban centers, including Kabul and Kandahar, and provide his administration with the international backing to stifle Taliban encroachment. However, most prominent among these reasons is the advancement of Afghanistan’s multi-alignment neutrality policy.
Afghan officials trust that their multi-alignment neutrality foreign policy will bolster their power and garner them additional support from a myriad of international organizations and countries. The policy, which dictates remaining inactive in international conflicts and developing relationships with countries spanning multiple alliances, would provide a sense of security for a country that is extremely vulnerable to foreign invasions and domestic threats and would guarantee that foreign powers remain at bay. In addition, Afghanistan’s neutrality stance grants it the capability to promote regional trade and energy cooperation, such as the Lapis Lazuli transit route designed to link Afghanistan with Europe via Central Asia and the South Caucasus. The CASA-1000 electricity transmission project also will provide electricity to Pakistan from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, crossing through Afghanistan. Obtaining full membership in the SCO would provide Afghanistan with a platform to engage with the Central Asian republics, China, India, Pakistan, and Russia to coordinate a joint effort to manage the Taliban while also allowing Afghanistan to foster connections with multiple countries.
While not a member of the SCO, Turkmenistan has also raised alarms about the deteriorating security situation across its southern border. On July 12, Taliban representatives met with Turkmen officials in Ashgabat to discuss border security. Turkmenistan shares an approximately 500-mile-long border with Afghanistan and wants to ensure that territorial integrity is maintained in the event the Taliban takes control of key border crossings. Afghanistan’s accession to the SCO would mitigate fears of its neighbors by formulating a collective response to the Taliban resurgence in the country.
The SCO is a beneficial mechanism that Afghanistan can use to assert itself as an entity capable of quelling the Taliban, stamping out religious extremism, and promoting regional energy and infrastructure projects. The current member states of the SCO have expressed concern over the impending situation in Afghanistan and want to secure their borders to prevent possible spillover of violence from the turmoil ensuing in the country. Afghanistan’s accession to the SCO could settle some of these fears and elevate the country as a reliable security partner.