You are here

The Bishkek Summit

Meena Singh Roy is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • August 21, 2007

    The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is gradually gaining clout and influence in the Central Asian region, which is increasingly attracting international attention. Dramatic events during the course of 2005 in Uzbekistan, including the US withdrawal from the Manas base, and in Kyrgyzstan significantly changed the regional security architecture and provided a new geopolitical role for the SCO in the region. Russia and China have especially benefited from these changes and have increased their profiles in the region.

    On August 16, 2007 Bishkek hosted the 7th annual summit of the SCO. The summit was attended by the heads of states of all its principal members. Iran and Mongolia were represented by their presidents, while the other two observers-India and Pakistan-were represented by their Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Foreign Minister, respectively. Other important dignitaries who attended the summit were the Afghan and Turkmen presidents and by UN Deputy Secretary-General Linn Pasko. The summit concluded with the signing of a Treaty among member states on "good-neighbourly relations, friendship and cooperation." The Bishkek Declaration was issued and a set of ten documents were adopted. In addition, an agreement on cooperation in the field of culture was initialled and the leaders approved the action plan to ensure International Information Security (IIS).

    The major focus of the Summit was on enhancing cooperation in the energy and security realms, particularly the countering of terrorist threats, and regional stability. SCO leaders called for a multilateral approach to address global problems. They also discussed the issue of stemming the proliferation of weapons and illegal narcotics, reviewed measures to bolster information security, and resolved to establish a new SCO University. The message from the summit was loud and clear - "the world is bigger than the West". It was also decided that the next summit will convene in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.

    At the top of the agenda was improving transportation and energy links between member states, which, the summit agreed, is the basis for "sustainable economic growth and security." President Nazarbayaev proposed the formation of "an energy Club", stating that "a mechanism of meetings of energy ministers from the SCO member and observer states should function in the context of the idea of an energy club, and that this might become one of the main elements of an Asian energy strategy." It was agreed to create a "unified energy market" to facilitate the movement of oil and gas supplies among members. The Bishkek Declaration specified that energy dialogue will include producer, transit and consumer states.

    A second important issue that was taken up at the summit was the necessity and urgency of taking precautionary measures and establishing relevant mechanisms to tackle threats to regional peace, security and stability. Leaders agreed to step up efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, drug trafficking and terrorism. They also pointedly declared that regional stability and security is the responsibility of countries and organisations of the region. The Declaration issued at the end of the summit stated that "stability and security in Central Asia can be ensured primarily by the regional states themselves, through existing regional associations." Highlighting the SCO's increasing focus on regional security, the Russian President emphasized on the need to create a "counter-terrorism security belt" within the framework of the grouping. Putin also called for an end to the unipolar approach to international affairs.

    The issue of "illegal interference" in the affairs of other countries was raised by the Iranian President Mohmoud Ahmadinejad, who spoke of the US attempt to impose "a new political map in Middle East" and its deployment of missile defence systems, which affected the security of the whole of Asia and of the SCO countries in particular. Islam Karimov, in contrast, drew attention to growing tensions among SCO members over water resources and warned that this could lead to regional conflict. The declaration issued at the end of summit called for "strengthening strategic stability and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" and urged the need to prevent the militarization of outer space.

    At the same time, the summit also highlighted the need to counter terrorism and singled out the negative regional influence of Afghanistan's illegal drug trade. Both President Putin and Hu Jintao assured President Hamid Karzai their support and willingness to help rebuild his country, while Putin went a step ahead and proposed a special SCO summit to plan a reconstruction strategy for Afghanistan as well.

    SCO leaders pledged to deepen cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the basis of current Memoranda of Understanding. For his part, the Tajik President went to the extent of proposing a merger of the SCO with the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).

    An important event that unfolded parallel to the Summit was the first SCO military exercise 'Peace Mission-2007' held in the southern Urals. The militaries of all SCO members participated in this 9-day exercise (August 9 to 17), which focused on counter-terror operations. The exercise involved 6500 soldiers, including some 2000 from Russia, 1700 from China, smaller company-size units from Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, a special police platoon from Kyrgyzstan, and a team of 20 Uzbek military officers. About 500 combat vehicles and 80 combat aircraft from China and Russia were also employed.

    The SCO, thus, seems to be emerging as a new geopolitical arrangement in the international arena. Some observers view these SCO summits as becoming increasingly influential and the organisation turning into a prestigious regional club with global ambitions. Others have described the SCO as an eastern response to NATO. The Russian media has gone to the extent of calling it "Warsaw Pact II" and the "the anti-NATO". However, SCO officials concede that the organisation is in fact "pretty rudimentary".

    The Bishkek summit and the Peace Mission 2007 are clear manifestations of a growing Sino-Russian axis in the region at least in the short term. Western media reports have expressed the view that the Sino-Russian "strategic partnership" is aimed at counterbalancing Washington's policies, given that both countries "share a heightening distrust of what they see as the United States' oversized role and influence in global politics." However, the fact remains that Moscow and Beijing are rivals in the region. Moreover, Russia hopes to intensify its linkages with Europe. It therefore remains to be seen for how long the Sino-Russian partnership remains "strategic". Further, the SCO's priority is not political concerns but energy cooperation. Even in this regard, there could be potential trouble in future given what seems to be the relative neglect of the interests of the organisation's smaller members, viz., Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as against the greater priority being assigned to the economic and strategic interests of China and Russia.