Afghanistan takes centre stage for Shanghai group

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 2004, 12:00am

Karzai will attend central Asian forum amid concerns over security and drugs

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai will take part in a Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) summit between China, Russia, and four central Asian states next month, according to a senior mainland official.

It will be the first time a non-member of the organisation has attended a meeting, showing the importance attached to concerns about stability in Afghanistan.

President Hu Jintao and Mr Karzai will also hold bilateral talks at the summit on June 17 in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, Assistant Foreign Minister Li Hui said yesterday.

Asked if Mr Hu and Mr Karzai would discuss joint action to combat the Taleban and other militant groups in the region, Mr Li said bilateral security issues, anti-terrorist co-operation and the fight against drugs would be on the agenda.

'Member states of the SCO are all very concerned about the situation in Afghanistan,' said the assistant foreign minister.

Analysts believe the long-term stability of Afghanistan is a main concern for the mainland. Officials fear violence and terrorist activities could spill across China's far western border. There are also concerns about the continued mass production of opium.

Sun Zhuangzi , director of the Central Asia Study Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said combating drug trafficking would top the agenda.

Mr Li said there was no plan to enlarge the organisation to include Afghanistan, nor had the country indicated an interest in joining the organisation.

He said the organisation would allow non-members to take part in meetings as observers as it engaged more states in future.

Declining to give details, Mr Li said he believed the number of observers would be enlarged, although having more members was not yet on the table.

Mr Karzai will be attending the summit as a special guest rather than an observer.

Mr Li said the organisation had also extended an invitation to Mongolian President Natsagiyn Bagabandi, but had so far had no response.

He said the group - comprising the mainland, Russia, and former soviet states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - had finished building up its structure in the past three years.

It had now 'entered a new phase of pragmatic co-operation' to boost security and trade ties in the region, he said. The summit will also mark the establishment of an SCO counterterrorism centre in Tashkent.

Chen Yurong , director of the East Europe, Russia, and Central Asia research institute at the China Institute of International Studies, said the summit was a significant step to further open up the organisation. She said the stability of Afghanistan had an impact in the western regions, including Xinjiang bordering Afghanistan.

The summit is part of a four-nation tour that will also take Mr Hu to Hungary, Poland and Romania.