Changes taking place within the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation are paving the way for its development into a player on the international scene. Mainland analysts are already predicting that over time, the organisation will evolve into a grouping that could engage in dialogue with international caucuses like Nato. But this goal is somewhat overambitious. Members are still divided over the US military presence in Central Asia. While China and Russia are alarmed at the possible long-term American presence near their borders, other countries in the group welcome military aid and US-assisted economic development. But unless the member nations find additional common ground for co-operation, the organisation will not be able to develop into a serious stabilising force for the region. The summit taking place in Tashkent provides a platform for China and its central Asian neighbours to strengthen an alliance against terrorism and lay down what analysts expect to be the groundwork for further co-operation. Founded in 1996, the organisation was initially called the Shanghai Five - consisting of China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan - and was intended as a confidence-building measure to foster dialogue on cross-border issues. It asserted its present form when Uzbekistan joined in June 2001, and quickly put the fight against terrorism on the agenda after the September 11 attacks. Yesterday's summit saw a further strengthening of the organisation's structure with the decision to set up its second office, known as the Regional Anti-terrorist Structure, or Rats, in Tashkent following the opening of the secretariat in Beijing earlier this year. It also approved an agreement to allow non-member countries to participate as observers, bringing flexibility to the size of meetings. This year, Mongolia attended as an observer, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who recently visited Washington to seek more support for his country, attended the meeting as a special guest of the Uzbek president.