Volume II No.4(26 October 2000)
Expanding Security Eastward: NATO and US Military Engagement in Georgia No.3(24 July 2000)
Once a Chekist... No.2(17 July 2000)
Shanghai Forum Calls for Efforts Against Terrorism, Extremism and Crime No.1(23 February 2000)
No Indictment for War Criminals?
Volume I No.5(14 December 1999)
Precarious Future for an Urban Minority: Ethnic Azeris in Russia No.4 (1 December 1999)
Nothing New for Moldova at Istanbul Summit No.3 (18 November 1999)
Containing the Chechen War: A new item for the OSCE agenda No.2(4 November 1999)
Is Time on the Chechen Side? -- A Military Analysis of Russia's War in Chechnya No.1 (6 October 1999)
"Dizzy with Success": Russia's Latest Maneuvers in Chechnya
Shanghai Forum Calls for Institutionalized Efforts against Terrorism, Extremism
By NAJAM ABBAS
The declaration issued following the Shanghai-5 summit in Tajikistan's capital
Dushanbe on 5 July indicates a change in focus from border issues to an
institutionalized struggle against menaces which states cannot tackle individually.
The "Shanghai Five" -- the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Russia and China -- vowed to co-operate more closely to deal
with the threats they perceive to their security: religious extremism, separatism,
international terrorism and drug trafficking.
The state media in Russia and Central Asia habitually claim that all these
menaces are interlinked. The Shanghai-5's loud denunciations of these partially
genuine but largely exaggerated threats are meant to justify their (present
and future) oppressive policies against domestic political opponents. With
the participation of all the Central Asian states except -- notably -- Turkmenistan,
it appears as if, under the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin,
Central Asian states may choose to remain under Moscow's security umbrella
and shift the region's balance of security further in Russia's favor.
The summit participants devoted most of their energies to the acceptance
of existing Russian and Chinese policies. By all accounts, Russia successfully
used the Shanghai-5 to gain the endorsement of its Central Asian allies
and China for its heavy-handed policy in Chechnya (justified as countering
"terrorism") as well as to neutralize American influence in the
region. In the resultant Dushanbe Declaration, the signatories opposed "intervention
into the internal affairs of other states, including under the pretext of
humanitarian intervention' and 'human rights protection'," apparent
references to the US campaign in Kosovo last year and Western criticism
of Russia's and China's human rights records.
The declaration attempts to cater to the diverse interests of its participants.
While Russia seeks acceptance of its policy in Chechnya, China is anxious
to stop separatists in its western province of Xinjiang who are gaining
support from fellow Muslims in Central Asia. Thus, the declaration backed
both Russia's actions in Chechnya, and China's policies in Xinjiang.
For their part, the Central Asian leaders blamed Taliban-ruled Afghanistan
-- which shares a 2,000-km border with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
-- for the spread of religious extremism, weapons and drugs across their
territory. Indeed, the bogeyman of Islamic extremism was brought out time
and again. Putin pushed for a united front against the mutually perceived
danger of Islamic extremists, alleging that they support the Chechens against
Russia and provide opposition elements in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with
financial assistance and training facilities on Afghan territory. These
claims enjoy popular currency in the Russian and Central Asia media, despite
a shortage of any concrete and convincing evidence.
The group expressed deep concern about "the situation in Afghanistan,
which threatened regional and international security." The Dushanbe
authorities are especially sensitive to the drawn-out crisis in neighboring
Afghanistan given the fragile nature of their own country's peace agreement.
Tajikistan's official media has referred to the Shanghai-5 forum as a "vital
mechanism for ensuring stability in the region."
In practical terms, however, the forum had little to show by way of proposed
solutions to the situation. Whereas in May Sergei Yastrezhembsky revealed
that Russia was considering bombing targets in Afghanistan, the recent line
from Moscow has been comparatively mild. On the eve of the summit Russian
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Central Asia suffered as a result
of threats "arising from the territory of Afghanistan...." "We
should also think about how to ensure our (mutual) security ...," he
added. Russian representatives clearly moderated their approach, probably
taking heed of the concerns of China and the Central Asian states which
would bear the brunt of any Taliban reprisals.
For his part, PRC Chairman Jiang Zemin told journalists in Dushanbe that
"China believes that use of force will not help settle the Afghan problem."
He said that "the Afghan problem must be settled by the Afghan people
themselves by means of peace talks and without any external interference."
"The conflicting Afghan sides must proceed from national and state
interests, must stop the bloodshed and must restore national peace by forming
a coalition government, acceptable to all the sides concerned," he
President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, attending the summit for the first
time, albeit as an observer, proposed that the forum declare Central Asia
a nuclear-free zone, take note of the destabilization caused by the Afghan
situation and expand the Shanghai-5 framework into a regional forum for
multidimensional cooperation, addressing not only border security and regional
stability but also trade, communication and economic matters. Karimov emphasized
that the presence of two nuclear powers in the Shanghai forum was a guarantee
for peace and stability in the region, and he urged the two countries to
coordinate measures to extend their support to the whole region. Uzbekistan's
participation in the forum and Karimov's rhetorical flourishes suggest that
Russia and Uzbekistan are pursuing a mutually coordinated policy to fight
against common foes.
These developments indicate a shift in the goals and functions of the Shanghai-5
which was formed four years ago. Although established with the lofty goals
of building confidence and guaranteeing security for the five member countries,
it has focused on the relatively technical issues of resolving a decades-old
dispute over the 7,000-km border between the former Soviet Union and China.
Once a point of conflict, the boundary has been changed into "a zone
of trust" declared Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
Kyrgyzstan's president, Askar Akaev, was even more optimistic. He believes
that the Shanghai-5 Forum might be able to guarantee peace for the Eurasian
continent. He said that the manner in which the issue of demarcating the
858-km border between China and Kyrgyzstan was solved -- amicably through
mutual respect, understanding and accommodation -- could serve as a model
for others. (An agreement on the 414-km border between Tajikistan and China
remains to be finalized.)
The major practical result of the forum was the endorsement of Akaev's initiative
to set up a regional antiterrorist structure which will be located in the
Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. This is particularly convenient since southern Kyrgyzstan
has lately become a center for religious extremism. The Shanghai-5 members
also instructed the competent bodies in their countries to draw up specific
suggestions and to continue consultations on the establishment of the antiterrorist
Despite such regional cooperation, the participants apparently never lost
sight of the international community at large. The three Central Asian countries,
joined by the two permanent members of the UN's Security Council, did call
for the strengthening of the UN "as the main mechanism in maintaining
international peace and stability." According to Putin, an understanding
has been reached between Russia and China to ask the UN to create special
bodies to combat cross-border terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.
What does the future hold for summit participants?
The Central Asian members of the forum stated their primary objective
was to address the issue of regional security and secondarily to improve
their economic standing. Thus, by catering to the security concerns of its
Central Asian partners, Russia serves its own geopolitical objectives and
strengthens its presence in the Central Asian region.
Through their participation in Shanghai-5 and other such fora, Russia
and China will continue their attempts to deflect the criticism concerning
their poor compliance with (if not outright disregard of) international
human rights standards.
Russia will boost efforts to carve out a strategic
partnership with China "for forming a multipolar peace and creating
a new justified and rational international political and economic order"
along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Moscow and Peking will also strive for a coordinated
response amid concerns about how a proposed US missile defense system could
upset the global balance of power.