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Trans-Eurasian Express

As the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), one of the youngest international entities, turns five on June 15 and prepares for the anniversary session of its Heads of State Council in Shanghai, I would like to share my thoughts and feelings about the SCO, its prospects and goals.

india Updated: Jun 13, 2006 21:27 IST

As the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), one of the youngest international entities, turns five on June 15 and prepares for the anniversary session of its Heads of State Council in Shanghai, I would like to share my thoughts and feelings about the SCO, its prospects and goals.

Since its foundation in 2001, the SCO has rapidly gained influence and has evolved into a powerful regional organisation and a significant stability factor across the vast Eurasian continent. It has become a reality of regional and global politics, which explains the growing interest other States and multilateral associations take in SCO’s forums and activities.

Recalling that this regional organisation came into being as a result of a great confidence-building effort amid many pressing problems, all of its members deserve credit for their firmness, purposefulness and perseverance. Through difficult negotiations, the parties ultimately came to an agreement on border issues that involved distances and numbers of signatories that Asia had never seen before.

Back in the Nineties, when we were already working together as the Shanghai Five, we understood the crucial importance of pooling efforts to address new challenges. It was also clear that the underlying principle of our work would have

to be that peace and economic progress in the vast region where we all live would only come through a multilateral partnership of countries that comprise it. This was all the more true as the situation at that moment demanded immediate and well-coordinated action. Several Central Asian nations suffered from international terrorist aggression as terror ideologists fomented separatism, and ethnic and religious extremism across the region.

For many, the coalition against terror is associated with September 11 and the response it provoked from the international community. True, that tragedy marked a turning point in both public mentality and international politics. Nevertheless, it is an objective fact that the SCO’s founding nations had not merely pointed out the utmost importance of a joint effort against terror, but had actually engaged in that fight well before the September 11 atrocity. In June 2001, the SCO member states came up with a pioneering initiative to establish a regional anti-terrorist entity. As we now have an effective mechanism to fight what our Chinese partners term ‘the Three Evils’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, the next logical step is coordinating efforts to combat drug trafficking. This entails close cooperation through our security services.

The SCO nations keep a close eye on stability in the region. On this issue, we are all open to any form of joint action, for the organisation sees the entire Asia-Pacific Region as within reasonable scope for effort coordination through a common approach to security. Toward this end, it seeks first of all to build confident relations with regional counterparts who already have a record in this area. With such a network of partners, we would avoid duplication and parallel action, and be able to work for our common interests without any ‘exclusive’ clubs and divides. Announced at the organisation’s 2004 Tashkent meet, the initiative for such cooperation met with a positive response. In this respect I would like to touch on the issue of observer nations, a status new for the SCO.

Currently the Organisation has four observer nations: India, Pakistan, Iran, and Mongolia, and a contact group with Afghanistan has been set up to create a record of joint operation. This will undoubtedly contribute to the growing weight of the organisation, which brings together states that account for almost half of mankind. I would like to reiterate that the SCO is open to dialogue and ready for joint efforts for the sake of peace, stability, and development.

The SCO’s wide scope of activities is not limited to politics. Its economic agenda is also very ambitious as economic cooperation is increasingly important and relevant in this region. It offers remarkable opportunities for joint, mutually-beneficial projects that can significantly improve living standards and turn Central Asia into one of the most developed regions of the world.

I believe that through efficient mechanisms of regional integration, the SCO nations will benefit from their intrinsic competitive edge in energy, natural resources, transport flow management, and traditional as well as innovative manufacturing, science and technology.

What we see here is an enormous opportunity for business and banking activity. It is no coincidence that the format of the summit will include the founding session of the SCO Business Council, which will establish a coordination centre for businesses representing all SCO nations. We have great expectations about its potential to mastermind viable joint projects, and its efforts must be reinforced by the participants of the inter-bank agreement signed in Moscow last October.

Another aspect of the SCO’s activities that is becoming increasingly important is cultural development. The energy of academic and cultural relations, youth exchanges and contacts between people will undoubtedly make the Organisation more vibrant and creative. We are developing this dimension on the basis of our nations’ unique civilisational records and their enormous contributions to the global cultural heritage. In the future, interest in studying this legacy will only grow.

We have already amassed vast experience of cultural contacts and exchanges, and academic dialogue. We are drafting documents on joint projects in education as well, and are aware of the need for adapting SCO members’ bilateral tourism and sports cooperation initiatives with multilateral applications.

I also anticipate that SCO legislators — following their first meeting in Moscow in late May — will assume a meaningful role in building cooperation, as will the SCO Forum, a recently established association of experts and scientists, which is expected to become the Organisation’s non-governmental expertise engine.

Our model of cooperation and the ‘Shanghai spirit’ it embodies are becoming increasingly relevant. Working with clear and well-defined guidelines — maintaining mutual confidence, debating openly on all issues, and seeking solutions through discussions and without resorting to any pressure — the Organisation has a consistent frame of reference which will hopefully enhance its international appeal.

At a time when an allegedly insurmountable cultural and civilisational divide between nations is again infiltrating public agendas, the SCO demonstrates a remarkable example of equal Eurasian partnership — a partnership strategically designed to strengthen regional security and stability, boost economic activity, and promote an integration in which national and cultural identities will not be lost.

We can see our goals, declared five years ago in Shanghai, becoming a reality. There is a strong basis upon which the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation can qualitatively upgrade its own cooperation and contribute to resolving global issues.  This basis is the commitment of all SCO members to working together and acting in concert.

The writer is President, Russian Federation