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Shanghai Cooperation Organization Unites Against Terrorism - 2004-06-17

At a meeting in Uzbekistan, the six nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have pledged to strengthen their security alliance and increase cooperation in the fight against global terrorism. At least one Central Asia analyst says it will take a lot more than talk to quell the increasing violence in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the summit he has every confidence that the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will be able to pool resources to become one of the leaders in the fight against global terrorism.

Mr. Putin also urged the bloc, grouping Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Krygyzstan and Tajikistan, to become more active in its efforts to combat terrorism, which he has called the scourge of the 21st Century.

President Putin said by sharing information and analysis, the group could make real gains in bringing peace and stability to Central Asia, which has seen a rising tide of Islamic extremism and increased instability.

He also urged his regional counterparts to establish a contact group to help rebuild neighboring Afghanistan, long seen as a haven for extremist groups that have launched incursions into Central Asia.

Before the summit opened, the leaders inaugurated a new regional anti-terrorism center in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. The capital and the historic Silk Road city of Bukhara were hit by a wave of bombings in March that killed at least 47 people.

Cutting a red ribbon to open the facilities, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said anti-terrorism efforts need to focus on more than just military action. He said member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization need to develop common approaches to fighting terrorism, including increased information sharing.

But David Lewis, the director of the Central Asia Project for the independent conflict prevention organization known as the International Crisis Group, says the six countries will need to do much more than just pledge to work together. For starters, Mr. Lewis says they should vastly expand their focus to consider the root causes of terrorism.

"I think [the bloc's] effectiveness will only be proved if it can broaden the scope of questions it can address to include economic development, trade and wider political questions in the region," he said. "I think as a narrow security bloc it is only ever going to be of minimal effectiveness, particularly as many of the problems of terrorism in the region are really from much broader causes than simply militant Islamic ideology. And unless they can somehow begin to address some of those causes, they will not overcome the problem."

Mr. Lewis said that it is also important to remember that despite appearances there is, in his view, the real potential for regional rivalries to further hinder the new initiative to strengthen security and regional ties. He cites China and Russia, with competing energy interests in the region, as a prime example.

Mr. Lewis says the most interesting thing to come out of this round of talks is what he called, the new and improved relationships for Uzbekistan, which he says are a reflection of the cooling relations between Uzbekistan and the United States.

"Bear in mind that the United States is now considering whether to cut off aid to Uzbekistan because of human-rights concerns," he added. "Obviously, against that background, it is interesting to see what comes out of Chinese-Uzbek talks, which seem to have been fairly warm, and Russian-Uzbek talks, which have come to agreement on a new strategic partnership between the two countries. So, you can see quite an important shift in Uzbek foreign policy, which will have an influence on the rest of the region as well."

Mr. Lewis says there is little doubt the Shanghai Cooperation Organization aims to ultimately counter what many of its member states see as growing American influence in Central Asia, traditionally a sphere of Russian influence.