What can the SCO do for Afghanistan?

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What can the SCO do for Afghanistan? 24.11.2017 12:42



Dmitry Verkhoturov, an expert at the Center for the Study of Contemporary Afghanistan


Judging by reports, in Afghanistan there is a slow war between several forces: on the one hand - the government of the Islamic Republic and the American forces supporting it, and on the other - the Taliban and the rival units of the ISIL.

In Washington, one decided to increase the number of their military contingent to 16,000, but the United States and NATO countries refused any cooperation with Russia on the Afghan issue.

Recently, the Special Inspector General of the United States for the reconstruction of Afghanistan (SIGAR) John Sopko issued a report on the current situation (as of October-November 2017) in this country. The Government of Afghanistan controls 56.8% of the country's territory - 231 counties out of 407 counties of the country. The militants control 13.3% of the territory - 54 counties. The remaining 122 counties are a disputed territory, where it is unclear, whose power is predominant. "Under control" was understood that the government or the militants completely and completely undivided influence on this or that territory. The counties, in which power is constantly changing, have been referred to the disputed zone.

According to Sopko, the militants have strong points in the provinces of Uruzgan and Helmand in the south of Afghanistan (in this area, government troops control only a narrow strip along the Kandahar-Herat main road and around large cities), and in Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan. Separate bases of militants are scattered over the mountainous and hard-to-reach areas of the country, where they are very difficult to dislodge, even with complete superiority in numbers, weapons and aviation.

The war in this style has been going on for many years, almost unchanged in nature. In some ways, the armed conflict has entered a stable phase, when both sides do not have the opportunity to achieve a decisive victory. The Afghan government and the Taliban can fight for so many years and even decades, as long as some people run out of resources or the parties simply get tired of this struggle. Of course, one can also consider the likelihood of interference by third parties and forces in the Afghan conflict, but such an analysis would require going far beyond the actual Afghan framework.

What can SCO member states do in this situation to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan? Here you can sort through different options. Force intervention is ruled out, since the SCO is a non-military structure. In addition, such interference would lead to a clash of the SCO states with the United States, whose forces are located on the territory of Afghanistan in accordance with the bilateral security agreement.

The proposal of military or military-technical assistance to Afghanistan from the SCO countries is likely to be rejected. If the Afghan government itself wants to upgrade its military equipment and weapons at the expense of Russian supplies, the United States categorically objects to this. They made an exception only for the supply of Mi-171 helicopters and for gratuitous arms shipments.

Participation in peace negotiations, the Taliban's inclination to negotiate with the Afghan government, other political initiatives to maintain and develop the negotiation process have not produced any result for many years. It is necessary to take part in the negotiations, but as practice shows, it is not worth betting on them.

Investment projects depend on the success in the security sphere and the goodwill of the Afghan government to investors from the SCO countries. While the war is going on, it is possible to forget about major investments in Afghanistan - they will not be. Trade relations with neighboring Pakistan, a member state of the SCO, are unfriendly. Afghan businessmen are betting rather on the Iranian port of Chabahar. At the same time, the attitude towards China and India is positive. Russia is well in Afghanistan, but practical contacts are almost at zero.

Thus, almost the entire arsenal of the influence of the SCO on Afghanistan proves to be insufficient to solve complex Afghan problems. Now we can say that this country is heavily dependent on the United States, and this circumstance restrains its partnership with the SCO.

But still, there is one way of influencing - indirect, but still effective: to help Afghan businessmen trade and export products to foreign markets. The success of trade will lead to economic strengthening of the government; increase its financial resources, including for the needs of the security forces, which will allow the Afghan army to defeat the Talibs.

To do this, it is necessary to maintain large trans-shipment trade and logistics centers on the border with Afghanistan. Two of them are most important: Galaba - Hairaton on the border with Uzbekistan, and Torkham on the border with Pakistan. If the SCO wishes to contribute to the improvement of the Afghan situation, then it is necessary to help Afghan entrepreneurs to trade.