The recent wave of terrorist actions in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, affected the mood at the Moscow session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) on Friday. In early June, Tashkent is to host the summit of SCO members (Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan).
In Moscow, the ministers discussed the agenda for this summit and recalled that it had been believed only recently that the main threat to the SCO came from Afghanistan. Since then, the accent has been shifted to local terrorists, though they are connected with the global terrorist network.
Experts tend to think that the March 29 explosions in Uzbekistan and the events of the subsequent few days were a result of the failed plans for a major terrorist attack prepared by the "military branch" of the Hezb ul-Tahrir extremist organisation, which has been engaged in propaganda warfare in Central Asia and has tried to infiltrate local power structures. It appears that this new "military" group has good connections with foreign friends. This explains the use of suicide terrorists for the first time in Uzbekistan. But the main thing is that there is no direct threat to regional stability; the threat is, so far, only a potential one.
The SCO, which was only recently established and started working in earnest last winter, can do a great deal in this situation. It has demonstrated to the population of Central Asia and, most importantly, to the rest of the world, that it will not permit a Taliban-2 scenario in the region.
There is no need to talk about major military, let alone, multinational counter-terrorist operations in the region, as Uzbekistan is doing well. On the other hand, the first joint SCO exercise was held in Kazakhstan last August to train servicemen in combating the terrorist threat. Similar exercises will probably be held again. Moreover, if the need arises, the six member states may appeal for military co-operation to the USA, whose military bases are located in the region. The SCO is an open organisation that does not aim at forcing anyone out of Central Asia. However, it is worth repeating that the above measures are not the organisation's priority.
But the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Centre, which opened in Tashkent in January, is a very important agency. The council of the project's national co-ordinators represented by the six national security services, which will convene in a few days, will certainly discuss the issue. The council was established to exchange and jointly analyse information about regional threats.
On the whole, life is prodding the SCO as an international organisation, whose members include two powers - Russia and China -towards creating an alternative to plans for the region's "talibanisation" and attempts to import foreign values to similar problem-ridden regions. This reminds one of the recent failure of the "Middle Eastern initiative" of US President George Bush, which Arabs did not support. The SCO, which includes countries with Muslim, Christian and Buddhist population, can show in Central Asia what a correct comprehensive programme of political, economic and social modernisation can achieve in a problem-ridden and poor region.
In fact, the SCO is a part, though the initial one, of this programme. After the initial period, it will have to make progress through playing it by ear, which brings to mind some nascent SCO plans that were mentioned at the Moscow session of foreign ministers. In particular, the ministers spotlighted the growing trend of co-ordinating the foreign policies of the six member countries. It has been limited to an exchange of opinions so far, but the six countries may start planning joint actions. The SCO expert groups are to elaborate common plans on investment, customs rules, trade and joint projects for the autumn meeting of the SCO heads of government.
On the whole, it is clear that we should search for answers to global challenges simultaneously in all spheres - military, financial, police, economic, foreign policy, and ideological.