President Karzai attended the 10th anniversary summit of the Shanghai Coopera tion Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. The SCO, comprised of China, Russia and the Central Asian countries except for Turkmenistan, is primarily a security organization focusing on its member countries' security-related concerns such as terrorism and extremism. Other areas of concern for this regional organization is regional economic cooperation as well as military collaboration in terms of holding joint military drills to enhance the "inter-operability" of the member countries' military forces. Intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism activities are also important areas of cooperation among the SCO member countries. For example, a Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure founded under the SCO mandate has been actively pursuing counter-terrorism operations and has so far successfully foiled hundreds of terrorist plots.
The Afghan delegation headed by President Karzai participates in the annual SCO summits as a guest but the groundwork is being quietly laid for granting Afghanistan the observer status from where the road to full membership will be much smoother. For our country Afghanistan, SCO is an extremely important and relevant regional security and cooperation organization given the immense potential that it holds for Afghanistan especially after 2014. The challenges of terrorism and extremism that Afghanistan is grappling with and the danger of overflowing this instability to the surrounding regions especially the Central Asian region has put Afghanistan high on the agenda of the SCO. The situation in post-2014 Afghanistan, when the majority of foreign forces will leave Afghanistan, was an important issue of discussion in this year's summit. The member countries are increasingly finding themselves compelled to dramatically increase their presence here in Afghanistan in terms of greater cooperation and providing assistance to our country in diverse fields.
Kazakh President Nurusultan Nazarbayev revealed the kind of thinking that SCO harbors towards a post-2014 Afghanistan by saying it is possible that SCO will take the responsibility of many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014.The urgency of and the truth in this stated position of the SCO member countries cannot be overstated since the extremist militant groups such as the Taliban are ready to fill the vacuum in post-2014 Afghanistan if the western countries decide to disengage from Afghanistan in any significant scale. In sum, President Karzai and the government of Afghanistan's willingness to pursue beneficial partnerships with the SCO is welcome.
Afghanistan, in addition to its allies in the West, also needs strong partners from the East since these countries' contribution and assistance toAfghanistan especially post-2014 will be critical to safeguarding the gains Afghanistan has made in recent years and also further building upon the achievements.