13 June 2012by Menekse Tokyay, SES Turkiye
Turkey's inclusion as a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation should contribute to the fight against terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.
Turkey was accepted as a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) following its annual summit last week, expanding its co-operation with regional states to tackle common problems in Central Asia.
This year's summit in Beijing, held June 6th and 7th, focused on Central Asian security threats related to terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking ahead of the expected withdrawal of NATO-led international security forces in Afghanistan by 2014. Afghanistan was also accepted as an observer.
Since its establishment in 2001 by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has worked to expand economic, political and military co-operation among states in the region. It is viewed by analysts as a nacient, but growing, bloc to preserve Russian and Chinese influence in post-Soviet Central Asia vis-à-vis the West.
Turkey shares common concerns with SCO members over extremism, drug trafficking and terrorism and has provided financial assistance and military training to Central Asian states.
In Afghanistan, Turkey has been active in NATO peacemaking operations. It vowed to maintain its economic, political and military relationship with the country once NATO withdraws. Turkey is now the only NATO member with a place within the SCO.
According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, 90% of the global supply of heroin comes from Afghanistan, from where it is trafficked to Europe through Turkey and the Balkans, to Central Asia and Russia, and increasingly China.
The drug trade is a major source of income for terrorist groups in Afghanistan and weakens state and social institutions in Central Asia through corruption, organised crime, and drug addiction.
"These countries have some concerns about the possible rise of international terror, drug and human trafficking with immediate spill-over in their own territories, if certain measures are not set effectively by the international community," Selcuk Colakoglu, an international security expert at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organisation, told SES Türkiye.
"By integrating Turkey in their regional organisation, they wanted to provide the country with an opportunity to discuss such issues through political dialogue," Colakoglu added.
Turkey has played an active economic and political role in post-Soviet Central Asia with combined trade and investment of $11 billion in 2010. It has a $30 billion stake in contracting projects carried out by nearly 2,000 companies.
According to Bahadir Pehlivanturk, a China specialist from Ankara-based TOBB University, Turkey's proactive and multi-dimensional foreign policy was an important determinant in the decision to admit the country as a dialogue partner.
"Turkey is not interested only in its near neighbourhood or the Middle East, but also in establishing co-operative bonds with the distant geographies through such regional platforms," Pehlivanturk explained.
In many ways the SCO is still a work in progress, as the organisation seeks to outline its policies and increase areas of co-operation.
Joshua Walker, a transatlantic fellow from the German Marshall Fund, told SES Türkiye that the dialogue partnership might not be significantly appreciated now but could be more consequential in the future.
"As a dialogue partner, Turkey is present for the strategic decisions that will enhance Ankara's co-operation on areas of convergence such as [anti] drug trafficking and counter-terrorism activity," Walker said.
Meanwhile, Turkey's partnership with the SCO will further add to its emerging regional portfolio and solidify its role in Central Asia that it has been steadily trying to build since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Turkey joins Belarus and Sri Lanka as dialogue partners, while Afghanistan joins India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia as observer countries.