A summit in Bishkek of the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has focused on fostering economic development and regional security cooperation, especially regarding the situation in Afghanistan.
Leaders of Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan held the first part of the one-day summit on September 13 behind closed doors. The presidents of Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia -- as well as delegations from observer states India and Pakistan -- joined the gathering later.
Afghanistan's security situation after NATO's planned withdrawal by the end of 2014 was one of the major topics discussed at the gathering.
Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev expressed concerns regarding developments in Afghanistan, where he said the activities of terrorist and extremist groups had been on the rise.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his country had been on the front line of international efforts against terrorism for years. He said international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the Islamic Party of Turkestan had chosen Afghanistan for their activities.
Karzai expressed hope that the United States will continue to support Kabul's efforts against terrorism in the future.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon supported his Afghan counterpart, saying Afghanistan needed the SCO's assistance.
"We are confident that the brotherly people of Afghanistan, supported by the SCO member states, which are shouldering a great responsibility for the future developments [in Afghanistan], as well as the whole global community, will handle all future difficulties [of transition in 2014] and will show the world its determination to revive Afghanistan that the world knows as a country with rich history and unique culture," Rahmon said.
"We are obliged to support our neighbor both morally and materially in this crucial moment of its history."
Atambaev said at the summit that an international conference on security in Afghanistan would be held in Bishkek on October 10.
Russia Backs Iran, Syria
In other summit developments, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Iran had the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Putin said Tehran also had the right to enrich uranium and hailed what he called its "readiness" to disclose its nuclear program to international inspections.
Russia’s "Kommersant" daily newspaper reported that Putin was planning to offer to supply Iran with S-300 air-defense missile systems and to help build a second reactor at the Bushehr nuclear plant.
For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said Tehran fully supported international agreements on nonproliferation but that, "as any other member of the international community, Iran has the right to own and use nuclear technologies, including the enrichment of uranium."
Iranian President Hassan Rohani is scheduled for bilateral talks with the presidents of Russia, China, and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Chinese, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uzbek presidents expressed their support for Russia's position regarding a possible diplomatic solution of the crisis over a chemical-weapons attack in Syria, saying the situation there should be resolved without the interference of foreign military force.
Putin reiterated his stance on Syria, saying that any external involvement in the situation is possible only with the UN Security Council's approval.
He added that Syria's decision to join a global ban on chemical weapons must be welcomed.
Rohani supported Putin's statements regarding Syria, saying the crisis there can be only solved via talks between the government and opposition.
The SCO presidents signed a number of documents, including the so-called Bishkek Declaration. The declaration reiterates the SCO member states' cooperation and joint efforts against illegal drug trafficking, terrorism, extremism, and separatism.
The document also calls for a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria, joint measures to secure stability in Afghanistan, and further development of trade, transportation, and economic ties between member states.
The next summit of the SCO will be held next year in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, as Tajikistan takes over the rotating chairmanship of the group from Bishkek in 2014.
Karzai's agenda in Bishkek includes one-on-one meetings with the presidents of Russia, China, and Kyrgyzstan.
"Afghanistan's main goal is for President Karzai to participate in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He will deliver a speech to the conference that will definitely touch upon Afghan issues, too," explained Adila Raz, a spokeswoman for the Afghan leader.
Russian officials say Afghanistan’s security situation demands the SCO’s attention ahead of NATO’s planned withdrawal from the country by the end of 2014.
The Kremlin has noted a recent rise in terrorist attacks and violence by insurgents in Afghanistan, as well as the continued flow of illegal drugs out of the country.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov has expressed concerns about a potential surge of instability from Afghanistan into Central Asia after NATO’s withdrawal.
He says the Bishkek summit should focus on how the SCO can play a stabilizing role in Afghanistan after 2014 to prevent the country from disintegrating into chaos.
But Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the SCO should not look to take on a military role in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s representative at the Bishkek summit is Sartaj Aziz, the national security and foreign-affairs adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Aziz says Pakistan has already declared its policy of "no interference and no favorites" in Afghanistan after 2014.
The Pakistani delegation chief says Afghanistan would have a chance to build an Afghan-led reconciliation process if all countries in the region resist the temptation to fill the power vacuum left by NATO’s withdrawal.
In the economic sphere, SCO leaders were expected to continue a discussion that has been going on at SCO summits for years about the need for a regional development bank to finance major infrastructure projects.
Without a regional financial tool, development projects have instead relied on bilateral deals between SCO members -- such as a series of energy and transportation deals worth tens of billions of dollars that were negotiated by Xi and Central Asian leaders in the weeks ahead of the Bishkek summit.
Talks at the summit were also expected to focus on the potential expansion of the SCO. The organization has planned consultations on the administrative, technical, and legal rules needed to admit new members.
So far, applications for full membership have been officially submitted by Iran and Pakistan.