Meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, July 5, the regional grouping known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) issued a statement that called on the US to establish a timetable for withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central Asia. Led by Russia and China, the grouping also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The statement reads: “We support and will support the international coalition, which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilise the situation.” But this is immediately followed by lines which explicitly challenge Washington: “As the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition’s members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents’ presence in those countries.”
In the aftermath of 9-11, the US established a military presence in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as using air bases in Pakistan for its operations against the Taliban. The US still maintains a huge air base at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, with as many as 1,200 military personnel. When Manas is fully completed, it will be able to accommodate upwards of 3,000 troops. In addition, the US continues to use the Karshi-Khanabad airfield in Uzbekistan, though it has not convinced the Islam Karimov regime to allow a long-term arrangement of the kind it has in Kyrgyzstan.
The reference to coalition forces was apparently made largely at the instance of Russia. China is said to have backed the Russian proposal enthusiastically, as did Uzbekistan. (The Hindu, July 7)