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China- and Russia-led Shanghai bloc eyes Afghan role

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China- and Russia-led Shanghai bloc eyes Afghan role

A bloc of Asian countries led by China and Russia is seeking a bigger role in Afghanistan ahead of Nato’s pullout.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, including the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, is meeting in Beijing.

It should be involved in Afghanistan’s “peaceful reconstruction”, said Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The six countries have been joined by leaders from Iran, Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been invited to the meeting as a guest and is due to be granted observer status. Iran, Mongolia, India and Pakistan are already observer members.

“We will intensify communication and coordination on key global and regional issues to safeguard common security and the development interests of member states,” Mr Hu said in comments published in state media on Wednesday.

The SCO group was formed in 2001 to curb extremism in the region and enhance border security. It was widely viewed as a countermeasure to curb the influence of Western alliances such as Nato.

The countries then began to develop co-ordinated measures to stabilise their economies and maintain growth in Eurasia through multilateral trade and co-operation.

The group is likely to discuss issues of stability and growth in Afghanistan as Nato forces prepare to pull out of the country by the end of 2014.

While it is unlikely to put forward specific plans, analysts say that economic cooperation is likely to lead the way for the bloc’s engagement of Afghanistan.

However, it is not looking to take on a military role in the country, said a Russian official.

“We are not talking about the Shanghai group assuming responsibility for security in Afghanistan,” Kirill Barsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the group said.

‘Mutual trust’

Nations attending the summit are also expected to further build bilateral ties.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is due to meet Mr Hu, as their countries are expected to sign an agreement for a ”strategic partnership”.

China could “play a very significant role in bringing Afghanistan and Pakistan together towards a cooperative environment in the war on terror and radicalism”, Mr Karzai said in Beijing.

Mr Putin will also meet his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, ahead of talks hosted by Russia to seek diplomatic solutions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

China and Russia had earlier reinforced their opposition to foreign intervention in Syria and urged support for UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.

Both countries have twice blocked UN resolutions critical of Damascus.

Beijing currently holds the UN Security Council’s rotating presidency, and Russia and China have long resisted pressure to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power amid ongoing unrest.

Beijing and Moscow also signed a series of political and trade agreements on Tuesday.

”China is Russia’s strategic partner. We enjoy mutually beneficial, mutually trusting, open cooperation in all fields,” Mr Putin told reporters.

Mr Putin had said ahead of the trip that he wanted to further boost booming bilateral trade, which reached $84bn (£55bn) last year.

Source: BBC News

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