Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Asia has become an urgent issue for the country, in the face of expected moves by Saudi Arabia in this organization, and the irony is that the Taliban may help Tehran achieve the goal of joining, which has faltered for years.
The Taliban’s control of Afghanistan may help Iran reduce its international, especially regional, isolation. Or at least this is what the Islamic Republic wishes for when the leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meet in Tajikistan on September 17, when the issue of Iran’s accession will be on their agenda.
If approved, the Iranian request would constitute a diplomatic coup for Tehran and Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, according to a report by the US Responsible Statecraft website.
Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Organization is not easy. The decision to accept a new member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is led by China and includes Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is taken unanimously.
Unlike its Gulf rivals, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Iran has long enjoyed observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt are said to be making rapprochement steps with the organization.
Raisi, a supporter of rapprochement with China and Russia, is expected to appear for the first time on the international stage at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, since taking office last month.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an international Eurasian political, economic and security organization, whose activity is focused on the Central Asian region. It was founded on June 15, 2001 in Shanghai, by the leaders of six countries; They are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
The objectives of the organization revolve around strengthening the policies of mutual trust and good-neighbourliness among member states, combating terrorism, strengthening security, combating crime and drug trafficking, confronting separatist movements and religious or ethnic extremism, cooperating in the political, commercial, economic, scientific, technical and cultural fields, as well as transportation, education, energy, tourism, environmental protection, and providing peace. security and stability in the region.
India and Pakistan joined the organization as full members on 9 June 2017 at the Astana Summit.
Why has Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Organization become an urgent issue for it? Search for Saudi Arabia
Iranian officials hope, perhaps overly optimistically, that SCO membership will help them deal with the impact of harsh US sanctions. Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser on international affairs to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, advised Raisi’s government to head east toward China, Russia and India, stressing that these countries could “help advance our economy.”
It is not clear whether this membership will significantly reduce Iran’s international isolation or improve its current relations with other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
But what membership will do is give Iran an effective veto if Saudi Arabia and the UAE seek more formal relations with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as US support for their security wanes. It is expected that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will grant Saudi Arabia and Egypt the status of dialogue partner at its summit in Dushanbe.
Why did China and Russia refrain from accepting Tehran’s full membership?
China and Russia have been reluctant in the past to accept full Iranian membership; Because they did not want to spoil their delicately balanced relations with Iran and its opponents. Policy makers in Moscow and Beijing, in the aftermath of Afghanistan, may argue that the two-year application process will give them time to prevent this balance from being upset.
Tajikistan publicly promoted Iran’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in late May, in anticipation of a Taliban victory.
Zahedi Nizamuddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Iran, said at a press conference in Tehran, “Iran’s becoming a key member is one of the plans of the Shanghai Organization, and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, then Tajikistan will be ready as well.”
After that, Russian media reports supporting Nizamuddin’s statements followed. “There is general acceptance of this, there is no doubt,” said Bakhtior Khakimov, Russia’s ambassador-at-large for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Russian analyst Adlan Margoev pointed out that “the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a platform for discussing problems in the region. Iran is also a country in the region, and therefore it is important for us to cooperate together in discussing these problems and searching for solutions to them.”
Tajikistan supports its position
However, Tajik and Russian support for Iran’s membership raises puzzling questions about possible differences within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization regarding dealing with the Taliban. Iran and Tajikistan, unlike Russia and China, which have praised the Taliban’s behavior since the fall of Kabul, have adopted a more hardline and critical stance.
However, Russia recently carried out joint military exercises with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the Tajik-Afghan border. Russia also pledged to support Tajikistan by providing it with weapons and training.
It is believed that Tajikistan supports the Tajik rebels in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan, who last week lost their first round of fighting with the Taliban. It is not yet clear whether these rebels will be able to regroup. Tajiks represent about a quarter of Afghanistan’s population.
Tajikistan and Iran agreed in April to form a joint military defense committee to enhance security and counterterrorism cooperation.
..and Iran is upset by the exclusion of Shiites from the Taliban government
Iran recently changed its tone regarding Afghanistan after the Taliban refrained from including the Shiite Hazaras in the newly formed caretaker government.
Proponents of Iran’s membership may see that the problems in Afghanistan may likely have been resolved by the time Tehran begins application procedures and Afghanistan begins reconstruction. And that may be true. But the opposite may happen in Afghanistan torn by internal conflicts and unable to control the militants active in its territory.
In either case, the SCO might want to include Iran in its umbrella to ensure that all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, as well as the regional powers Russia and India, are seated at the same table. Analyst Margoev says that “just like other countries in the region, it is necessary to sit at the same table with Iran and not call it a guest from abroad.”