On the 3rd of august 2016, a new important alliance was formed in Asia – the Quadrilateral Cooperation And Coordination Mechanism – between China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in order to combat terrorism.
The inauguration meeting took place in Urumqi, the capital of the autonomous Chinese region Xinjiang, an event which brought together high-ranking military representatives from all the four states. The present officials unanimously agreed that terrorism and extremism represent a serious threat to the regional stability and expressed their mutual appreciation for all the progresses made up to that point, as well as their wish for an improved cooperation in the future. Thus, the representatives decided to set-up a new mechanism which would serve the involved states as a means of cooperating in the following fields: „counter terrorism, situation evaluation, clue verification, intelligence sharing, counter terrorism capacity building, counter terrorism joint training exercises and personnel training”. It was also established that all its decisions would be taken based on mutual consultation and consensus and that the new regional alliance is not aimed at any specific state or international organization.
The parties have decided that QCCM should adhere to the UN principles, as well as to other universally recognized international norms, especially those dealing with „maintaining peace and security, safe guarding independence and equality with mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs”.
All of the parties involved have a direct interest in eradicating terrorism which represents a serious threat to their national security, this being the foundation for public order and economic progress. Among the reasons behind this initiative are: China’s concerns regarding the terrorist activities in Xinjiang province, which are believed to be backed up by such groups from the region, as well as drug trafficking or the spread of extremist ideologies; the conflicts between the Afghan authorities and the Taliban insurgents, but also Al – Qaeda and IS; the terrorist movements in Pakistan of Tehrik-e-Talibandin Pakistan (TTP) and those sponsored by other states; Tajikistan’s confrontation with The Islamic Movement of Tajikistan (IMT) – a branch of the Islamic Movement of Central Asia (IMCA), whose leader is in charge also of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and who operates from Afghanistan (the terrorist group has ties with Al – Qaeda and has recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic States).
Another fundamental factor for China’s interest in cooperating with its neighbours in this matter is the fact that Xinjiang residents who want independence or who wish to go abroad in order to join ISIS on the battlefield chose the China – Tajikistan – Afganistan or even Pakistan route to reach the training facilities in Western Asia.
China is the new cooperation instrument’s initiator, but an important part in its development was also played by Pakistan (official discussions with Tajikistan and Afghanistan). China wishes to replace the USA in Afghanistan’s reconciliation politics due to the fact that its influence in that region tends to drop since Osama bin Laden’s assassination, but also because of the military forces’ withdrawal from the afghan territory.
Furhtermore, China’s regard for Central Asia’s security situation is caused by the consequences which instability in this region could have on its economic objectives. China aims to protect its long-term economic interest, such as the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) or the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an investment worth arround 62 billion dollars through which China wants to connect its Xinjiang province with the Gwadar port in Pakistan.
Beijing is actively taking part in strengthening relations with states from Central Asia and in stabilizing the regional security situation. Thus, China is makig massive investments in developping Afghan infrastructures and constantly tries to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Russia on the other hand is not very keen on China’s expansionist endeavours. Initially, some analysts criticized this initiative and called it a ”Central Asia NATO” claiming that it represents a bold move from China in order to play a part in this region’s security without involving Russia. Later on, these accusations were contradicted by Russian media and up until now no more such opinions have been expressed by Russia. On the other side, USA agrees with the new cooperation mechanism of the four states affected by terrorism and do not think of it as being counterproductive in any way.
The cooperation between these states is of great interest for every one of them, although Afghanistan’s relation with Pakistan consists in a weak link of the QCCM. However, the new alliance has the chance to contribute to the improvement of their relation.
Returning to China, Beijing is taking an active role in Afghanistan’s situation through a number of political instruments, one the most relevant ones being the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – a regional organisation which was created with a great consideration for tackling Afghanistan’s security threats, but which apparently did not obtain the seeked results.
China’s reasons behind developing the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism briefly described above can be better understood if the new organisation is presented in a context – next to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the SCO, organisations which should have contributed to stabilizing the security situation in the region and which, in their essence, share some of the QCCM’s goals.
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)
The CSTO is an intergovernmental military alliance founded in 1992 by Russia together with other five former soviet states form the Commonwealth of Independent States (Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan). Currently, the organisation has the following active members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, with Afghanistan and Serbia as observers.
CSTO’s charter stipulates its objectives as being: peace consolidation, international and regional security, collective protection of independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of its member states. CSTO’s essence comes down to the participating states’ wish to abstain from utilizing force or any such threats. Also, its members can’t be part of any other millitary alliance or simillar groups and any attack directed twards one of its member states will be perceived as an attack on all.
Although it discouraged many revolutions or anticipated conflicts in Central Asia, CSTO’s results have not been very appreciated. Some analysts go even further by labeling CSTO as a symbolic organisation or Russia’s effort of becoming the leader of a military block, such as NATO.
CSTO, according to Russia’s hopes, should have become a Russian NATO, but this didn’t come to be, as its efficiency is greatly affected by the divergence between its member states.
Even though the central role in the organization is taken by Russia, the other countries are not sharing its military interests and neither do they openly uphold them, so as not to draw unwanted consequences at an international level. Still, they take advantage of their membership in order to receive Russian military equipment and free professional training of their own military personnel. So far, these have accounted for some of the few advantages that they have enjoyed as a result of their part in the CSTO.
Since its creation and up until now, the CSTO didn’t obtain the desired results – its antiterrorist capabilities are weak, its budged small – the equivalent of 4.5 million dollars (95% of which come from the Russian side – and its military activities consist mainly in military exercises. Moreover, its operations for combating drug trafficking or illegal migration are inefficient due to the wide publicity they attract.
Regarding China’s interests, Russia is using the CSTO as a tool to hinder its military and politic expansion. The CSTO doesn’t enjoy too much trust from Beijing’s point of view, which prefers bilateral communications with Central Asian countries, or through SCO.
As a result of Russia’s recent actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, NATO is not willing to cooperate with CSTO.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
The SCO is an intergovernmental international organization whose creation was announced in 2001 in Shanghai (China), but which became functional in 2003, when its charter entered into force. Its composed of eight member states (India, Kazahstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), four observer states (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia), as well as six dialogue partners (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka).
Initially, it was organized as a forum for consolidating trust and demilitarizing borders, but its objectives have extended and have come to include fields such as: “strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order”.
Unfortunately, SCO is financially and politically weakened and its underfinanced organisms heavily depend on the member states’ governments in order to make decisions. Furthermore, their interests and eventual disagreements between them greatly impact the organization’s cohesion and efficiency. Exactly because of this, adopting a unitary stance regarding tackled issues is a difficult task for the SCO. Also, as an indicator of its efficiency and internal appreciation, it must be mentioned that SCO members prefer solving security issues on a bilateral level.
Although the security in Afghanistan represents a priority for the CSO, the organization doesn’t have much to say in this matter, but some of its members have signed bilateral agreements with the state. As for this, China plays the biggest part, seeking to protect its economic interests and projects, but also to provide security for its Xinjiang province.
CSO’s main actors are China and Russia, but the two states are not always on the same page when it comes to cooperating. Russia, due to its disapproval of Beijing’s influence expansion in its zones of interests, is constantly trying to overshadow or impede its ambitions. In the past Russia blocked some of Beijing’s efforts of promoting economic initiatives inside the CSO, as a result China being forced to resort to bilateral approaches. This is a situation which seems unlikely to change very soon.
Therefore, on a first glance, among the most obvious differences between QCCM, CSTO and SCO are: Afghanistan’s direct involvement as a member state; its limited and strictly specified objectives – fighting terrorism; China’s central role as the initiator of the mechanism’s creation, while maintaining principles such as mutual consultation and consensus in taking decisions (unlike CSTO).
In the past, China’s role in Afghanistan was more reserved, but lately it has become more and more pronounced (from promoting dialogue between the Taliban and the government to creating the QCCM). Apparently, China didn’t think that it would be able to accomplish its goals by colaborating with the CSTO or through SCO, mostly due to the competing interests of the involved states (especially Russia), which complicates the adoption of unitary policies. Russia does not seem willing to make any significant sacrifices in order to assure the well being of the smaller countries in the region and its political approaches suggest that it only wishes to expand its influence in Central Asia, to strenghten its image as a superpower and to create as many dependance relations in the region with it being in the middle.
Beijing has learned its lesson, probably mostly through CSO’s activity. Therefore, in order to simplify finding a solution to a well determined issue, regarding terrorist activities, China considered that the best decision would be to found a new small organisation with the neighbouring countries, directly involved in its security and strategic objectives, without Russia’s engagement. For that matter, the smaller the mechanism’s size, the easier it will be to obtain the participating states’ cohesion and cooperation. In the end, it’s very likely that the Chinese state did not want Russia in the QCCM as not do deform or hinder its activity and in order to not provide Moscow with other means of gaining leverage in the region.