The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is strengthening its ties with two countries aligned to the West, Turkey and Afghanistan. The foreign ministers of the SCO states met last week in Beijing, in advance of next month's summit there, and apparently one of the decisions made was to admit U.S.-occupied Afghanistan as an observer country, and NATO member Turkey as a dialogue partner.
The Voice of Russia quotes political analyst Stanislav Tarasov saying that the move with Turkey is a "real breakthrough":
"The situation around Turkey is unique. Turkey has been sticking to pro-Western policies. It has been trying to join the EU for ten years but it was in vain so now it has to develop a new scenario of drifting to the East, which implies changes in Turkey’s foreign policy."
That ignores certain moves Turkey has made to strengthen its cooperation with NATO, notably its decision to host NATO missile defense radar. That is certainly a bigger commitment than being a dialogue partner in the SCO. Still, it's an intriguing move, and expect Turkophobes in the West to use this against Ankara.
As for Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai just gave an interview to Russian media, and though the subject of the SCO didn't come up, Karzai framed Afghanistan's security in terms that include a lot of the countries in the SCO (either as members or observers):
“Security is an issue that is not related to us alone… Had it been an Afghan issue, the Americans would have never come here – as they didn’t before September 11 ,” Karzai said, speaking to journalists from RIA Novosti, the Rossiya24 and Russia Today television channels in Kabul.
“It’s a Pakistan issue, it’s a neighbors’ issue, it’s the Western attitude’s issue, it’s Russia’s issue, it’s China’s issue, it’s India’s issue as well. It’s an Iranian issue,” he said.
Currently Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are full members of the SCO; India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia are observers, and Belarus and Sri Lanka dialogue partners.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also made a push to accelerate full membership for India and Pakistan, saying that delaying a decision on their membership was "counterproductive." However, the absence of any mention of this issue in the Chinese media reports of the meeting suggest that Beijing isn't as enthusiastic.
Kazakhstan's foreign minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said that Astana supports Afghanistan and Turkey upgrading their involvement, but he, too, was silent on the issue of India and Pakistan.
As for what the SCO will actually be doing, Lavrov set out some of Russia's priorities for the group, which focused on security in Central Asia, especially on drug trafficking:
At the summit in Beijing the program of cooperation of SCO member states to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism for 2013-2015 will be approved. We propose to discuss the consolidation of forces and resources of member states to provide security in the SCO. Among the possible measures - conversion of RATS [Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure] in a one-stop center to counter new threats and challenges. Additional resources can be connected to the work of RATS observer states - India, Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, as well as dialogue partners of the SCO - Belarus and Sri Lanka.
Of key importance is the fight against drug trafficking. Successful implementation of the SCO anti-drug strategy for 2011-2016 calls for a decision on the establishment of an appropriate coordinating mechanism. As you know, discussed various options, including giving the RATS additional anti-drug functions, or create their own operating authority at the headquarters of the SCO and the capital of one of the Central Asian states. We are ready to discuss any option, but consider it necessary to decide as soon as possible.
(And Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi largely echoed the same priorities in his speech.)
Lavrov also recommended "strengthening the foreign policy coordination of SCO member states," and increasing economic cooperation, including a plan to facilitate road transportation between member states -- perhaps trying to preempt the U.S.'s New Silk Road? Anyway, looks like a fertile time for the SCO.