For India's foreign policy radicals, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, whose leaders are meeting this week in Beijing, is about an undying dream from the past — building an eastern bloc against the West.

But the SCO, as an eastern collective, is unlikely to measure up to the security challenges that confront it amidst the Western military retreat from Afghanistan.

Last month in Chicago, the US and its NATO allies announced an "irreversible" plan to end Western combat role in Afghanistan by 2013 and withdraw all but a few thousand troops from there by the end of 2014.

The US and NATO have indeed offered financial support to the maintenance of a large Afghan armed force and continue to assist its economic development. No one, though, is betting all those promises will be kept.

With America packing its bags in Afghanistan, shouldn't the SCO move in? Most players in the region with interest and influence in Afghanistan are all in the SCO.

Russia's involvement in Afghanistan is more than a century old. China, as the world's second largest economy and a giant neighbour, is central to Afghanistan's growth and

future prosperity.

Although Afghanistan is not a member of the SCO, it has been a special invitee to the recent leadership summits and might be inducted as an "observer" this time.

Two SCO members — Uzbekistan and Tajikistan — share long land borders with Afghanistan. Turkmenistan, the third Central Asian nation on the northern frontiers of Afghanistan is not a member of the SCO. China is making amends by inviting it as a special guest for this week's summit in Beijing.

Iran, Pakistan and India — three other neighbours of Afghanistan are all observers at the SCO. Turkey, the rising power in the Middle East, has long taken an interest in Afghanistan and wants to become a "dialogue partner".

... contd.

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