Withdrawal of a major part of the US, NATO members and ISAF forces in late 2014 from Afghanistan is among the significant developments followed by special consequences for Afghanistan, Central Asia and the peripheral regions including emerging New Extremism such as ISIL in these regions. This trend and its interaction and confrontation with Traditional Extremism like Taliban and Al-Qaida adds new dimensions to circumstances after 2014. In terms of mentality and ideology, the ISIL looks at Afghanistan and Central Asia as a part of "Historical Khorassan" in their mind. Scattered views suggest that ISIL claiming Islamic Caliphate, could not ignore Afghanistan or in other words the historical Khorassan in its ideological justification of its claimed caliphate. In this regard, the following points are noteworthy:
1. Combating Three Evil Forces of Terrorism, Extremism and Separatism was placed at the heart of goals and tasks of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the past two decades. In the same vein, presence of and activities rendered by emerging New Extremism in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus are a serious threat to the security and stability of Members, Observers and Dialogue Partners of the organization. Given the existence of all Three Evil Forces among the attributes of emerging extremist currents, and that the trend of the developments in Syria, Iraq and Libya vividly indicates that, adopting a multilateral, targeted and comprehensive approach by all the states member to the organization seems to be vital.
2. Following the launch of a Russian military attack in Syria, the possibility of return of some of these new extremists to the region for revenge and terrorist and suicidal operations especially against Russians as well as reactivating the crises in the areas like Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingush in the Caucasus and Forghaneh Valley as well as border lines in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus, is not far from guess. This trend is especially important in the context of power vacuum after 2014 combating with witch, requires vigilance, seriousness, planning and coordinated practical steps by the members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
3. After 2014, new extremist groups like ISIL have taken the same path toward drugs as the Taliban took in the past two decades. If the presence of ISIL is actually established in Helmand where 90 per cent of Afghan drugs is produced and sent to the world market as well as in Afghan states like Zabol, Farah and Nimruz, then one could say that the ISIL pays attention to financial profits driven from drug production, distribution and smuggling. In fact, "Afghan Narcotic Drugs" plays the same role for the ISIL as the "Iraqi Oil" does for financing, arms procurement and conscription across the world. This would lead the range of international drugs gang's activities to expand in Afghanistan and the neighborhood the consequences of which would include exacerbation of insecurity and instability throughout the whole region.
4. An important part of the extremist groups success in conscription especially from among the youth is the low level of and superficial knowledge with regard to real principles of Islam and their unawareness of the real nature of the said currents. Many youths in the Central Asia and the Caucasus absorbed by the ISIL and Al-Nusrah in recent years understand the real nature of these extremist groups and their paradise promises only when in the field in Iraq and Syria and when it is too late and regrettably, this would serve no purposes for most of them. Hence, keeping the society and especially its younger part aware through mass media, religious scholars and scientific and academic circles is very important. Fortunately, the main pivot of this conference is "The Role of Civil Society and Public Diplomacy in the SCO". The reality is that the civil society and public diplomacy of the member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) enjoy a significant decisive role in creating correct and realistic awareness among people and in particular, the youths of the region, of the nature and goals of extremist religious groups from one hand, and introducing the real nature of monotheist religions foundations especially Islam. Undoubtedly, collaboration among the member states and their mental integration could serve as a very effective backing for the organization to be strengthened and combat seriously in all directions against Three Evil Forces of Terrorism, Extremism and Separatism.
5. Unfortunately, there is no logical separation and distinction between extremist Islamic movements like the Taliban, Al-Qaida and the ISIL from one hand, and the modest traditional Islam practiced in some countries of the region on the other. Some actions like banning religious and Arabic names and especially Muhammad, and restricting Hajj volunteer numbers. As experienced, these acts would not only fail to curb extremism, but it also provide radical forces with some pretexts to absorb the parts put aside from the heart of the moderate and traditional forces as well as those who have grievances over blatant anti-religious policies adopted by some governments. Thus, correct and realistic fight with religious extremism requires more contemplation, precision, attention and prediction and here, Shanghai Cooperation Organization enjoys a decisive role and place in creating harmony among member states as well as in adopting deeper and more applicable strategies.
6. The emergence of new religious extremist currents with no relation and conformity with Islam, modification of geographical and political borders, separation of the regional countries, hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of refuges have put the region under critical and dangerous conditions. In these circumstances, all members, observers and Dialogue Partners of Shanghai Cooperation Organization are exposed to common serious threats resulted by these developments especially by the presence of traditional and new extremist and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is crucial to discuss these subjects and their instances at expert level within the framework of a Joint Working Group by academicians and scholars of research and study centers (think tanks) in member states in order to reach a comprehensive approaches and then, proposals offered by foreign ministries and economic, judicial, security and defense representatives are put together to reach a final conclusion and after adoption by the officials and leaders of Shanghai Cooperation Organization put them to practice as operational guidelines.
Vali Kaleji, an expert at Center for Strategic Research, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
This article first appeared at International Forum "On the Second Track: The Role of Civil Society and Public Diplomacy in the Further Development and Expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization", in the city of Sochi, Russia, on 20 April 2016.