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The clash between the United States and the Russian Federation on strategic nuclear weapons

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On October 20 last the US President, Donald J. Trump, stated that North America would withdraw from the INF Treaty on nuclear missile weapons, which means that Europe will be again the main base for the new intermediate and long-range weapon systems.

Obviously the European ruling class, both at national and EU levels, has not yet said a single word about this new configuration of the threats and defences on our territory.

President Trump referred specifically to the 1987 INF Treaty or, more precisely, to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 – a treaty that, in particular, banned the ground-launched nuclear missiles having a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometres.

The INF Treaty led to the complete elimination of almost 2,700 medium and short-range missiles, including 850 US ones and over 1,800 Soviet ones. As many may recall, it put an end to the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union just at the time when the latter deployed the new SS-20 missiles in Eastern Europe and, as a response, the former deployed its Cruise and Pershing missiles in the European NATO, in a phase characterized by a whirlwind of “pacifist” demonstrations.

The “Euromissile battle”, as it was defined in the extraordinary book La Bataille des Euromissiles by Michel Tatu, was the real beginning of the end of Cold War.

Nevertheless, it was a leader of the Milanese Communist Party, who was like one of the family in the Soviet Union, who personally informed the German Social Democrat Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, that the Soviet SS-20 missiles had an eminently offensive function.

If there had been only the Soviet SS-20 missiles aimed at European targets, not necessarily only military ones, the remote conditioning of our defence and economic policy would have been almost complete.

Hence the “Euromissile battle” was the real and last battle for the freedom of Europe which, before the Soviet missiles, had undergone almost twenty years of ideological conditioning, which had begun in 1968 and had been turned into a real low-intensity civil war, in Italy in particular.

In that case the pro-Soviet propaganda or, in principle, the “pacifist” propaganda had the last glimpse of life and, above all, huge support by Soviet Union and its various parallel propaganda organizations.

Those were the last days in which the old techniques of political propaganda still operated – between “the partisans of peace” and the Catholics of “dissent” – invented by the German Communist, Willi Muenzenberg, the “Stalin’s propaganda agent” and the organizer of many Communist communication battles.

However, let us revert to President Trump and the INF Treaty.

In fact, the US President states that Russia has actually infringed the INF Treaty rules, as it has developed a new type of medium-range missile.

However, as we will see at a later stage, faults are equally divided between the two contenders.

He refers to the 9M729 missile, in particular, also known asSSC-X-8.

It is a missile having a medium-long range – 3,000 nautical miles –  which is supposed to be the land version of the SS-N-30 missile.

The missile is equipped with a starting solid propellant, which fires after the launch. The control system and guidance of the cruise missile is inertial control system (autopilot) with Doppler sensors drift angle correction according to the Russian GLONASS and Western GPS satellite navigation systems.

If launched from the Siberian coast, this Russian missile could easily reach the Californian coast up to Los Angeles.

If launched from Moscow, however, it could cover the whole Western European area.

It is likely, however, that in a new treaty Russia wants to negotiate the elimination of the NATO ground-launched missiles in exchange for the abolition of its ones, thus excluding – from the negotiations for the reduction of strategic weapons – the newly developed long-range missiles and the hypersonic ones, of which we will speak later on.

The next race for new weapons will be focused there.

Over the last few days, however, both Trump and Putin have declared to be ready for dialogue, also with a future  informal meeting in Paris, as had been recently decided during the visit paid by President Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, to Moscow where he met President Putin.

On March 1, 2018, however, President Putin had stated Russia had already developed and making operational a new complete line of medium-long range strategic missiles, capable – above all – of quickly getting the North American and NATO missile defences out of play.

Putin mainly made reference to missiles, but also to underwater drones and other types of advanced weapons, all arms systems that the Russian Federation has developed since the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM)) signed with the USSR in 1972.

The American withdrawal, however, dates back to December 2001.

In his demonstration, Vladimir Putin showed two new weapon systems, the RS-28 Sarmat (NATO reporting code:  SS-X-30 Satan 2), which has an average range of 11,000 kilometres, and another innovative missile about which we will talk later on.

It should be recalled that the Satan 2 missile was designed in response to the deployment of the US GMD anti-ballistic missile systems and the subsequent launch of the US Defence program called Prompt Global Strike in 2009.

At least for the time being, the GMD is deployed in military bases in the States of Alaska and California and comprises 44 kinetic interceptors(40 in Alaska and 4 on the Western coast in the Los Angeles area) for intercepting incoming warheads in space, during the midcourse phase of ballistic trajectory flight. It spans 15 time zones with sensors on land, at sea and in orbit.

The GMD positions are supposed to reach 100 by the end of 2020.

The concept of US missile defence, however, is based on the maximum possible redundancy of signals and counteractions, at different altitudes, so as to permit a significant response, even after a severe nuclear missile attack.

The second strike is the basic concept of every ABM defence, both in the USA and in the rest of the world.

The radars for the interceptor networks are mainly located in Pearl Harbor, in relation to the inevitable routes of the Chinese ICBMs, but with the radars for early signaling also deployed in Alaska, Great Britain, Greenland, Qatar, Japan and Taiwan – while the data collected by both fixed networks and aircraft is processed in the Schriever airbase located in El Paso County, Colorado.

It should be noted that the current US system is mainly designed to counter missile attacks by States such as North Korea and Iran, while it is not specifically calibrated to respond to “well-established” strategic forces, such as Russia or China.

In fact, there is no missile shield capable of successfully countering a stratified threat that is put in place by a real nuclear State.

Incidentally, the yearly cost of the Missile Defense Agency for 2018 amounts to 7.9 billion dollars.

Conversely the Prompt Global Strike program is a system that can deliver a precision-guided conventional weapon airstrike anywhere in the world within one hour since the President’s order or since the detection of the threat. It is expected to become operational this year.

It has been calculated that this project can make the United States spare at least 30% of its nuclear weapons.

An additional implementation of the strategic redundancy criterion.

Russia, however, responded to this US project with one of the missiles mentioned by Vladimir Putin together with the Satan-2 missile, namely the S-500 Prometey, also known as the 55R6M Triumfator M.

The S-500 is designed to destroy both new generation long-range missiles and hypersonic cruise missiles and has a minimum range of 600 kilometres up to 3,500.

Hence it falls within the scope of the old INF Treaty.

It has a speed of 5 kilometres per second and it is supposed to be operational by the end of 2020.

It is by no mere coincidence that Putin delivered his speech shortly after the release of the Pentagon’s New Missile Doctrine, namely the Nuclear Posture Review, in which an attempt is made to make the new generation anti-missile defence policy line more comprehensive and up-to-date vis-à-vis Russia, China and, as usual, North Korea and Iran.

The logic underlying this Pentagon’s official document is simple: if the USA increases its nuclear war potential, the Russian Federation will automatically be deterred from planning a missile attack against the US territory.

Moreover, Putin also stated that new laser weapons are under construction and that a new hypersonic missile is also ready, namely the Kh-47M2 Khinzal (“Dagger”), an air-launched ballistic missile specific for the MiG31BM interceptors.

Russia has also the brand new RS-26 Avangard, a hypersonic missile equipped with Multiple Independent Targetable Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs).

In short, the two countries that signed the IFN Treaty have resumed the nuclear and ABM arms race.

It was a bad surprise for the United States to discover a technologically advanced and a doctrinally evolved Russia both in the Crimea operation and, particularly, in the actions to support Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army.

Hence the periphery is hit with remote control weapons to signal to the centre – be it Russia or the USA – the need to quickly give up that area, that technology, that specific economic, energy and technological presence.

This is the deep logic underlying conventional or nuclear missile systems.

Obviously this applies to both Russia and North America.

Furthermore, considering the Russian technological evolution, the USA plans to resume the arms race not only to weaken the growing Russian economy, but also to combine China’s and Russia’s ICBM threat with the other asymmetric and unpredictable missile threats of Iran and North Korea.

This means that the United States still wants the complete regionalization of the Russian Federation and its encirclement between the NATO-led Eastern Europe and the US-led Central Asia, to control both China’s and Russia’s borders.

The fewer conventional forces are, the greater the remote threats of advanced weapon systems must be – and this is also a common logic for both major players.

Sealing China into its own borders, which have always been insecure, means permanently stopping the Belt and Road Initiative and halting its economic, technological and financial development.

Hence nuclear missiles are the ideal power multiplier for a global attack and defence strategy.

What about China? What policy line does it have for its nuclear ABMs? Meanwhile, China always publicly reaffirms its three classic principles: no first use of the nuclear weapon; no use of the nuclear weapon against a non-nuclear country; maintenance of an arsenal only capable of minimum deterrence, just to ensure the possibility of a second effective nuclear response to an attack.

At statistical level, China is currently supposed to have approximately 280 nuclear warheads, to be used on 120-130 ground-launched ballistic missiles – 48 to be used on ships or submarines and the rest with air carriers.

Nevertheless, once again in response to the ABM and nuclear missile evolution of the United States in recent years, China has added many multiple warheads to its intercontinental ballistic missiles, especially the ground-based ones.

In this case, the “MIRVization” – i.e. the allocation of multiple weapons for each carrier – would also imply a new ability to penetrate the US missile lines, not only for defence purposes.

However, to what extent are missile defences really effective and to what extent is a conventional or nuclear ballistic attack system precise?

With specific reference to the United States, about half of the 18 tests carried out so far for intercepting an enemy missile have failed.

On the best possible assumption, the operational interception made by the ABM systems works only in 50% of cases.

The aforementioned GMD, which already costs 40 billion US dollars, has not yet been tested in sufficiently realistic conditions.

For example, if we consider an attack with five missiles and four interceptors for each target, considering that each interceptor works exactly in 50% of cases, the probability that a missile penetrates the defence network is 28%. Too much.

Every nuclear or conventional attack is such as to make the attacker win.

However, what would happen if there were – as it might be very likely – a concerted attack by various different missile systems, each with a different system of targets and defensive covers?

Hence the danger of a saturation of the US defence systems is extremely high.

They would be grappling with different types of attack, different technologies and different logics for selecting targets.

Every enemy’s successful nuclear attack can be the one determining the final victory. With this particular strategy, the attacker has almost always the victory in his bag.

However, reverting to the end of the INF Treaty, now decided by the United States, it should be noted that, according to the US State Department, as early as 2014 Russia has repeatedly infringed the Treaty.

In December 2017, the US intelligence services identified the Russian short-range 9M729 missile which, however, precisely follows the INF rules.

Nevertheless, the Unites States maintains it violates the Treaty anyway.

It is the United States, however, that has clearly infringed the INF Treaty with its Mark 41 Vertical Launch System and with the manufacturing of drones which are, in effect, cruise missiles in disguise.

Moreover, in recent years China, in particular, has developed many new-design missiles that operate precisely within the range explicitly prohibited by the INF Treaty, namely between 500 and 5,000 kilometres.

It should be recalled that China has never signed the INF Treaty.

Although being often urged to join the INF Treaty, China has always refused to sign it.

Hence, while Russia is modernizing its conventional and nuclear missiles, this implies a clear doctrinal, strategic and technological cooperation with China.

However, if there were a simultaneous attack from China and the Russian Federation, it would be unlikely that the North American ABM networks could protect the whole US territory.

Not to mention Europe, which currently deals only with currencies, without having clear in mind – even in this case -what the real issue at stake is.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Developments on Korean Peninsula risk accelerating regional arms race

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A week full of missile tests; this is the current environment on the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea fired two rounds of ballistic missiles into the East Sea while South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) just a few hours later. Wednesday’s tests follow a week of rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the consequences of which can be felt beyond the two Koreas.

North Korea ramps up tensions

According to North Korean state-run media reports, the reclusive state carried out a series of successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend while referring to the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance”. Calling the weapon ‘strategic’ may imply a nuclear-capable system. Although North Korea is banned from using ballistic technologies due to U.N. Security Council resolutions, these same rules do not apply to cruise missiles.

Despite the tests, Washington maintained its position to resume dialogue with the North and “to work cooperatively with the DPRK to address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearization,” US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said on Tuesday. Still, the US Indo-Pacific Command did acknowledge the cruise missile launches and said the tests highlight the “DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.”

China reacted to the test by calling for restraint by all relevant parties and for a ‘dual track’ approach to be followed involving “phased and synchronized actions to continuously advance the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”

North Korea then upped tensions further by conducting yet another missile launch on Wednesday. This test marked the first time the DPRK launched a missile off a train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which they referred to as the “Railway Mobile Missile Regiment”. According to Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, the missiles were believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The location of the landings don’t seem to be a coincidence as earlier that day North Korean state media had criticized Japan’s newly unveiled defense budget, referring to the country as a “war criminal state”.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly condemned the latest tests, calling North Korea’s behavior “outrageous” and a “threat” to “the peace and security of our country and the region”. The US State Department also called the tests “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” while emphasizing the Biden administration’s commitment to trilateral diplomacy and cooperation with Japan and South Korea.

What’s more, North Korea appears to have resumed activities at its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to a report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month. The report stated that “The DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern” while adding that “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”

In July, North Korea warned of a “major security crisis” in protest against the combined summertime military exercise between South Korea and the United States. This increase in rapid missile testing seems to be the result of North Korea’s dissatisfaction with both Seoul and Washington’s actions over the last few months.

South Korea joins in on the missile testing

Although the international community is used to hearing about North Korean missile tests over the years, what is much less common is to hear about a missile test conducted by the South. Hours after the North fired its missiles, South Korea tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

North Korea’s Kim Yo Jong—the sister of leader Kim Jong Un— was quick to respond to the tests the same day, warning of the “complete destruction of inter-Korean ties” and criticized Seoul’s “illogical, antiquated and foolish attitude”, according to North Korean state media.

Through the test, South Korea became the first country without nuclear weapons to launch an SLBM. Besides the SLBM, South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that the ROK military had also developed other new missiles, including a supersonic cruise missile to be deployed in the near future, and a new ballistic missile that has “overwhelming counterattack capability” by firing a larger warhead. Indeed, South Korea’s arms industry has grown exponentially over the last two deacades and continuous to expand rapidly. According to he SIPRI arms transfer database, South Korea rose from the 31st ranked arms exporting country in 2000 to number six in 2020.

Besides South Korea, Japan is also beefing up its military capabilities. Last month, Japan’s Defense Ministry sought a record $50 billion annual budget that would entail the largest percentage jump in spending in eight years. China was quick to criticize the move, accusing Japan of “trying to find excuses to justify their decision to increase military spending,” On the other hand, Japan blames China for “unilaterally changing the regional status quo,” affecting “the security of the Taiwan Straits, but also Japan’s security.”

The missile tests conducted by both Koreas this week further exacerbates the security situation in the region, negatively impacting far beyond the peninsula alone. The recent developments also don’t bode well for improving inter-Korean relations or US-DPRK ties. Diplomatic negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated ever since the 2019 Hanoi Summit fell apart. So far, Biden has only verbally expressed interest in resuming talks, but is unlikely to do so unless North Korea makes concrete commitments to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Inter-Korean relations are also unlikely to improve in the near future, given the time constraints. South Korea’s President Moon has roughly six months left in office, and it is unlikely significant diplomatic progress can be made in this timeframe.

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HTS enters Turkey’s plot against the Kurds

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Ever since Turkey entered the 2017 Astana agreement with Russia and Iran Ankara has been relentless in its efforts to sell the international community the idea of absolute necessity of Turkish military presence in North-East Syria to support the moderate opposition and deter the Assad government.

The Astana meetings that followed the initial agreement indeed resulted in making Turkey responsible for the state of the Syrian opposition in Idlib and Aleppo provinces but – and there is always a but when it comes to the decade-long Syrian conflict – Ankara’s mission was never defined as ‘support’ of the opposition. Instead, Turkey volunteered to perform an arduous task of separating moderate Syrian armed groups from those who were considered radical and posed a potential security threat on both regional and global levels. This process, dubbed ‘delimitation of the Syrian opposition,’ is hardly any closer to completion now than before raising the question of the extent of Ankara’s ability – and intention – to fulfill its pledge.

Shared goals

Turkey’s insistence on supporting the moderate opposition conveniently combines with the recent attempts of Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) which is de-facto dominant power in the Idlib de-escalation zone, to recast the image of the group. Although HTS is considered a terrorist organization by the UN and a number of global powers al-Joulani made a number of high-profile media appearances to promote the group’s vision of the future of Syria and confirm that its ambitions are confined to national scale only.

Talking to the Turkish version of The Independent al-Joulani spoke against any foreign military presence in Syria, making no special mention of the Turkish army. Meanwhile in Idlib, a position of the Turkish military located next to those of HTS is a common, even natural occurrence. This co-existence of regular armed forces and radical terrorists is not affected neither by hard evidence of HTS involvement in committing war crimes, nor even by the fact that HTS is listed as a terror group by Turkey’s authorities.

Shared enemies

In his interview to The Independent al-Joulani has also touched upon the position of the Syrian Kurds, another key axis of Turkey’s policy in Syria. Commenting on the current developments in Afghanistan the HTS leader suggested that the aftermath of the US surprise withdrawal from Kabul will also have an impact on the Kurds or, as he put it ‘the US-backed enemies of the Syrian revolution.’ He also accused the Kurds of conducting attacks in living quarters in the areas of the “Olive Branch” and “Euphrates Shield” operations carried out by the Turkish military in Northern Syria.

HTS has never been in direct confrontation with the Kurds. However, al-Joulani’s words highlighted his open hostility towards the Kurdish administration, that, as the HTS leader purports, is only able to control a huge swath of Syria and maintain relative stability thanks to the US support. This Kurdish dream will crumble as soon as the last US plane takes off from the Syrian soil, according to al-Joulani.

Does this opinion reflects Turkey’s intention to put an end to the ‘Kurdish threat’ should the US withdraw from Syria? The events in the Afghanistan provide enough evidence to conclude that it’s entirely possible. Indeed, such concerns have been expressed in a number of articles authored by both local and international analysts.

The bottom line

Turkey’s regional policies and HTS leader’s statements confirm that Ankara seeks to transform HTS into a bully of sorts. The group’s primary task would be to exercise pressure on other armed units to facilitate the delimitation process orchestrated by the Turkish authorities. As the US grip over the region gradually loosens and HTS control over Syria’s north-west tightens thanks to its efforts to achieve international recognition with the tacit support of Turkey, the Kurds are facing an uncertain future. Moreover, close coordination between Turkey and HTS harbors negative consequences not only for the Kurds but rather for all of Syria.

To prevent this, the international community must intervene and deny HTS the opportunity to position itself as a part of the moderate opposition and gain the right to establish legitimate administrative bodies. Otherwise Syria will face law-twisting terrorists running their own statelet with all the support that Turkey is able to provide as a prominent regional power.

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To include or not include? China-led SCO weighs Iranian membership

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The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan may help Iran reduce its international isolation. At least, that’s what the Islamic Republic hopes when leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) gather in Tajikistan next weekend.

Members are admitted to the eight-member China-led SCO that also groups Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, by unanimous consensus. Iran, unlike its rivals in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has long had observer status with the SCO.

The Gulf states have so far kept their distance to the China-dominated regional alliance created to counter the ‘evils’  of ‘terrorism, separatism, and extremism” so as not to irritate their main security ally, the United States.

Acceptance of the Iranian application would constitute a diplomatic coup for Tehran and Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi. Mr. Raisi, a proponent of closer relations with China and Russia, is expected to make his first appearance on the international stage at the SCO summit in Dushanbe since having assumed office last month.

Iranian officials hope, perhaps over-optimistically, that SCO membership would help them counter the impact of harsh US sanctions. Ali Akbar Velayati, an international affairs advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has advised the Raisi government to look East towards China, Russia and India asserting that they could “help our economy to make progress.”

Similarly, it is not clear that membership would substantially reduce Iran’s international isolation or significantly improve its existing relations with other SCO members. What membership would do is effectively give Iran a veto should Saudi Arabia and the UAE choose to seek more formal relations with the SCO in response to a reduced US commitment to their security. The SCO is expected to grant Saudi Arabia and Egypt the status of dialogue partner at its Dushanbe summit.

Gulf confidence in the reliability of the United States as a security guarantor has been rattled by the chaotic US departure from Afghanistan as well as the recent removal of the most advanced US missile defence weapon, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia  as Yemeni Houthi rebels were successfully hitting targets in the kingdom.

China and Russia have in the past been reluctant to entertain full Iranian membership because they did not want to upset their delicately balanced relations with both Iran and its detractors. Policymakers, in the wake of Afghanistan, may figure that the two-year application process will give them time to prevent upsetting the apple cart.

To be sure, Tajikistan, in anticipation of a Taliban victory, first publicly promoted Iranian SCO membership in late May.

Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador to Iran, told a news conference in Tehran “that Iran to become a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready.” Tajikistan opposed Iranian membership in the past, accusing Iran of supporting Islamist rebels in the country.

Mr. Nizomiddin’s comments have since been supported by reports in Russian media. “There is a general disposition for this, there is no doubt about it,” said Bakhtiyor Khakimov, Russia’s ambassador at large for SCO affairs.

Russian analyst Adlan Margoev noted that “the SCO is a platform for discussing regional problems. Iran is also a state in the region, for which it is important to discuss these problems and seek solutions together.”

The Tajik and Russian backing of Iranian membership raises tantalizing questions about potential differences within the SCO towards dealing with the Taliban. Iran and Tajikistan, in contrast to Russia and China that have praised the Taliban’s conduct since the fall of Kabul, have adopted a harder, more critical attitude.

Nonetheless, Russia has in recent weeks held joint military drills with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan near the Tajik-Afghan border. Russia further promised to bolster Tajikistan by supplying weapons and providing training.

Tajikistan is believed to support Tajik rebels in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan that last week lost a potentially initial first round of fighting against the Taliban. It remains unclear whether the rebels will be able to regroup. Tajiks account for approximately one-quarter of the Afghan population. As the

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon recently awarded posthumously Tajikistan’s third-highest award to two ethnic Afghan Tajiks, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary father of current Tajik rebel leader Ahmad Massoud, and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, for their contribution to ending a devastating civil war in the 1990s in the Central Asian country.

Tajikistan and Iran agreed in April to create a joint military defence committee that would enhance security cooperation and counter-terrorism collaboration.

Iran recently changed its tone regarding Afghanistan after the Taliban failed to include a Hazara Shiite in their newly appointed caretaker government. Hazaras, who account for 20 per cent of the Afghan population, have reason to fear Taliban repression despite the group’s protection last month of Shiite celebrations of Ashura, the commemoration of the Prophet Moses’ parting of the sea.

Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, took the Taliban to task for  “ignoring the need for inclusive government, foreign intervention and the use of military means instead of dialogue to meet the demands of ethnic groups and social groups that are the main concerns of the friends of the Afghan people.” Mr. Shamkhani was referring to alleged Pakistani support for the Taliban in the battle for Panjshir.

Supporters of Iranian membership may figure that affairs in Afghanistan will have been sorted out by the time the application procedure has run its course with Afghanistan well on its way towards reconstruction. That may prove to be correct. By the same token, however, so could the opposite with an Afghanistan that is wracked by internal conflict and incapable of controlling militants operating from its soil.

The SCO may in either case want Iran to be in its tent to ensure that all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, as well as regional powers Russia and India, are seated at one table. Mr Margoev, the analyst, argued that “just like other countries in the region – (we should) sit at the same table with Iran and not call it a guest from outside.”

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