What’s Happened to the SCO?


The current crisis in Kyrgyzstan is one of the most acute in the history of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which was founded in 2001 following years of less formal diplomatic interactions among the heads of China and its neighbouring former Soviet republics.

Kyrgyzstan’s membership in the SCO, along with China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, made the institution a possible player in the Kyrgyz crisis. Yet, the SCO had only a bit part in the Kyrgyz drama, allowing other actors to steal the show. Even so, it would be incorrect to presume that the SCO might not assume a more prominent role in another crisis in a member state under different circumstances.

Following years of discontent and months of growing public protests in the Kyrgyz Republic, in early April opposition forces seized control of key government buildings in the capital of Bishkek. At least 83 people died and more than 1500 were wounded in the uprising, primarily due to the decision of the security forces to try to repress the protests with force. President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who came to power following a similar but less violent popular uprising in March 2005, known popularly as the ‘Tulip revolution,’ fled the capital and returned to his power base in Jalalabad, in southern Kyrgyzstan.

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Thanks to the mediation efforts of various foreign governments and international organisations—especially those of neighbouring Kazakhstan, which fortuitously held the status as the Chair-in-Office in 2010 of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe—Bakiyev left the country voluntarily on a Kazakh plane on April 15. Even so, Bakiyev’s supporters in the south have continued to seek his reinstatement. In mid-May, they clashed with Uzbek militia based there who sought to prevent his return to power.

Meanwhile, the opposition-led provisional government that has gained control in Bishkek has announced that it will hold a referendum on a new constitution, which would rebalance political power from the presidency to the parliament, followed by national elections within six months. The future domestic and foreign policies of the faction-ridden interim government remain unclear, with the different government leaders making various and sometimes conflicting remarks. Disagreements persist over such important issues as the degree of state control of the economy, how to reduce longstanding tensions between the northern and southern parts of Kyrgyzstan and what should be the main directions of the country’s foreign policies. The Kyrgyz economic situation remains dire. The country lacks the oil, gas and other natural resources of some of its better-endowed neighbours, while the leadership of the provisional government remains in flux, with even key posts frequently changing hands.

Shortly after widespread government protests broke out in Bishkek and other cities in Kyrgyzstan, SCO Secretary General Muratbek Imanaliyev issued a statement expressing the organisation’s ‘concern over the recent events in the Kyrgyz Republic which have caused human casualties, and conveying sincere condolences to the families and friends who have lost their loved ones.’ The statement added that, ‘Peace, security and political stability in the Kyrgyz Republic, that is a member state of the SCO and a close neighbour to other SCO states, is of overriding importance for the whole region.’

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