- Mr Mezentsev, how likely are India and Pakistan to receive full SCO membership within the next few years?
- You may recall that ahead of the SCO Dushanbe Summit in September last year, the President of India submitted an application to the head of state that held the organisation's rotating presidency, for full SCO membership. Prior to that, similar applications had been submitted by the presidents of Iran and Pakistan.
It should be noted that the array of "expansion" issues is more than just studying the applications, it's also making sure that an applicant meets the organisation's standards.
The Dushanbe Summit adopted what was, in a sense, a historic document, specifically a standard memorandum on granting an applying state full member status, and approved the procedure for admitting new SCO members. So a legal framework for SCO expansion is now in place, and we have no more impediments here.
The increased work on the "expansion" package and the consideration of a significant number of applications for observer and dialogue partner status show that the prospect of SCO expansion is happening.
I believe that decisions on India and Pakistan will be made. This will augment the organisation's capability and boost the SCO's influence in the region and more active participation in the regional and international affairs.
- What is the outlook for granting higher status to Iran and Afghanistan?
- The organisation's statutes make no provision for the admission of countries that are under UN sanctions. Nevertheless, today we see that Iran is striving to increase its cooperation within its current observer status. Here, Iran has a lot of potential. We will only welcome Iran's efforts in the 6+5 format, and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani's participation in the 10th meeting of the SCO Security Council Secretaries in Moscow is further evidence of that.
We welcome the progress in the six-party talks on Iran, but it is important to be realistic: Naturally, there can be no quick action on such a sensitive issue. Nevertheless, we hope that significant results will be achieved in the foreseeable future.
No application from the President of Afghanistan has arrived yet.
- Is the SCO considering the possibility of creating collective armed forces like the CSTO Collective Rapid Deployment Forces?
- No, this possibility is not under consideration. The organisation's fundamental document - the SCO Charter - stipulates that the use of politico-diplomatic measures will be a priority in the parties' cooperation on ensuring regional stability and security.
- Does the situation in Afghanistan, especially against the backdrop of the penetration of the Islamic State, pose a threat to the SCO countries?
- The fact that the Afghan issue has not been resolved for so many years leaves open opportunities for extremists, separatists, terrorists, drug trafficking and gun running forces, as well as organised crime, especially as a new generation is growing. This is being raised amidst instability and military action.
Furthermore, the unresolved problem of ensuring decent, stable living standards and the possibility for thousands of Afghan peasants to support their families also provides a social base for the forces that sponsor terrorism. If we are seeing a systemic, dramatic rise in drug production, one cause of this is a failure to resolve Afghanistan's social issues.
At the Beijing Summit in 2012, the SCO member states emphasised that a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan is possible with a UN central coordinating role. This position is immutable: The member states believe that the Afghan issue should be resolved by the Afghans themselves.
The Afghan factor exists. It is shortsighted to pretend that it does not. The SCO politico-diplomatic activity, granting Afghanistan observer status in 2012, skipping dialogue partner status, is a major indicator of the organisation's interest in the peaceful resolution of the Afghan issue.
- What are the SCO member states doing to counter the drug threat, including on the part of Afghanistan?
- The level and scope of cooperation between the SCO drug control services is expanding. The principal provisions of the SCO Counternarcotics Strategy for 2011-2016 are being successfully implemented. Work is underway to draft a new strategy for 2017-2022. I should add that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, during a meeting with us, noted the special importance of this comprehensive document, as well as the programmes and plans which are producing good results.
- How seriously do the SCO countries take the information security threat?
- Indeed, the organisation notes that the scale of cybercrime has significantly increased recently.
In response to that, the SCO member states have increased their efforts to promote international information security and are treating this threat more seriously. The activity of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure in this field has become more effective. You may remember that back in 2009, the SCO adopted an agreement on international information security.