Two regional security blocs led by Russia and China are preparing to hold separate summits in the Tajik capital this week to discuss the situation in Afghanistan in which the Taliban took power a month ago.
The September 16 meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), followed a day later by a gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), come as Moscow and Beijing move to assert themselves as key players in the region following the rapid collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul at the end of a 20-year-old U.S.-led military mission in Afghanistan.
Both groups have been viewed as Moscow's and Beijing's counters to U.S. geopolitical dominance.
With Afghanistan facing a looming major humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the Taliban's takeover, Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors are wary of the security threats emanating from the war-torn country and the potential for tens of thousands of refugees to pour over the border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders of CSTO member states, which include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, will kick off the diplomatic talks in Dushanbe.
At a presummit meeting on September 15, CSTO Secretary-General Stanislau Zas acknowledged that the situation on the Tajik-Afghan border was "unfavorable," and pledged that Dushanbe would be provided with "all the necessary military and military-technical assistance" to combat any threat from the south.
In recent weeks, the security grouping held military exercises in Kyrgyzstan to prepare for any possible trouble. Tajikistan conducted military maneuvers with Russia and Uzbekistan, while Uzbekistan also held separate drills with Russia along the Uzbek-Afghan border.
The CSTO has scheduled three more sets of military maneuvers close to the Tajik-Afghan border in October, with a fourth scheduled for November.
Russia has military bases in the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Leaders from the eight-member SCO are then due to hold talks in Dushanbe on September 17.
Founded in 2001, the SCO initially consisted of China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan before India and Pakistan joined in 2017.
Putin, who is self-isolating due to "all-day" exposure to a close contact who tested positive for the coronavirus, cancelled his attendance at the two summits.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also participate in the SCO meeting virtually.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, whose country is an observer member of the SCO and keen to join the grouping, is expected in Dushanbe on September 17.
Afghanistan holds observer status at the SCO, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 15 that the Taliban had not been invited to observe proceedings in the Tajik capital.
"Nobody is hurrying to give full recognition to the Taliban," Lavrov said.
The Taliban has sought to reassure neighboring countries and Russia that it poses no threat since gaining control last month over almost all of Afghanistan’s territory, including Kabul, the capital.
The hard-line Islamist group also promised inclusiveness and a general amnesty for former opponents, but many Afghans remain deeply fearful, especially after the group formed an all-male government led by hard-line veterans, banned protests, and cracked down on demonstrators and journalists.
Lavrov said he "welcomed" several Taliban promises, including on curbing drug-trafficking and preventing attacks on other countries, but added: "Now we are monitoring to see how it will be fulfilled in practice."