Shanghai 6 Promise Afghans Support

ReutersPutin and Afghan President Hamid Karzai smiling at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent on Thursday.
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- The presidents of Russia, China and four Central Asian nations fortified their security alliance Thursday, inaugurating an anti-terrorism center and promising to support Afghanistan in bolstering its stability.

At a one-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Chinese President Hu Jintao also said his country would offer $900 million in credit to other alliance countries, which include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also attended the talks in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. Leaders of the six-nation SCO grouping pledged to help rebuild Afghanistan, which has been a source of regional instability in the past and a haven for extremist groups that have launched incursions in Central Asia.

President Vladimir Putin proposed establishing a contact group between the alliance and Afghanistan.

Karzai welcomed the initiatives and said Afghanistan was eager to actively cooperate with SCO and open its borders for regional trade. "The future of your countries is strongly linked to the future of Afghanistan," he said.

The SCO anti-terror center in Tashkent is to serve as a think tank and clearinghouse to share information between alliance countries.

Karzai said terrorists are still arriving in Afghanistan and attacks continue, telling reporters "the fight against terrorism is a long-term fight."

Uzbek President Islam Karimov said anti-terrorism efforts should not focus only on military action.

"We should destroy the many radical extremist centers that create the ideology of hatred, those who poison the minds and zombify youth," Karimov told the meeting.

Karimov's administration drew fresh criticism Thursday for an alleged crackdown on demonstrators attempting to stage peaceful protests ahead of the summit.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said at least two activists were beaten by unidentified assailants, while others were detained along with their children or prevented from leaving their homes.

Ahead of Thursday's talks, Russia and China signed separate bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous country.

 At a meeting with Hu on the sidelines of the summit, Putin praised Russia's booming trade with China and said he looked forward to an October visit there.

Trade between the countries was $15.7 billion last year, a rise of 32 percent from 2002, and Hu said he expected it to reach $20 billion this year.