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Front row from left, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rakhmon and Kyrgyzstan's President Roza Otunbayeva, and back row from left, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and other guests pose for a photo after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, Wednesday, June 15, 2011.—AP (File Photo)

KABUL: Afghanistan and China will this week announce the elevation of their relationship “to a new strategic level”, Kabul’s foreign ministry said Monday, as Nato forces prepare to pull out of the country.

The announcement would be made by presidents Hamid Karzai and Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told AFP.

The SCO is a Central Asian grouping headed by Beijing and Moscow, and intended as a counterweight to US influence in the region.

“This new step is a solid reaffirmation of the ever growing importance and significance of the friendship and economic, political, cultural and other fields of cooperation and partnership between Afghanistan and China,” Mosazai said.

The two countries share views and commitment over the security and stability of Afghanistan and the wider region and the necessity of joint efforts “to tackle the menaces of terrorism and extremism”, he said.

Mosazai gave no details of any security role China might play in Kabul’s fight against hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents, saying the announcement “will be fleshed out by both sides as we move forward in our friendship and cooperation”.

Afghanistan last month signed a strategic agreement with the United States, covering relations between the two countries after US-led Nato forces withdraw in 2014, and with several other nations including France and India.

No pact would be signed in Beijing but it was likely that a joint declaration would be developed into a future agreement, a government source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

China, which shares a small border with Afghanistan’s far northeast, has already secured major oil and copper mining concessions in Afghanistan, which is believed to be sitting on more than $1 trillion worth of minerals.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, plus a handful of observer states including Iran, and focuses on regional issues including anti-terrorism.

Afghanistan will attend the Beijing summit as a guest member.

Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin will be at the meeting, has criticised Nato’s timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“As long as Afghanistan is not able to ensure by itself the security in the country, the artificial timelines of withdrawal are not correct and they should not be set this way,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in April.

“By the way, our Central Asian partners are also concerned about that. China and many other states ask the same questions,” he said, adding that several countries have an interest in what happens in Afghanistan.

The scramble for influence in Afghanistan is likely to intensify as 2014 draws nearer, with its central position in a volatile region having shaped its history for centuries.

India, Iran and Pakistan have moved to secure what they see as their interests in the country, with Tehran strongly opposing Kabul’s pact with the United States.

India last week called for greater coordination with the United States over Afghanistan, voicing fear that Islamist radicals would gain strength once Western forces pull out.

India’s involvement in Afghanistan has in turn irked Pakistan, which helped create the Taliban regime and fears being encircled by its arch rival.

The Afghan president was due to hold talks in Beijing with Putin, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Iran’s President President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his spokesman said.