China, Russia and four Central Asian countries have vowed to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, Chinese President Hu Jintao said in comments published Wednesday, as NATO forces prepare to pull out.
He said the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) -- a group intended as a counterweight to US influence in Central Asia and dominated by China and Russia -- had also decided to strengthen Afghanistan's role in the organisation.
The comments came as leaders of the SCO member states met in Beijing for a two-day summit on security and economic issues across the region.
"We will... play a greater role in the peaceful reconstruction process in Afghanistan," Hu said in an interview published in the People's Daily newspaper, the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece.
"The SCO supports Afghanistan becoming an independent, peaceful, prosperous, neighbourly country, free from terrorism and drugs," he said.
The SCO -- which groups China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- was formed in 2001 with the view of counterbalancing US and NATO influence in the region. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia are observers.
Hu said the organisation -- which has invited Afghanistan as a guest at this year's summit -- had decided to grant the troubled country observer status, amid general concern as NATO forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014.
Russia has criticised the withdrawal timeline, and President Vladimir Putin -- who is currently attending the SCO summit in Beijing -- has cited the stability of Afghanistan as an issue of "common concern".
India, meanwhile, has voiced fear that Islamic radicals will gain strength once Western forces pull out of the country.
Liu Weimin, spokesman for China's foreign ministry, confirmed Wednesday that Afghanistan had been given observer status, saying the development of the situation in the country was of concern to the SCO member states.
"The two sides will be able to enhance their cooperation in security, economy and social areas," he told reporters.
"The SCO has experience and capacity in fighting terrorism, narcotics, transnational crimes as well as economic development, and it is ready to strengthen cooperation with Afghanistan."