The new Silk Raod strategy
Many in Pakistan believe that the Silk Road strategy adapted by the US is to impinge on the vast natural resources in South Asia, since the whole world is now running out of their resources. Some analysts have described this strategy as the ‘Great Game’, as adopted by the British Empire and Russian Empire long ago to attain supremacy in Central Asia. The Islamists in the country think that the initiative is being taken by the American imperialistic forces to subdue Muslims and handicap them of advancement.
The New Silk Road strategy was devised by the Americans. In 2008, Hillary Clinton came up with a vision of the New Silk Road, a route of connected railway links and roads which would connect the South Asian region with Central Asia with the premise that the vast natural resources from Central Asia would reach markets in the South Asian region. It was thought that trade and interdependence on gas would fuel the South Asian economic wealth, cotton from the fields of Tajikistan would reach India’s textile mills and other products of value would integrate within the markets of Central and South Asia.
The strategy, opted by the US State Department, is best described by Robert D Hormats, Under Secretary for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, in a discussion forum organized by the SAIS Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and CSIS Forum, in Washington DC. He said, “This vision for the region is deeply rooted in history. For millennia, a sprawling trading network crisscrossed Asia – connecting East to West, and North to South. It was a robust network — on land and on sea”. The forum was held on September 29, 2011.
Even US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is saying that ‘connections in that whole neighborhood would grow stronger so that prosperity would grow for everyone’. This bold statement was given on the event of diplomatic meeting between India and Pakistan in Islamabad over discussing the visa procedures between the two.
New Delhi has invested in the new 2000-kilometer pipeline which would cost around $7.6 billion and bring 70 billion cubic meters of gas from Daulatabad gas fields of Turkmenistan to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The agreements between Pakistan and India and other SAARC countries have confirmed the new economic integration. The Turkmenistan gas initiative was taken by Pakistan and India but now Bangladesh also wants to be a part of it. South Asia’s dire need for gas can only be filled by regional states. Pakistan seems determined to move ahead on the Iranian gas pipeline, possibly ignoring the sanctions posed by the US against Iran. Some analysts view this new Silk Road strategy as an alternate to the Iranian gas pipeline.
America may want to move its troops out of Afghanistan but it would like to leave a good impression behind in the shape of Silk Road initiative. The strategy will also serve for the US as an outreach to Central Asia, something earlier China had access to for a long time almost exclusively. It can also be viewed as a foreign policy to contain Chinese outreach.
China’s economic integration and cooperation with the Central Asian states had been zilch when the Central Asia was a part of former USSR. China’s trade with the Central Asian states in total amounted to about $465 million in the year 1992, but in 2005, it grew well over $7.7 billion. In the year 2002, it was about $2.4 billion, in 2003 it grew to about $4.1 billion. In 2005, the amount of total trade was $5.8 billion. These amounts increased at about 72.5 percent to a high figure of about $7.7 billion. A few oil firms have now signed their contracts with China while swiftly moving away from America; the deals will take place in the northern parts of Afghanistan around Amu Darya. Both India and China have now made roads into the Iraqi oil fields.
The new outreach of South Asian states into the Central Asia will have its consequences for America, even if America has taken a strong stance in its favor. The Central Asian region is overflowing with energy but has no route linking it directly to the sea routes, but it could do if it acquires the same from the UAE, which can afford to grant such an access. The manpower could be taken care of by the South Asian workers.
The US is quite determined to contain Iran, as it is obvious in many ways. The Silk Road will have Iran as an important player as we can see South Asia’s thirst for energy to overcome its energy deficit will be met by the grace of Iranian gas. This interdependence would allow Iran a share in the process and can lead it to a bidding card for joining the SAARC countries. India has taken up an active role in aiding Iran in the pursuit of its projects. The new Chabahar port has accelerated a series of talks among countries in the region. India constructed a road in 2008 which starts from Chabahar port on the Arabian Sea and passes through the Sistan-Balochistan and Khorasan provinces and reaches the Nimruz province of Afghanistan, becoming a great link to the Afghanistan’s Ring Road.
The governments of Afghanistan, India and Iran have now agreed to construct a railway line to facilitate their trade, for the vast resources of about $1 trillion, the estimated worth of Afghan resources by the US. Following Turkey, India is now introducing various ways of engaging Iran and refraining from the US stance of isolating Iran. Pakistan also seems to be planning on engaging with Iran and defy American strategy.
The new Silk Road offers great connectivity, economic progress and prosperity for the two geostrategic regions that need integration with each other in the face of the new globalized world. South Asia could profit greatly from this new strategy, and Islamabad and New Delhi, being the major players, should be working together to pursue this lofty goal.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore and is working for South Asian Media Net.