border review | 29 October 2011

A "New Silk Road" bypassing China?

Ideas of a “New Silk Road” through Afghanistan, linking Central Asia with Pakistan, have been floating around in American thinktanks for a couple years. In view of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the plans seem to become more concrete. Hillary Cinton and President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov discussed the matter last week. A pipeline bringing gas from Turkmenistan to South Asia, improved road and rail links, and an Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement are on the agenda. An upcoming meetings in Istanbul on 2 November is designed to promote the idea. Dawn/AFP quote an American official: “It’s part of a wider effort to help to build up the Afghan private sector, to help create sustainable economic development in Afghanistan, to create this economic integration between South and Central Asia”. In Pakistan, however, an other dimension of the upcoming talks is highlighted, namely the absence of China and what that means for Pakistan. Yesterday’s editorial in the Express Tribune summarises these reservations and puts them into perspective:

Some commentators in Pakistan are looking at this development as a strategy to cut China off from Central Asia and bring the United States into the region ‘by other means’. Pakistan therefore is being presented as a victim of an either/or situation: join the Northern Silk Road Project and ditch China or keep out of the project and prove its strategic loyalty to China who is presumed to be an outsider opposed to the project. This is a wrong assumption because China is very much there in Central Asia and any Silk Road Project will redound to its regional advantage. The project may at best be negatively described as a plan to diversify the rapidly developing economic domination of China in the region.