“New Silk Road”: Connecting Center and South of Asia with One Thread

By Mikhail Agadzhanyan

Withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and related with it regrouping of military forces of the USA made the initiative of promotion of plans on new interstate configurations within the area from Central to South Asia topical in Washington. Since the middle of 2011, when the terms of troop’s withdrawal from Afghanistan were finally confirmed, the Department of State has started objective lobbying of the project “New Silk Road”. The given project claims to be conceptual in the issue of the future of the region through the prism of strategic interests of the USA.


Actualization of the project of creation of a broad transport network and logistic centers along the way of “New Silk Road” was assisted by such regional factors in middle-end of 2001, as revealed system failures in American-Pakistani relations (famous incident on November 26th 2011, when as a result of incorrect strikes of NATO aviation 24 Pakistani military men died), the attempts of Washington to establish contacts with Afghan movement “Taliban” and the attempts to involve into in domestic political discussion in Kabul of wider range of domestic Afghan forces (for example, represented by the upholders of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar  from Islamic Party of Afghanistan (“Hezb-e-Islami”)).


Since summer 2011 Americans have started to accomplish another stage of Afghan policy. This stage is defined with priorities of maintenance of fostered by them in Afghanistan political regime in the sphere of their own influence and preservation of military-political presence near the zones of strategic interests. The start of accomplishment of this stage of Afghan policy of  Washington can be dated to May 2nd this year, when the USA and Afghanistan concluded an agreement on strategic partnership. Having proved the plans on folding the mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Americans remained in the sphere of providing military, political and economic aid of the acting government in Kabul, preservation of its “limited” presence at the level of counselors and instructors.. As observers note, Washington started holding active talks with Taliban in July 2011: one of implied talks files with the representatives of the movement is efficient integration into Afghan society, which should happen also with the help of the project “New Silk Road”.


The number of factors assisting the actualization of “New Silk Road” idea it’s worth to note also more conceptual tasks for Washington, related with fulfillment of plans on restraint of Chine, blur the influence of Russia in Central Asia.


Being officially the project of transport-logistic character (foreign political representatives of the USA talk about the project, as of “international network with the nodes of economic and transit connections”), “New Silk Road” should be observed in a broader geopolitical format. Washington is ready to include into this project not only transport ways and corresponding logistic infrastructure, but also other elements of dissemination of geopolitical influence as acting and planned energy sources supply pipelines, as well as trans-border electric power supply lines. Discussing this project America, in particular, mentions such regional “plots” of trans=border character, as gas pipeline “TAPI” (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and the lines of electric power supply from Central Asia to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (Robert D. Hormats, The United State's <<New Silk Road>> Strategy: What is it? Where is it Headed? // Address to the SAIS Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and CSIS Forum, September 29, 2011.)


Considering this the “New Silk Road” project is observed as quite capacious geopolitically, by this possessing pretty definite target objectives of the USA within spacious Asian lands. Let’s try to define these objective briefly.


The USA Department of State, as a profile actor of lobbying and foreign political accomplishment of the “New Silk Road” project, develop its argumentation of support around “Afghan subject”. Rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s economy, establishment of political stable regime within the whole territory of the country, and not only in its capital, integration of Afghanistan into regional contacts with neighbor states are being postulated by American as the most prior tasks within the frameworks of the project. One of the US objectives by the accomplishment of the big project is reorientation of Afghanistan from “horizontal” – contacts with China and Iran, to “vertical”, which can be developed along the line “Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-India”. Definite details of American project give this line unbiased grounds, pointing at special attention of Washington to such potential logistic centers within Afghan lands, as East Great and North Mazari-Sharif (bordering Uzbekistan).


It’s hard to say how possible are the US plans to reorient close contacts of Afghan Great with Iran to other directions, but this tasks exists in Washington. The plans of Washington on regional isolation of Iran are well-known, and the “New Silk Road” project is one of the functional proves of such plans existence. At the moment Iran at all is not mentioned in this American project, and further distancing of Tehran from the accomplishment of big regional projects, also including Afghan direction, is another priority task of the “New Silk Road” authors.


Priority objectives of Washington in course of the project’s accomplishment also include maintenance of close economic relations between neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan with their attachment to India. Here as well as in relation of the above mentioned priority of Iran isolation from Eastern direction, another foreign political priority of Washington is clearly observed – non-allowance of deep penetration of China into regional processes, where this or that way the leading role shall be given to Delhi. Nevertheless, the USA shall face big troubles within fulfillment of this task, at least considering close Pakistani-Chinese relations which in some bilateral spheres claim to be of systemic character (for example, cooperation in military-technical sphere). Except for that, any attempts of the USA to restraint China in South Asia without establishment of favorable prerequisites for this in Central Asia have all chances “to fail”.


Recent events development along northern borders of Afghanistan demonstrates that the USA stakes in its Central Asian play also at Uzbekistan.  Indirectly it can be proved by the decision of Tashkent to suspend its CSTO membership which become known on June 28th – three weeks after the signing of the Declaration on Deep Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Uzbekistan, which is a bit odd.


The play of Washington in Central Asia also doesn’t exclude involvement of the means to prone Kazakhstan to participate (with this or that level of involvement) in the “New Silk Road” project. Although the limiting factors of such involvement of Kazakhstan into American projects with the date “end of 2014” at the current stage are quite significant and first of all include active participation of Astana within regional space under the aegis of Russia and China (CSTO, EurAsEc, SCO). Moreover, it’s worth to consider that the US activity within lobbying of the “New Silk Road” project resulted in symmetric intensification of Moscow and Beijing along presentation of new programs for transnational ways. The lines of the two Eurasian states have become closer in the issue of the accomplishment of a strategic transport program “Europe-West China (Transcontinental corridor “West Europe – West China), which not very comparable within the scale with American project, but still possessing geopolitical potential.


Total length of the corridor along the way Saint-Petersburg – Moscow – Nizhniy Novgorod – Kazan’ – Orenburg – Aktobe – Kyzylorda – Shymkent – Taraz – Kordai – Almaty – Khorgos – Urumchi – Lánzhōu – Chenzhou – Lianyungang comprises 8 445 km. 2 233 km of which are along the territory of Russia, 2 787 km – Kazakhstan, 3 425 - China. An important link of this program is Kazakhstan, which at the given stage is quite positive about its accomplishment. According to the estimation by Kazakhstan, the project is of great importance for the Republic’s economy. Significant regional development shall be gained by five big regions of the state (Aktiubin, Kyzylorda, South-Kazakhstani, Zhambyl and Almaty, including the city of Almaty), where totally 7.5 million people live, which is almost a half of the country’s population. 


Mikhail Agadzhanyan – political observer 


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