NEW SILK ROAD STRATEGY: PROBLEMS and PERSPECTIVES

14-noyabr kuni Vashingtondagi Jeymstaun Jamg’armasida Yangi Ipak Yo’li strategiyasi bilan bog’liq masalalar muhokama qilindi. Mazkur tadbir doirasida transport sohasini rivojlantirish, savdo ko’lamini oshirish va mintaqaviy birdamlik haqida gap yuritildi. Markaziy Osiyo bo’yicha yetakchi ekspert, Vashingtondagi Jons Xopkins Universiteti huzuridagi Markaziy Osiyo va Kavkaz instituti rahbari, professor Frederick Starr Buyuk Ipak Yo’lini tiklash kerak, degan g’oyani 15 yildan beri olg’a suradi. Bu borada u ko’plab ilmiy maqolalar, sharh va kitoblar yozgan.

“Vatandosh” gazetasining maxsus muxbiri Mavlon Shukurzoda o’tgan kuni poytaxt Washingtonda bo’lib, hurmatli professor Frederick Starr bilan aynan shu mavzuda suhbatlashib qaytdi. Suhbat  ingliz tilida o’tkazilgani sababli uni tarjima qilmasdan original shaklida chop etishni lozim topdik.

Tahririyat.

*** 

Since the collapse of the bipolar world system discussions on the new world order and problems of regional instability have not been ceased yet. They have recently achieved, perhaps, their apogee, judging on the fierce disputes ongoing in the mass media around the Russian-proposed Eurasian way of development, from the one side, and the US “New Silk Road Strategy”, from the other side.  Each suggested model of development has its own advantages and vulnerable places. It is quite obvious after all that their success is closely linked with the settlement of the Afghan issue in one or another format. And that is natural in conditions of globalization, integrity and indivisibility of the international security.

In fact any strategy on the Eurasian area should have to deal with the Afghan dilemma, directly or indirectly affecting the speed and the level of its realization. Besides the facts of illicit traffic in drugs, illegal migration and criminality from the territory of Afghanistan the following external tendencies should be kept in mind that also have can negatively influence the processes ongoing on the Eurasian continent:

In this connection the concept of so-called “New Silk Road” is of special interest. It was suggested by Prof. Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Institute of Central Asia and Caucasus at the J.Hopkins University and later formulated as a new US strategy jointly with  the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies. At present the Obama administration seems to have actively started implementing its provisions into life, which is certified by the last visits’ agenda of the US State Secretary H.Klinton to the republics of Central Asia and Pakistan, immediately bordering Afghanistan.

The ideas, set forth in the concept, are not cardinally new. The similar ideas have been already voiced in October 1997 by Senator Brownback, who closely cooperated with Prof.Starr, in his legislative initiative “Silk Road Act” and later were extensively developed by Prof. F.Starr in his “Big Central Asia” concept. Today he suggests the renewed version of the concept named “New Silk Road” in his latest book titled «Afghanistan Beyond the Fog of the Nation Building. Giving Economic Strategy a Chance».

It is worth to note that the regional dimension of the US Central Asian strategy was analyzed by Prof.Starr in such his earlier works as “A Strategic Assessment of Central Asia and the Caucasus, 1999-2000” and “The New Silk Roads” (2008).

In this book Prof. F.Starr continues to focus on the regional dimension of the new US strategy, but taking into account opinions of his opponents and present-day realities. It does per se not only exclude but rests upon the support in the process of realizing transport-trade operations in Afghanistan of such states, for instance, as Russia, China and Iran, the role of which he analyzed in detail as early as in 2008.  Indirect cooperation with Iran is in fact already in process, though at a certain distance.

The book justifies in the interests of the geopolitical and economic stability the leadership and broker’s role of the US in this project, which is de-facto the biggest investor into the region of Central Asia and whose interests therefore cannot be ignored in any analytical layout. At the same time long-term economic and political goals, set forth in the new Afghan strategy, logically exclude the US global leadership to avoid the clash of the numerous involved resources and interests, without which the project itself will not be practically fulfilled.

Due to the same logic Afghanistan in this strategy plays the role of an important hub and a crossroad for the trade-transport ways under construction. As a state unstable in any respect it is only a center for concentrating efforts on social-economic stabilization of Central Asia, but not by all means as a geopolitical center or a model of development for the neighboring states.

The following factors will benefit the project’s realization: It goes without saying that these tendencies are still unstable and much should be done. However alongside with statistical data from the serious scientific researches on CA region, provided in Prof. Starr’s book, they inspire hope for the positive outcome of the events.

Lower we’re presenting the results of the deep interview with Prof. F.Starr, where he acquaints the readers with the main ideas of his new concept on Afghanistan. It should be stressed that the ideas and thoughts, set forth in the introduction and conclusions of this paper, do reflect opinions of the authors and by no means refer to the position of Prof. F.Starr.

***

Question: The U.S. government has recently presented a “New Silk Road» strategy which is aimed to deepening economic and trade relations between Central and South Asia. What are the distinctive features between new strategy and previous American approach to economic reconstruction of Afghanistan?

Prof. Frederick Starr : The new US strategy is concentrated on the development of the integrated strategy of economic and social development of Afghanistan, which means construction of the new system of transport and trade routes along the ancient Silk road.

The U.S.’ approach to economic renewal of Afghanistan will rest on job creation, the provision of basic services, the construction of infrastructure and the development of fiscal sustainability. However all these goals will be focused around more purposeful yet comprehensive strategy, one that embraces the expansion of transport and trade as the main engine of economic advancement.

At the same time the usage of military measures will be only means and not the final strategic goal. The revival in new conditions of the ancient transit routes through Afghanistan can solve the present US strategic dilemma and can become a genuine key to the success of their regional strategy in case the US can efficiently use its leadership potential and possibilities in this issue.

A new economic strategy acknowledges the reality that the Afghan struggle is regional in scope, affecting the rest of Central Asia, Pakistan, India, China, Iran, etc., and must be resolved on a regional basis. Such a strategy benefits all and is directed against no one. Priority projects include the completion of the Afghan Ring Road and Kabul-Herat highway and linking them to continental trunk routes, especially to the Pakistani port at Gwadar; completing trans-Afghan rail lines linking Europe and Asia; constructing the TAPI pipeline; and completing electrical transmission lines linking Central Asia, Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and India.

To implement a “New Silk Road» strategy the U.S. treats it nowadays as a matter of the highest priority. In keeping with this, the Obama admistration has already appointed a special President appointed Envoy to lead a major inter-agency task force that will work closely with military and civilian leaders in the U.S., Afghanistan, among coalition partners, and in regional states. At the same time it is planned to use all tools at the disposal of the U.S. government to engage the private sector.

Question: What criteria a revised economic strategy for Afghanistan must meet to achieve success?

Prof. Frederick Starr: First, it must directly and manifestly improve the lives of Afghans, Pakistanis, and people in those Central Asian states that are key to this region-wide project. As this happens, internal and external stakeholders will buy into the effort. Only through these means can one expect a decline in the resort to violent solutions. Only in this way will the need for a large and costly U.S. military presence begin to lessen in the immediate future.

Second, it must be possible to pursue the economic strategy simultaneously with the military strategy, and in such a way that the two are mutually reinforcing.  Third, it must leave the Afghan government with an income stream. Today the U.S. is paying the salaries of all Afghan soldiers and civil servants. This cannot go on forever.

Fourth, an economic strategy must work fast, showing substantial results within the next 1-2 years. An early focus on removing administrative and procedural blockages to trade will produce quick results. Overall, economic progress will create the conditions that will enable the U.S. to shift its main emphasis from military power to economic and social betterment.

The only approach that meets these criteria is one that focuses on reestablishing Afghanistan‘s traditional role as a hub of transport and trade linking Europe and the Middle East with the Indian sub-continent and all South and Southeast Asia.

Question: There is no doubt that Afghanistan’s advantage is its geostrategic location. At the same time this country is still viewed as the “end of the road” rather than a central hub. How do you assess such thesis?

 Prof. Frederick Starr: Over two millennia Afghanistan was the place where trade routes to India, China, the Middle East and Europe all converged. This is why Marco Polo crossed the country en route to China, and why Arab travelers like Ibn Battuta crossed it on their way to India. Such trade along the misnamed “Silk Road” (in fact, every conceivable product was transported over it) produced immense wealth. Balkh, near Mazar-e-Sharif, was once among the largest and richest cities on earth. Medieval Arabs, who knew something about urban life, called it “the Mother of Cities.” Bagram once maintained lucrative ties simultaneously with ancient Greece and India, enabling it to flourish in opulent splendor.

The U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom radically changed situation in modern Afghanistan by reopening its northern border to long-distance trade for the first time since 1936, and by creating similar potential on Afghanistan‘s eastern border with Pakistan. This action, entirely unintended and largely unnoticed in America or elsewhere, is one of the most transformative developments on the Eurasian landmass in the past century.

Question: What other factors contribute to the future development of transcontinental trade in Eurasia via Afghanistan?

Prof. Frederick Starr: The most powerful drivers of the expansion of transcontinental Eurasian trade in the coming years will be the rapid growth of the Indian and Chinese economies. To date, most of Chinese and Indian exports are shipped by sea, but the anticipated continued growth of such exports will increase demand for transcontinental road and rail shipping routes. Much shipping from Western China, for example, naturally lends itself to transcontinental trade, given the long distance from production site to port and the slowness of maritime transport. Realistic estimates for Indian trade by land through Central Asia to European and Middle Eastern markets foresee a growth to US$100–120 billion annually by 2015.25 Afghanistan and its neighboring Central Asian countries stand to benefit immensely from this trade through the collection of tariffs and through the growing role of their own transit-related industries.

Question: But some politicians and analytics argue that a transport-based “New Silk Road” cannot realize until stability is established in Afghanistan. Do you agree with such assessment?

 Prof. Frederick Starr: It cannot be denied that sustained violence in Afghanistan – as well as areas like Baluchistan, Kashmir, and other parts of Eurasia – inhibits economic activity and dampens the private and public investment that could help foster continental trade and growth. Yet the continuing flow of Pakistani trucks ferrying NATO supplies from Karachi to Afghanistan along roads fully accessible to pushtun and other insurgents is proof that commercial activity can flourish amid instability. Any gains that militants would make from disrupting these vital supply lines on a strategic level are outweighed by the fact that local tribes derive significant income from the traffic. As long as such incentive structures hold, local populations have shown themselves ready to prioritize commerce over political violence. The U.S. and NATO would do well to recall that one reason the Taliban succeeded in gaining control of Afghanistan is that they promised to abolish local toll-collection points.

Improvements in the3,000 kmRing Road which connects the cities of Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat have already facilitated Afghan internal transportation growth. IMF and Afghan authorities estimate that there are now more than 600,000 vehicles in Afghanistan today, as compared to175,000 in2002, and they travel on more than 13 thousand kilometers of newly built or rehabilitated roads. These improvements are part of a strategic priority placed on transportation by the Afghan Government and they serve to the stabilization of situation in Afghanistan.

Question: As the world and regional trade benefits from the reestablishment of New Silk Road how do you estimate the role of individual countries in the development of transportation sector in and around Afghanistan so far?

Prof. Frederick Starr: The project in fact is already supported by all neighboring states. With or without America they’d like to get benefits for which, they consider, they have all historical rights. Uzbekistan, with financing from the Asian Development Bank, has extended its rail system to Mazar-e-Sharif and is sending electricity to light Kabul. Neighboring Tajikistan, with help from China and Iran, has opened a road across the lofty Pamirs from China to the new American-built bridge to Afghanistan and also intends to lay a rail line from its capital of Dushanbe to the Afghan border. Turkmenistan is also constructing roads and railroads to link with the Afghan Ring Road.

Pakistan and China are rebuilding the main north-south road across Pakistan that provides Afghanistan with a key link, through the Khyber Pass, both to China and the Arabian Sea. At its southern terminus at Gwadar they’ve already built a new port that will provide the most efficient sea link between Central Asia, Afghanistan and the burgeoning economies of Southeast Asia. China also hopes to enhance Afghanistan’s access to the East with a railroad through the Khyber Pass that will then connect to east-west lines across Pakistan.

Iran, meanwhile, is extending its railroad and highway systems to Herat, the key city of western Afghanistan. Teheran is also constructing a new port at Chabahar rivaling Gwadar. India has helped build a road to connect Chabahar to Afghanistan’s Ring Road. Afghanistan’s neighbor to the northwest, gas-rich Turkmenistan, has meanwhile built a new port on the Caspian Sea at the city of Turkmenbashi that will transmit cargoes from Afghanistan and the East to Azerbaijan and then the Black Sea and Europe. Turkmenistan signed an agreement with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India to construct a gas pipeline to deliver Turkmen gas across Afghanistan to India’s energy starved northwest, as well as to Pakistan. And as I mentioned earlier the United States spent US$1.8 billion to redevelop635 kmof the Ring Road and2700 kmof other roads linking primary and secondary markets.

Question: You described in detail the situation with the highway and railroad projects in Afghanistan. What progress do you see concerning the aviation sector in this country?

 Prof. Frederick Starr: Connecting Afghanistan with the larger world by air has proceeded slowly, and in a competitive environment in which most of Afghanistan‘s neighbors are striving to become the main stopover for East-West flights. Japan, however, has reconstructed the terminal at Kabul airport and a new private Afghan-owned airline is already flying into Frankfurt. Direct flights from Kabul to major air hubs are essential, as is the development of a reliable and Afghan-owned airline for internal travel. Uzbekistan has already made huge strides in establishing itself as an air hub between South and East Asia and Europe. Those who think only in terms of a “zero sum” fail to realize the large potential of this traffic in the future.  Afghanistan may not become THE main air hub but it can play a useful role and one that benefits its domestic economy.

In Afghanistan and around the region there are many opportunities to implement relatively routine enhancements to commercial aviation operations that would result in more safe, secure and controlled airspace and ground operations. This would allow Central Asian countries along the New Silk Road to assert rights and collect rents commonly associated with destination and en route flight operations in the developed world.

Question: Recognizing that inadequate infrastructure is not the only barrier to expanded commerce in the region what measures are necessary to address institutional impediments to efficient transportation in Afghanistan?

Prof. Frederick Starr: There a lot of research which concludes that the biggest obstacles to transcontinental trade are institutional, bureaucratic and political. The most common of these obstacles are excessive duties imposed by governments, simple corruption on the part of border officials, and the failure of bordering states to cooperate to facilitate trade. A survey conducted by the ADB of nearly 1,000 continental truck drivers from various countries hauling goods across Afghanistan supports this assessment, with 90 percent pointing to the bureaucracy at borders as the greatest impediment to trade. This does not mean that infrastructure is unimportant. It is crucial, of course, especially railroads, pipelines, and power lines. But that is only part of the story.

That is why the standardization and professionalization of customs administration is essential to unlocking Eurasia‘s trade potential. They will reduce the opportunity for low-paid and untrained officials to extract illegal rents from shippers, and will also spur private investment. In addition, the modest expense of a comprehensive standardization and professionalization effort can be shared among leading trading nations or funded by multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank. Both the political and financial risks involved are modest, and would decline further as success breeds success. The resulting reductions in dollars-per-ton-mile costs will allow Afghanistan, Central Asia, Pakistan and their neighbors on the Modern Silk Road to compete favorably with other trans-continental transportation routes.

 Question: Who will lose under this proposal?

Prof. Frederick Starr: First, it is not a proposal.  The new silk roads are advancing on many fronts, with or without the US or any other single country or grouping of countries. The opening of continental transport across Afghanistan and Central Asia is inevitable. The only question is whether it can be hastened through  US support. So we are not asking whether or not such a project should go forward. It is already advancing quickly.

Will there be losers as well as winners?  Not necessarily. The opening of continental transport across Afghanistan and central Asia is not against anyone. The Russian government in Moscow may have expressed skepticism, because it wants to preserve Soviet era patterns of transport. But meanwhile, businesses in the Urals, West Siberia and Altai are eager to be able to ship goods to India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, and will benefit enormously from the proposed initiatives. The only losers will be those refuse to compete, and those who try to prevent others from competing.

 Question: Yet what main considerations were behind to adopt by American administration a “New Silk Road” concept for Afghanistan?

 Prof. Frederick Starr: First, the failure by the U.S. to embrace a “Silk Road Strategy” for Afghanistan and adjacent countries would have been a blow to Washington’s credibility in Kabul and other regional capitals. This prospect of becoming strategically irrelevant is no trivial matter for the US, given that Afghanistan and Central Asia are the only region on the planet surrounded by four, or possibly five, nuclear powers (Pakistan, India, China, Russia and, possibly, Iran). It means that in some future crisis Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Pakistan, too, will respond first not to Washington but to other voices, by no means all of which wish America well.

Second, if Washington took a pass on a transport and trade-based strategy, it would have failed to seize and build upon its comparative advantage throughout the broader region. It would proclaim to anyone listening that the greatest commercial power also have passed up an opportunity to engage NATO partners and other powers in a project to which even their most pacifist parliaments cannot object. In other words, if the U.S. had failed to embrace and lead a transport- and trade-based strategy, NATO, too, would also have paid  the price.

Third, a transport strategy effectively attracts the U.S. private sector, including American firms. Even though their role will surely not be enormous, it is an important factor in garnering domestic support for Central Asia within the U.S. Business leaders in China, India, Japan, and Iran, with strong encouragement and help from their governments, are already actively lining up transport-related projects that will cross Afghanistan and the region. As the new corridors open, opportunities in fields as diverse as insurance, freight forwarding, hotels, mining, hydroelectric production, agriculture, and manufacturing will open up.

Finally, if the U.S. had failed to open its eyes to a trade-based economic strategy, or rejects it as nation-building, it would have squandered its enormous investment in the form of American blood and treasure, and at a moment when a positive outcome is still within reach. This would be all the more regrettable in light of the fact that the United States has already been the biggest single investor in the new transport systems that will reconnect Afghanistan with the world.

 

Conclusions

  1.  It is obvious that solution of the Afghan issue in the above-mentioned angle first of all benefits to the US interests, as with removal of the potential threats to their own and Central Asian interests they preserve the status of the biggest leader in the incipient world order that is quite objective for the powers of such level. Exclusiveness of the US is in their economic, scientific-technical and commercial potential, abilities to provide assistance to the regional countries in issues of strengthening their links with the world political and financial institutes and markets.
  2. Meantime the problems of democracy-building are moved aside to a secondary plan due to incommensurability of scales of the potential consequences of the regional instability with democratic problems. It will be easier, however, for more open political systems to evolve in countries which enjoy peace, stability, and solid economies.
  3. It is impossible to exclude as well the interests of the regional states themselves, including first of all CA states, in achievement of stability, development of transit possibilities and regional trade, solution of the social-economic issues. Purely political projects for “integrating” Central Asia have not advanced, and for understandable reasons.  The New Silk Road ideal calls not for integration but for coordination, which is compatible with the concern of all regional states to preserve and enhance their sovereignty and independence.
  4. For all that interests of the regional states in the strategic goals, at present preservation of the US-China, US-Iran and US-Pakistan, as well as the US partial discrepancies with Russia, hamper its realization, which demand special US efforts to remove these barriers. But it should be stressed again: the New Silk Road Strategy is not against anyone.  Every will benefit from it, not least China, Russia, and Iran.
  5. It’s obvious that efficiency of the “New Silk Road” will be largely defined by economic interests in the region, by existing demand and offers. However, not the least important role is played by the political reasons. Particularly, in case disputes and discussions in the American establishment on the issues of the project implementation are prolonged, and unanticipated difficulties in the Central Asian area arise, a risk of regeneration of the new strategy into the next political slogan may appear. In this case, the Eurasian way of development will undoubtedly achieve the strongest impetus with joining of the whole Central Asia to it in perspective.

***

S. Frederick Starr: Dr. S. Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program. He is a Research Professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Starr for several years served as Rector Pro Tem of the University of Central Asia, and is a Trustee of the Eurasia Foundation. Prior to founding the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, he served as founding Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies 1974-79; as Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Tulane University in 1979-1982; as Scholar-in-Residence of the Historical New Orleans Foundation in 1982-83. He was appointed President of Oberlin College in 1983, a position he held for eleven years. In 1994-96, he served as President of the Aspen Institute. Dr. Starr served as an advisor on Soviet Affairs to President Reagan in 1985-86 and to President George H.W. Bush in 1990-92. Starr holds a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University, an M.A. from King’s College, Cambridge University, and a BA from Yale University.

Dr. Guli YULDASHEVA,

Ph.D in Political Science.

Mavlon SHUKURZODA,

Editor, Vatandosh.

Washington, DC – Tashkent.

 

SHARE