US, five other nations want to link South & Central Asia

Updated 13 Jul 2020

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Observers in Washington warned that efforts to build two parallel trade routes will increase pressure on Pakistan to choose one.
Observers in Washington warned that efforts to build two parallel trade routes will increase pressure on Pakistan to choose one.

WASHINGTON: The United States and five Central Asian countries have pledged to work together to “build economic and trade ties that would connect Central Asia to markets in South Asia and Europe.”

In a joint statement issued in Washington this week, they also expressed strong support for efforts to peacefully resolve the situation in Afghanistan which, the Americans believe, would create opportunities for the economic integration of South and Central Asian regions.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Iran and China also have drafted a joint plan to integrate the two regions. They are creating “a sweeping economic and security partnership that would clear the way for billions of dollars of Chinese investments in Iran,” the report added.

The Times, which has obtained a copy of the deal, reported that the Chinese investment in Iran would total $400 billion over 25 years.

The deal would “undercut the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate the Iranian government” and “would vastly expand” China’s presence in the region, the report added. The two countries would jointly build a network of telecommunications, ports, railways and roads that would enhance China’s access to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that both the United States and China see huge economic prospects in the South and Central Asian regions and want to have a controlling share in the trade routes that their integration may open.

Read: What does the future of regional trade in South Asia look like?

At the inaugural meeting of a trilateral forum in late May, the United States, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan also reviewed projects that could bring prosperity to the entire region by linking South and Central Asia.

A joint statement issued after their meeting, underlined the need to build railway links between Central Asia and Pakistan and a gas pipeline that goes all the way to India via Pakistan.

Observers in Washington warned that efforts to build two parallel trade routes will increase pressure on Pakistan to choose one. They argued that China would want Pakistan to join its economic pact with Iran while the Americans would like Islamabad to back their efforts to connect South and Central Asia.

To promote its plans for the two regions, Washington has created a group called C5+1, which includes the United States, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

They also have formed a working group to consider cooperation opportunities in developing the transit potential of Afghanistan, including exploring opportunities for funding from international financial institutions of large projects.

The participants discussed various options to “build economic resilience and further strengthen security and stability” in Central Asia and the wider region.

The US Development Finance Corporation, the US Export-Import Bank, and the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration will provide financial assistance for projects in the region.

The C5+1 Security Working Group will “promote secure and effective borders” as well, to allow free flow of goods and to prevent the trafficking of persons and illicit goods, nuclear and radiological safety. The group would also increase regional cooperation on border security.

The Security Working Group will discuss countering violent extremism, combatting online recruitment activities by terrorist networks, and holding joint and regional counter-terrorism training.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2020