The modern day Eurasian Corridor is said to be the area covering Central Asia and the former CIS states ultimately connecting Eastern Europe and South Asia. With the British being a major exception, conquerors of the Indian Sub-Continent, from the Aryans and Alexander the Great to Mahmood Ghaznavi and the Mughals, had used this route to make their journey.
Post the independence of the British-Raj, and new world dynamics, where most land-locked Central Asian States came under the ambit of the USSR till 1945 and became independent just after its fall in the early 90’s, the focus had largely been pointed Westwards in terms of diplomatic relations and trade due to which this region had been seen only through the myopic view of possibly exploiting its resources.
However, as the world moves towards the potential of developing nations, the region has come under the spotlight once again. Just over the past year, China and Russia have been revitalising trade and economic links in the region and trying to draft regional economic and trade cooperation agreements which would incorporate preferential tariff’s, facilitate cross-border trade and trade transit along with easing visa requirements for the movement of traders and for access to warm water ports.
Pakistan and India have also signed MOU’s for the TAPI pipeline, which lays the foundation of a gas-supply pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Russia has also been actively pursuing participation, where a joint summit comprising Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and their Tajik and Afghan counterparts was held this week in Dushanbe where Russia proposed participation in the TAPI pipeline and possible participation of its gas-export monopoly Gazprom, as well as investing in infrastructure for the sale of power and electricity to the region, where demand is not met due to lack of generating capacity.
China also tried to connect its Xinjiang province to the region and revive the historic Silk Route, which connects Pakistan, Afghanistan and China to other regions in Central Asia. The Xinjiang Trade Expo was also held in Urumqi this week, which was attended by Pakistani and Tajik heads of states in active participation in an effort to take economic integration a step further. Pakistan, for its part, plays a vital role in providing the South-Asian connection where by these non-coastal nations are provided access to Karachi and Gwadar ports through trade-transit agreements, much like the Pak-Afghan Trade Transit Agreement which is currently in place. Pakistan can gain from this not just economic advantages, but possible transfer of skill and technology along with much better diplomatic relations, which it is already working towards.
It is to be noted that while India is involved in the TAPI gas pipeline venture, its connection to the intended economic zone would be through the Silk Route, through Pakistan and China, where reluctance to open borders is apparent due to previous friction.
If set into action, such an agreement will not just provide an economic boost to member nations, but will also better place them to take advantages of possible opportunities such as local currency trade, along with greater social integration that had once existed creating greater acceptability amongst local people. Such cooperation often also creates much greater diplomatic muscle to influence events and issues which affect them.
While all of the above can prove to be great for the growth of these developing states, to accomplish these numerous challenges they would have to be addressed along with averting possible threats that may come out of such cooperation. Terrorism; human and drugs trafficking; lack of appropriate security apparatus; trans-national hostilities; and insufficient infrastructure are all possible issues that could plague any economic integration efforts.
The region has an ugly history with the reference of terrorism. Currently, apparent with the ongoing war in Afghanistan and its spill-over effects to Pakistan, the region is agonised with militant forces which attack state infrastructure and impediment economic stability with their activities. Major uncertainty prevails around the United States and Nato troop withdrawal slated for 2014, as it is expected that Afghan security forces may not be able to face the challenge that lies ahead.
Pakistan is facing its own insurgencies and militant activities under its western border which may hamper any such economic immersion. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other central Asian states are also pulled into the equation where most foreign fighters in Afghanistan are found to be from this region.
This region is also one of the most active drug transit areas of the world. Drugs, such as heroin and hashish, are smuggled into Europe through this region and the social stickiness of such illicit substances remains in the region. Human trafficking is also a grave concern, where men, women, and children are forced into bonded labour and prostitution, and where the poverty of Central Asian States and Russia makes such activity thrive.
There are also trans-national issues which exist within the corridor itself. Tajikistan has disputes with Uzbekistan in its mined border and talks of delimiting continue, and its Isfara Valley disputes delay delimiting with Kyrgyzstan. Pakistan has its own border issues with Afghanistan along the Durand line, where constant realignment takes place between the military establishments of both sides and fencing of a certain portion of the border is taking place to prevent creation of bases which harbour terrorists.
All having said, it is vital that these issues not undermine the economic collaboration but, in-fact, force these nations to create solutions to solidify their own growth and fiscal future. All these issues are noted separately and focused upon, but in light of the willingness shown by regional neighbours, the possibility of the future may be the stimulus itself to properly address these issues as it is crucial to their own survival in the global environment.
Muhammad Shayan Lakdawalla is a Multimedia Content Producer at Dawn.com