S Qamar Afzal Rizvi
Consequent upon becoming a pivotal member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO), Pakistan justifiably seeks its surge towards the Central Asian region. Pakistan, the world’s sixth most populous nation and second largest Muslim country, holds a unique geostrategic position. In equal measure, global geopolitics and regional developments within the frame of US-India perceived paradigm vis-à-vis Russian and Chinese policies also impact the country and determine Pakistan’s ability to establish its geo-economic and geo-strategic primacy.
The geographic proximity between energy-resource rich former Soviet Central Asian republics and Pakistan, as well as converging economic interests, are going to shape regional ties in the long term.Central Asia, formerly known as inner Asia is that region of Asia which extends from Caspian Sea in the west to central Chinain the east, and from Russia in the north to northern Indian south. Acting as a crossroad for movement of goods, and people for a long time in past, modern Central Asia consists of five Central Asian Republics ie Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Tukmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrghzstan.
Pivotal states are typically middle-ranked countries in which any transformation of their polity or behaviour could have a profound and lasting impact on their region, and possibly the wider world. Pivotal states draw their importance from a combination of their large populations, economic influence, military power, key geographical location, cultural reach, or commodity resources. Seen from this perspective, the most viable pivotal states are: Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Korea (North and South), Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, and Ukraine.
The US-crafted policy of repurposing in the region— and its unabashed propping up of its declared strategic partner (India) in South Asia as a kind of counter weight to China, only translates into what is generally understood as its China containment policy— has raised caveats for Pakistan. The changed regional and global strategic environment has made it more important for a pivotal state of Pakistan to compete and to maintain stronger ties with Central Asia.
Pakistan’s objectives in Central Asia are intrinsically determined by its political and security imperatives; its economic and commercial gains; countering India’s influence and its desire to be an energy transit-corridor in South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. Pakistan has positively desired to expand its influence beyond Afghanistan. Central Asia is seen as an area of natural expansion for Pakistan. Pakistan’s adversarial relations with India play a vital role in forming the national security plans.
Time and again, this approach has been articulated within Pakistan. Islamabad’s policytowards the United States (US) has always been premised on the consideration that military assistance from the US would help Pakistan attain parity with India. Pakistan maintained a strong politico-military relationship with China to counterbalance India’s influence in the region. Geo-strategically, Pakistan seems pivotal for trade and commerce between South and Central Asia, East and West Asia. In its efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been contributing significantly to establishing a new security model in the region. There appears no doubt that Russia recognizes Pakistan’s prime geopolitical potential and has thus maneuvered to rapidly increase its full-spectrum relations with the South Asian gatekeeper (Pakistan).
Despite the fact that Moscow has chosen to express itself through the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union, an attempt to re-create the Soviet economic space whereby fiscal rules and customs tariffs in the heart of Eurasia are monitored and regulated by the Kremlin, there is still a space to filled by Moscow to develop a quadrilateral linkage between Moscow, Beijing, Islamabad and Tehran. Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan constitute a relevant regional power base in this respect.Russia’s overarching goal— as it is with all of its partners nowadays— is to provide a non-provocative balancing component to buffet Pakistan’s regional political position and assist with its peaceful integration into a mega Eurasian framework being envisaged by the growing Pak-Russia-China Strategic Partnership.
While the exact route of the CPEC through Pakistan is yet under its way, the general path, linking Kashgar to the seas, is clear. Similarly, in Uzbekistan, the plan to develop train lines from Tashkent through Ferghana to Kyrgyzstan points to a project that will help develop faster train links across Central Asia to China. And sending a train down the route from Yiwu to Tehran shows that these routes through the region exist already.
Pakistan can also provide organic connectivity to ASEAN via western China and Central Asian Republics by both land and sea through the Gwadar Port and the ongoing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which seems act as a bridge for the maritime silk rout that envisaged linking three billion people in Asia, Africa and Europe-part of trans-eurasian project.Beijing’s long-term directions are positively encouraging. Having decided that China’s west needs to be reconnected to the world, Beijing has poured massive investment into Xinjiang and across the border into Pakistan and Central Asia. Pakistan cannot overlook the fact that the construction of road linking Chabahar with Termiz through Afghanistan would provide India a passage to advance its objectives in Central Asia. Indian products are reaching Central Asia mainly through Iran.
Given politically strained ties between Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan must see Iran as a land route to the countries of western Central Asia, namely Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan despite the fact Pakistan seems to be in direct competition with Iran to exploit its geostrategic position. Through this link, Pakistan is able to access Turkmenistan’s market more readily. Pakistan has also demonstrated a strong interest in importing electricity from Turkmenistan’s South Yolotan-Osman gas field.
With trilateral assistance— from Russia, China, and Iran— Pakistan can not only counterpoise the US-India-Afghan strategy but also become Eurasia’s economic zipper by linking with the SAARC’s economies in an emboldened multipolar future. Islamabad may also futuristically look forward to Joining the Russian headed military alliance— CSTO(Collective Security Treaty Organisation)— to keep its strategic security balance between East and West-seemingly reflected by the Pak- Russia joint military exercise(an avant la lettre) to be started on September 24.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.