Bold Visions, Neither ‘Great Games’ nor ‘Game of Thrones,” along the New Silk Road

C_Naseer_AhmadThe fall in oil prices and the decisions made at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is causing severe ripples throughout the world economy. So naturally, it will be an item of discussion among intellectuals and policy makers.

A symposium in late October at the George Washington University’s Central Asia Programme -“Revisiting ‘Great Games’ and ‘New Silk Roads’ in Central Asia” is an example of such thoughtful deliberations. Kazakh leaders, speaking at this meeting, spoke about bold visions for the future. Absent from those remarks was a replay of the “Great Game” of the past or the modern fantasy tales such as the ‘Game of thrones.’

These bold visions include a creative blend of history, culture and politics – while recognising the different challenges each of the Central Asia countries face. From the largest landlocked country in the world, there is a clear articulation for facilitating economic cooperation in Central Asia and making it a hub of regional cooperation.

Concerns about the difficult situations in Ukraine in Eastern Europe and the threat of extremists group like “Islamic State” are shared by regional policy makers and scholars who presented their position papers. Both Kazakh leaders and U.S. policy makers who spoke talked about virtuous versus vicious networks. “How can Central Asia be the best place for growth?” and the “opportunity for people of the region for a stable future” were the thoughts shared at this conference.

One of the speakers quoted the recent remarks by a Pakistani minister at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York about surplus energy exports from Kazakhstan to Pakistan – via the PAKTAPI – Transit Price Agreement. This is an example of serious efforts to implement bold visions into reality and not just a figment of imagination.

Calls for support of integrating the regional rail networks for facilitating international trade were expressed by numerous speakers. Scholars also urged policy makers to take advantage of the windows of opportunity in Afghanistan and the upcoming global framework for trade under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which is a trade agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States.

To capitalise on these visions will require welcoming China’s investments in energy said one of the US policy makers. China is “naturally a leader in the region,” is an unambiguous view from U.S. perspective signaling promotion of economic and political cooperation in Central Asia. There is also a recognition of “Chinese paving the Silk Road to the Middle East” with increased investment in that region.

These visions include connectivity between Central Asian and South Asian countries and, if implemented well, could lead to huge economic benefits for almost 1.6 billion people of the regions. Turning these progressive ideas into reality will require increased access to information, creative application of mobile technology, harnessing renewable energy sources like solar power.

“Kazakhstan is most clearly forward thinking,” said one of the scholars. And, it becomes evident that preventing these bold visions from becoming “Silk Road illusions,” – as stated by one of the scholars – requires the kind of leadership coming out of Kazakhstan.

The author writes for the Diplomatic Courier and PakistanLink and is a member of the Boards of the Embassy Series and Interfaith Voices, a National Public Radio programme. He is a member of the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

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