Colonel Lang's reminder that next year, American and NATO forces will be gone from Afghanistan "for good" underscores the fact that Afghan's future is in doubt. On Sunday night on Sixty Minutes, the just-retired Deputy Director of the CIA Michael Morrell warned that both Syria and Afghanistan could become future sanctuaries for Sunni jihadists.  In the case of Afghanistan, he warned that a Taliban-led Afghanistan–a very real possibility over the next few years–would certainly pose a global threat of terrorism.  There is, however, an alternative that has been kicking around for a number of years.  In several appearances before Senate and House foreign relations committee hearings, Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State, had called for a regional conference to devise a cooperative solution to Afghanistan and the entire volatile Central Asian region.  She urged that the conference participants include Afghanistan, the "Stans," Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran, with the U.S. and Europeans also participating.  Such a regional approach would necessarily have both security and economic dimensions.

Last week, Pepe Escobar, a well-respected journalist for Asia Times, spotlighted the prospects of a revival of the Silk Road, based on proposals presented by China's new President Xi Jinping at the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference.  En route to the SCO event, Xi made several stop-overs in Central Asia. In a September 7 speech in Astana, Kazakhstan, he called for a New Silk Road.  As Escobar reported, "Xi's official `economic belt along the Silk Road' is a supremely ambitious, Chinese-fueled trans-Eurasian integration mega-project, from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea; a sort of mega free-trade zone. Xi's rationale seems to be unimpeachable; the belt is the home of close to 3 billion people and represents the biggest market in the world with unparallel potential."

Escobar went on about the sheer scope of the potential for Central Asia.  "Beijing is already massively investing in new roads and bridges along the Eurasian Land Bridge–another denomination of the New Silk Road… The New Silk Road is all about highways, railways, fiber optics and pipelines–with now the added Chinese push for logistics centers, manufacturing bubs, and, inevitably, new townships."

Here is Escobar's kicker, as if it wasn't already obvious:  "TheSCO is actively discussing its regional options after Washington's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014.  china and russia will be deeply involved.  Same for Iran–for the moment an SCO observer.  Xi's Silk Road belt, in principle, is not detonating alarm bells in the Kremlin.  The Kremlin spin is that Russia and China's economies are complementary–as in China's `sizeable financial resources' matching Russia's `technologies, industrial skills and historical relations with the region.'|"

It is noteworthy that one of the highlights of the SCO session was a sideline meeting between Putin, Xi and Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani.  Rouhani invited Putin to Moscow and Putin accepted.

The great virtue of letting some of the vested regional interests deal with the post-US/NATO Afghan security challenges is that they all need regional stability to take advantage of the massive gas, oil and precious metal wealth in Central Asia.  China worries about security in the western provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet, Russia faces both the plague of heroin and opium coming out of Afghanistan and the constant threat of Salafist terrorism in the Caucaus.  

If these regional powers can create a stable exit for the U.S. and NATO and take on the security problems that follow, it serves everybody's interests.  No need for some new Great Game.  China's relations with Pakistan are far better than Washington's "best of enemies, worst of friends" tangled ties.  Russia continues to exert sway with India.  If they all cooperate, the New Silk Road dream can become reality over the coming years.  Iran was cooperative with the United States after 9/11 and helped Washington diplomats stand up the Karzai government.  They share a common border with Afghanistan and the Herat area is practically a suburb of the Islamic Republic.  

You say it's a pipe dream?  What if those pipes are filled with vast quantities of natural gas and petroleum turning Central Asia into the next great frontier?  After a dozen years of American misadventures in "Afpak" it is certainly an option worth trying.  American taxpayers, as well as Chinese consumers, may find it appealing.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. MS2 says:

    Invitation to Tehran, you mean?

  2. kao_hsien-chih says:

    Ironically, these developments could be linked to points far to the East. Russia is massively upgrading the Trans-Siberian railroad and the port of Vladivostok, while starting modernization of the rail link between North Korea and the Trans-Siberian, while, apparently, putting a good deal of pressure on that regime to start playing nice with the South–with the possibility that South and North Korean railroads (once part of the same network) might be reconnected. Of course, another would be user of the upgraded Trans-Siberian would be Japan.
    Of course, the immediate advantage, for South Korea and Japan, of the upgraded Trans-Siberian would be that it cuts down the time spent getting to Europe by 1/2 to 2/3, which, itself, will make Russia the literal cross-roads of the (Old) World. But the Trans-Siberian and its branch lines (and oil and gas pipelines to be built alongside them) also connects them to Central Asia, making them potential junior partners in Chinese and Russian projects in the region…and United States would not be invited to this party…assuming it does become a real party (a huge if, at the moment…)

  3. JohnH says:

    The obvious problem: America would no longer be the indispensable nation. America would no longer be offering “protection” to key energy and trade corridors. Worse, the exchange of goods and services might well be denominated in Yuan not dollars.
    How could Washington possibly acquiesce to a situation where it has no say in the lives of 3 billion people? This has to be perceived as a doomsday scenario on the banks of the Potomac.

  4. Walrus says:

    Excellent find Harper. However this prospect will drive Israel and KSA nuts because it moves the schwerpunckt, so to speak, a long way North and diminishes their geopolitical leverage.

  5. confusedponderer says:

    It can only be an improvement when American policies in the Silk Roads region would start to take into account realities on the ground and the true stakeholders – the people living there and their neighbours and their interests. Just let them mow their own lawn.
    So far I only see such a development greeted in DC with the usual grandiose paranoia as “a threat to US global dominance” or somesuch – and since the US are an utterly exceptional global benevolent hegemon they just can’t have that.
    Anyway, a change would be a welcome departure from the not-exactly-sucessful policies directed at the Middle East that basically had a US idea of what the place ought to look like, and then something else on the ground.
    If what you suggest manifests itself I’ll crack open a bottle of Armenian Cognac for the occasion.
    If anyone has an interest in peace and calm on the Sik Road it’s the countries that are there. The US is far, far away and if their policies thoroughly screw up the place they still have the benefit of two oceans insulating them to an extent from the fallout, as it is right now in Syria. Russia and Chuina don’t have the luxury of distance. They need to think up something that work.
    Neither of of them benefits from having an islamist resurgence in central Asia. That every now and then some of that may spill over to America is to them the least of their problems. The Boston bombing by those two Chechens was bad. Beslan was worse. If Islamism is th problem, then the Us and Russia have stong mutuual interests. Just that the US just can’t get that chip off their shoulder. Neocons are openly flirtuing with Chechen Jihadis – as long as they are against Russia …
    None of the countries down there have an interest in having the Saudis, or Turks for that matter, causing mischief.
    I wonder whether the US will ever be able to get themselves off the idea that stiring up Islamists to tie down and hurt Syria, Iran, Russia or China is a good idea.
    Experience from Afghanistan ought to have suggested in stark colours that there are sideffects to that that cannot be controlled. Alas, in light of their unabashed enthusiasm for supporting the always ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria they are apparently slow to learn.

  6. jonst says:

    Maybe Harper….but maybe not. Maybe this is the Road to Perdition. Maybe its a road that smashes the present cultural and family structures, rips up the environment, rips up, by the roots, traditional ways of staying alive, if not exactly making of a living….for the sake of extracting huge rents, that will go back to a tiny few…albeit providing a thin veneer of a professional class to do the hard work.
    In any event, I hope we in the US have NO say about it, one way or another. I hope we turn our attention to ourselves, and, while there is still time, try and put the, hopefully not, Humpty Dumpty, Republic back on its feet. Unless that be the real pipe-dream.

  7. r whitman says:

    This is the kind of visionary thinking that created the EEC 65 years ago. The Road may be full of potholes but I hope they persevere.

  8. Allen Thomson says:

    Speaking of the Silk Road, last winter there was a brief guessing contest/cloud sourcing experiment to determine the purpose of a new, large set of structures at 39.582 N, 76.069 E, north of Kashgar. The outcome was that most participants agreed that it was probably some sort of industrial facility associated with the new Kashgar Economic Development Zone.
    However, “some sort of industrial facility” is still a bit vague, and I wonder if folks here might have a more specific suggestion about what it actually is. (Be sure to use the Google Earth historical slider to see how construction progressed 2009 – 2012.)

  9. Harper says:

    Another aspect of the proposals for the New Silk Road/Eurasian Land Bridge, coming out of Xi Jinping and others, is to revive another longstanding proposal, which is to build up the Arctic region of the Russian Far East, which is the largest untapped source of raw material wealth on land, even beyond what is available in Central Asia. Russia’s Rail Corporation President Yakunin has proposed extending the Trans-Siberian Railroad into this northeast corner, and even building a tunnel across the Bering Straits, for rail, telecom, etc.
    In any sane U.S. Administration, there would be a strong emphasis on the economic dimensions of the Trans-Pacific region. The U.S. is a Pacific power, as well as an Atlantic power. Obama has announced an “Asian pivot,” but the Chinese see this as a strictly military thrust centered on Air Sea Battle. The reality is that 2/3 of the world’s population is along the Pacific Rim and the United States is a part of that. Washington can get in on the whole Asia-Pacific development plan. There is no reason for the U.S. to feel threatened by this development, although there clearly is a strong bias against any Russia-China cooperation as a threat to the US role as policeman of the world or, in more polite terms, “guarantor” of global commerce. The American people overwhelmingly want to see nation-building begin at home, but that is not necessarily a contradiction to participating in a development plan that impacts both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

  10. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The one and only way to help Afghanistan immediately is through strengthening and facilitation of her external trade through Iran.
    The second way woould be the inaguaration of the North-South Transport Corridor which would enable India to sell her stuff in Central Asia and elsewhere.
    Both of these will be actively opposed by the United States, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia.
    And Indians will not dare move without having the approval of the United States – regardless of how much they need that trade.
    The “winner” of the Silk Road project, as it is coming to pass, is definietly the People’s Republic of China – “Friend of All and Enemy of None” in the International Arena.

  11. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The Sunni extremists are not a threat to Iran; they are a threat to every single nominal friend of the United States; including India, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey and a number of others.

  12. Fred says:

    I think its a great idea, we talked about this here two years ago:
    Maybe once China, Russia, India etc get done building all those roads, pipelines, mines etc that $trillion or so in rare earths, gold, gas and other assorted riches talked about over the past decade will flow into the market place; where we can buy some, or not. I’m happy to watch other people spend their money for a change.

  13. FB Ali says:

    “In the case of Afghanistan, he [Michael Morrell] warned that a Taliban-led Afghanistan–a very real possibility over the next few years–would certainly pose a global threat of terrorism”.
    This is the usual nonsense spouted by the Washington crowd. The Taliban are only interested in getting the US out of Afghanistan. Of course, until Afghanistan has a government that establishes a firm grip on the whole country, there will be areas where jihadis will be able to function. But that will not be much more of an international threat than that which now emanates from the tribal areas of Pakistan not firmly under government control.

  14. AH! 1984 redux! Oceania, Eurasia, and East Asia! The globe divided into 3 parts!
    And Charles I you know how much Americans like their beachfront properties including bars. Perhaps an Arctic Ocean beachfront property for the 1%?

  15. Babak Makkinejad,
    Friend, if not of all, of most, and enemy of rather few, is precisely what the United States could have been, in the wake of the disappearance of the challenge from communism, had it stayed true to its best traditions, and not succumbed to delusions of omnipotence.
    Disillusion with the elites among a wide swathe of the population, provoked by failed wars and the economic crisis, might develop in different directions. It might take very ugly forms, but it might also make a return to constitutional government possible.

  16. The Twisted Genius says:

    This possible blossoming of the SCO is an interesting story. It seems to be based on stability, noninterference and economic development/trade. If Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are brought in as full members, the organization would be a welcome counter to the R2P and neocon crowds in the West. Babak is right, though, this is a nightmare to the Likudniks in Israel and the Salafists in Saudi Arabia.

  17. Babak Makkinejad says:

    India will no do anything without the approval of US – they are out.
    Pakistan will work with Iran in very limited and specialized areas – the will is not there; her leaders are more interested in tricking Iran.
    Afghanistan is a failed/destroyed state.
    By-and-large, I think SCO is a forum for chit-chat but devoid of practical significance.

  18. Babak Makkinejad says:

    One always could hope for a change but I agree with you.
    The imperative for development that defined much of the post WWII world has not gone away; it have even become more important.
    China, I think, has positioned herself as the Go-To-Guy for development; no fuss and no muss.

  19. cloned_poster says:

    To me they look like railroad sidings for what ever is being mined in the area

  20. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Hardly “enemy of none,” especially along the Pacific. I’ve been pretty shocked at how callously the Chinese managed to offend most of Southeast Asia within the span of a few years. While some (like Japan and Vietnam) have always viewed China suspiciously, others, like Malaysia and the Philippines, the Chinese seemed eager to offend gratuitously. So, we shall see how the diplomacy along the Pacific Rim will be shaping up over next few years….

  21. Allen Thomson says:

    I dunno. The steel-frame buildings, 150 to 250 meters long look pretty big for that. And the lack of an apparent railroad is also a problem.
    However, it does look as if something might be mined in the hills to the north. One suggestion in the earlier exercise is that this is just an enormous brick factory.

  22. The Twisted Genius says:

    Both India and Pakistan have asked to join SCO as full members rather than their present observer status. Russia wants to expedite their membership. They’d have to be let in at the same time or each would probably try to veto the other. The U.S. will certainly work against it. With Russia, China, India, Iran and every ‘stan in-between, I think SCO would move far beyond a forum for chit-chat.

  23. CK says:

    To those in the Western world, the silk road was indeed the road by which silk and spices and porcelains and oriental science and knowledge came west; to the Chinese it was the Silver Road. The road by which what China desired, real wealth in the form of silver, came to China for china’s excess goods ( worm castings, etc.).
    This is known as a win/win and is anathema to many western intellectuals and governmental types.

  24. PS says:

    I read recently that the Chinese had withdrawn a lot of their workers on mining and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan due to unsafe security conditions. Apparently, the Afghanis dislike foreigners other than Americans.

  25. confusedponderer says:

    What about: They’re a xenophobic bunch and don’t like foreigners at all, be they Chinese, Americans or the folks from the other side of the mountain?
    It’s a hard land up there and foreigners are rivals for limited resources. So foreigners are either prey and a source of income, or an unwelcome burden.
    Such circumstances shape unpleasant attitudes towards outsiders. The only thing to soften that up probably are the pragmatic if minimal compromises in shape of the ancient rules of hospitality.
    I daresay on a whim that Taleban or Al Qaeda people likey don’t respect the old customs as the people in ye olden days did. Odds are, they’ll just cut your throat.

  26. kao_hsien_chih says:

    That’s the thing about al Qaeda types in Afghanistan: they are foreigners, too. I seem to remember people saying that, if things were done cleverly enough, we could have accelerated the rate at which Afghans would have tired of those meddlesome foreigners in their midst and kicked them out, without US intervening with as big a footprint as we wound up doing. I wonder how much truth there was in such analyses….

  27. Alba Etie says:

    And it seems the USA cannot even get ‘observer ‘status at SCO meet & greets..

  28. Alba Etie says:

    Mr Habakukk
    We can see faint outlines of change with the elites in unexpected places – when Attorney General Eric Holder& Sen Rand Paul both agree that the “War on Drugs ” is failing that is very interesting. Especially when one thinks about how much international money and resources are spent in ‘stopping ‘ drug cartels. Find some way to legalize the blackmarket in drugs , tax the recreational or elective use of all drugs heavily ( we do this already with nicotine ) -and use the new revenue created thus to fund more residential treatment for drug addicts & get more help to the mentally ill – often drug addicts are dual diagnosis – that is they may have a mental challenge that they attempt to treat by illegal drug use . Yes maybe disillusionment with the elites could be happening now.

  29. Charles I says:

    Well the Chinese Navy is just getting underway and its task is to reassure the locals that the Chinese will be snapping up any local oil and gas fields unless they are demonstrably unsnappable, just as soon as need and opportunity knock.

  30. CK says:

    I can find temporary common ground with the enemy of my enemy.
    Al Qaeda types helped remove the USSR from Afghanistan. That the Al Qaeda types were basically special forces from KSA and Israel, paid for from American budgets is irrelevant to those on the home ground. It was the Al Qaeda types doing the dying and the killing alongside the Afghans. Funny thing how several years later the vaunted US intel community could never hit the timing and targeting properly to damage Al Qaeda for Bill Clinton. Aspirin factory and “missed” opportunity if I recall.
    It might help to remember two economic things: 1) the Taliban destroyed opium farming in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 ( this offended the US financial community and the US mob community to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars annually; immediately the US forces intervened in Afghanistan, the profitable opium crops returned and the banks and mob became a bit happier. ) 2) The Taliban refused to do a deal with Union Petroleum in early 2001 to do a pipeline; they wanted better terms. Even with the US intervention, that pipeline is still a non-starter.

Comments are closed.