Support for US "Silk Road" Plan

The United States is calling for greater trade, transport and energy links between Central and South Asia, in a strategy it calls the “New Silk Road”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first raised the issue last year, and used a speech in Singapore on November 17 to highlight its importance to the future of Afghanistan, in particular.

The US administration is keen to bolster Afghanistan’s ties with its neighbours to the north and south, in part in the hope of making it a more stable place as international forces prepare to withdraw in 2014.

Analysts say the “New Silk Road” offers the landlocked Central Asian states a way out of isolation, and a route to new markets and to the sea for their oil and gas. But their leaderships will first have to overcome their mutual suspicion and reluctance to cooperate.

"Central Asian governments must find areas where [their interests] coincide and approach this project seriously, before it’s too late,” Kurban Yovshanov, a political analyst in Uzbekistan, said. "A rational economic partnership based on the mutual commercial advantage and backed by leading [global] players could boost development in the region.”

Rovshan Ibrahimov, a political analyst in Azerbaijan, says it is important to devise methods for ensuring security along the proposed transit routes.

"Security could be provided by either regional or international forces, and on a commercial basis,” he said. “That way, no one will object, since stability is a precondition for economic gain.”

Ibrahim says western engagement in this kind of project does not equate to intervention. “Past experience shows that integration and cooperation only happen when international players get involved,” he said.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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