With the initial outburst of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, and the fatal consequences in few states such as Libya, a wave of fear ran along the Middle Eastern and Central Asian states. The fear, initially of people’s reaction, turned in to extremist elements taking over the helm of state affairs.
This lead to spontaneous bars on social media and freedom of expression in many of these states. Not to forget Egypt, that had strict filters over usage of internet and the social media in order to curb any possible movement against the Mubarak regime. Interesting to notice in many of these states were the common factors; Dictatorship, control over the state media and internet, high level of poverty and unemployment and no room for political activity from opposition parties.
The reason I include the central Asian region in my analysis is because the region makes the heart of Asia coupled with providing the main route to the New Silk Route, a future venture that may lead to a faceoff between Washington and Moscow. The formation of region’s states makes it interesting to monitor for a neutral observer.
Although the US national foreign policy would never keep the region on its top priority, implicit indications from the word go provided a fair picture of what the US was after. Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once referred to Central Asia, a hotbed of conflict and one of the most strategically important parts of the world, as the “Eurasian Balkans.”
One may get an easy impression that Central Asia is traditionally, a Russian operated and influenced region, but that is not the case. States like Uzbekistan make the situation complex where its President, Islam Karimov, even having a dark history on his back, is supported by the US administration, solely because of his sour ties with Moscow.
Tajikistan is also somewhat similar. The people mostly rely on Russia for their livelihoods and in turn make up a good chunk of their country’s GDP and foreign reserves from what they earn there. But on state level, recent events, such as the Pilot sentencing saga, where a Russian and Estonian Pilot were arrested and jailed on allegations of smuggling, depict that the policy makers want to get America’s soft corner for further aid and support.
Tackling this situation, Russia along with the help of China, has somewhat indicated and strived towards a New World Order by channelizing the foundation and functioning of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). SCO, comprising of Russia , China, four Central Asian states excluding Turkmenistan, and observer members including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Mongolia, can develop into an influential regional watchdog on pattern of NATO.
With recent meetings and joint statements at the SCO, it is quite obvious that the body, unlike NATO, has a peaceful Asian region on its agenda. The recent SCO summit sent out a clear message that it wants a peaceful and stable Afghanistan soon after the evacuation of the coalition forces. Such an agenda may directly collide with that of NATO’s.
When NATO is seeking for further military bases and installations, SCO seeks peace and not War. SCO clearly stood against the Libyan intervention and is now opposed to such type of intrusion in Syria. The SCO, mainly Russia and China, have been vocal in all major sanction resolutions against Iran and Syria in the United Nations Security Council, something not going well with NATO. Finally, it would do its best to prevent any conflict in the larger Eurasian region in order to maintain peace and stability in the region.
The four Central Asian players involved with the SCO were also invited to the NATO Chicago summit. The message was simple. As three Central Asian states, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, provide alternative supply routes to the NATO forces, they could well be beneficial members not only for this supply but also for long term agenda, including natural resources, military bases and regino-political manipulation.
Breaking these states off the SCO for NATO may take the region on a collision course in form of the New Great Game. With these states in wings of Russia and China, such a venture may sure reap no dividends as both these powers would not make any bargain on regional stability, which is in turn directly related to economic prosperity and development. This makes it clear that in this new round of the New Great Game, the “democracy seeking” West may encourage some Arab Spring winds to hit the Silk Road.