Silk Route to Concrete Route

By Engr.  Mansoor A.  Malik

During the entire period of the Cold War, the one persistent cliché hammered into the minds of every thinking Pakistani by the Western Propaganda Machine was the Strategic Interest of the Soviet Empire on our Warm Waters of the Arabian Sea washing our Gwadar sea- port. Millions of wasted Intellectual-Manhours at our military staff colleges and National Defense University spread over three generations of our senior military students at these prestigious institutes churned out most innovative military strategies to counter this Bear Hug from the North. Regardless of this propaganda campaign of the vested interest of the free world, little did they reflect upon the presence of the Strategic Alliance between the Soviet Empire and India throughout the Cold War period which gave them access to the Eastern and Western Ghats of the Indian shore line, one of the largest in the region.

To counter this ever expanding Indo-Soviet embrace, a few balanced policy makers in the Ayub Khan’s cabinet planned to re-open the old Silk Trade Route in the early 1960s’, thus linking the warm waters of our coast line to the cold regions of Chinese Sinkiang and beyond. This land route over time became our life line for our North-South trade corridor. This independent approach in introducing the Chinese Factor in our International Relations based upon our Strategic National Interest brought the downfall of Ayub Khan’s regime and he was left with only to pen down his thoughts intellectually in a book titled: Friends not Masters, for students of Pakistan’s chequered history.

The dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 brought a Populist Political Leader, Mr.Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto into power by ousting the Military Dictator, Gen Yahya Khan through a Civilian Coup. This led to a closer relationship with China as well as the Soviet Union in rebuilding the New Pakistan by setting up Basic Heavy Industries both in Defense and Civil sectors. The Silk Route was expanded and further consolidated by bringing in the Afghanistan factor through the provision of the Transit Trade Regime by Pakistan. This mutually beneficial economic activity came to a halt after the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet forces and the whole region was gripped with Militarization to counter the long awaited Soviet offensive for our so called Warm Waters.

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The De-Militarization phase of the region after more than thirty years of the Soviet arrival and ten years of NATO/ISAF mandate in Afghanistan is now likely to start in the second half of 2011 under the American sponsored Af-Pak Strategy. The 21st century offers more economic opportunities’ to the Littoral States of the Persian Gulf by re- establishing the old trade routes between them and Central Asia/China/Russia. These trading routes, over the centuries, have been painstakingly developed by Muslim traders plying their goods and services from Near and Far Regions of the world. Even when the Czars of the Russian Empire were expanding southwards and the British Empire was extending their Indian occupation westwards through several Afghan Wars under the watchful eyes of Queen Victoria, these Trade Routes were still functioning and were termed as Smugglers Paradise. Several agreements between Moscow and London defined the contours of the Buffer Zones between these ever expanding empires depending upon their holding positions on the ground throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.

These agreements are now preserved in the archives of India and Pakistan after they gained independence from the British Empire. This status quo was disrupted during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and its counter measures adopted by Pakistan with the all out support of America throughout the 1980s’.Afghanistan, unfortunately has been on a self destruct mode for the last four decades.After the last American soldier and NATO forces leaves our region, peace dividend in Afghanistan and around South-West Asia is likely to be achieved after a gap of nearly 40 years. A whole new generation would have matured under the shadow of guns and destruction. This generation is required to be quickly assimilated with the young and the old alike for achieving the socio-economic and political stability, so vital for our region. The silver lining during this long period of acute disturbance in our close vicinity has been the emergence of the Independent Central Asian States. With sustained peace in Afghanistan, the natural resources of these Central Asian Muslim States is likely to flow south bound towards the shores of Pakistan and Iran as a natural consequence, whereas the goods and services from all over the world would be transported north bound from these shores.

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Within ten years of the Peace Dividend in Afghanistan, roads infrastructure from the Persian Gulf ports of the littoral States of Iran and Pakistan are likely to be extended all the way to the farthest point of Central Asia and China serving a population of more than two billion people, making it one of the busiest  Truckers Trade Route in the world. This concrete network would be parallel to the most Romantic and Scenic Silk Route which runs through the Karakoram Highway connecting the Muslim Folk-lore city of Kashgar in the Chinese province of Sinkiang through the mountain passes and glaciers as high as 5000 meters above sea level to the white dancing sandy beaches in Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Complementing this extensive road network would be the huge Oil and Gas pipelines originating from the large deposits of Central Asia to the south bound Energy Starved countries of South-West Asia and China.

The North South trade corridor between Central Asia and Iran/Pakistan has already been envisioned under the ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) soon after the emergence of these independent Central Asian states on the demise of the Soviet Union.ECO could be expanded to include China, being the second largest world economy and Turkey having the largest economy amongst the developing Muslim countries. This ECO Plus Two with a land mass more than two times of Europe, population of two billion people and the size of economy as large as 7 trillion US Dollars would be one of the most important economic global  player in the near future. This Economic Zone would be a far cry from the hordes of the Mongolian horsemen led by Chengez Khan and his descendents, descending the Steppes of Asia Minor and conquering the fertile settled lands of Asia and Europe several centuries ago.

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Mansoor Malik, is Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. In brief, he has been Director General with over 33 year of experience in planning, establishing and managing national level, strategic, high-tech organizations. Director General, Marketing & Industrial Relations Organization (MIRO). Commandant, College of Aeronautical Engineering, Risalpur.

Senior Engineering Manager, PAF Project where he was responsible for the smooth induction of F-16 Aircraft Weapons System in the PAF and making them fully operational.

His experience is very versatile in different fields of technology and education. He is consultant to number of organizations and the Universities of Pakistan.