The history of the Silk Road is essentially the history of Eurasian relations. The road, which interestingly wasn’t any road in the conventional sense, signifies a network of transcontinental routes that existed between the West and the East for approximately sixteen centuries.

The network of routes began from Chinese towns in the eastern provinces, and like waters from tiny streams flowing in the main river, other routes from both sides of the Silk Road kept joining until it reached the Mediterranean Sea in Europe.

The dangerous road through which caravans carried silk, spices, musical instruments etc., on the backs of camels and horses from Delta towns of the Yangtze River to the Mediterranean cities still haunts the travellers towards beauties in the barren deserts along with man-made architectural structures like Big Goose Pagoda in Sian, Chintai Temple in the village of Paochi, Buddha’s statues carved in cliffs and Maichishan caves, bridge over Yellow River in Lanchou, the Great Wall of China in the Gobi Desert, tombs of the Ughar Kings, ruins near Turfan, the City of eternal Spring called Urumchi, busy bazars of Kashgar, statues of Buddha of Bamiyan, Kabul which were dynamited and destroyed in 2001, Primorskiy boulevard of Baku, Da Shahiddam Chowk, Kandahar, Bibi-Khanym mosque, Imam-al-Bokhari Mausoleum, Samarkand. St. Sophia Cathedral and Easter egg in Kiev, Ukraine and Red Square, Moscow.

The Silk Road was integral to the development of civilisation in Eurasia. Unlike the present times when capitalism and socialist economy are at daggers drawn, there was unity of economic systems in Eurasia whether it was littoral or land trade through the Silk Road. Obviously, when the road was busy, intermingling of various peoples, diverse cultures and business relations was a necessary corollary. That was why, the regions along both sides of the Silk Road formed the hub of civilisations while, in comparison, Europe during the middle ages, was passing through intellectual darkness.

But, alas! Disappearance of the Silk Road disturbed the unity of economic systems and gaps started developing between Central Asia, the Middle, South, Far East on one side and the West on the other side. As during the continental shift, one land separated from the other, so the gulfs between the people began to appear where once were the great Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, Persian, Arabian, Iraqi, Mongolian, Russian and Turkish empires, which flourished without fear of any John Perkin’s hit men, hackers to kidnap computer data or technology to penetrate into secret documents, say of a bank or an enemy’s hide out.

The tragedy occurred earlier about 300 years when the West conquered the East, kept hitting the defeated, and left deep scars on the body, psyche and soul of people who had Buddhist conviction, Islamic creed or followed the communist doctrine. The West acted upon various policies and strategies to disrupt and eliminate communication and transportation on the golden route by reshaping countries through shrinking borders, exercising divide and rule, westernising ways and culture of human life, and thus ‘the Great Game’ against the East is still going on and on.

Is it possible to revive the past hustle and bustle on the same golden road? This article is an attempt to bring home the point that momentous opportunity exists there to resurrect the glory of the Silk Road.

Presently, once again the world is no more unipolar. BRICS and N-11 have entered an era of prosperity. The US sanctions are no more effective. Inertia has been detected as the hallmark in the US foreign policy. Its economy is in unhealthy condition. Can any country remain peaceful by spending on militarisation of land, water, air and space? How long one can depend upon sales of arms to sustain stumbling economy? Is there any notable country in Asia which has not yet tasted the US spite and anger? How long can Hobsons’ choice work as decisive and ultimate threat? Or for how long stick and carrot policy can yield results?

The US once closest friends like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are so frustrated about their foreign relations that they are looking towards making paradigm shift. The US decisions such as declaring India as a strategic partner lack foresight and prudence. One of the common evaluative judgements in the region is that as India failed to play any meaningful role towards realization of Soviet Union’s dream of reaching warm waters of Indian Ocean, so it, being handicapped by geopolitical constraints, cannot contribute towards the US effort to contain China. All what India can do is to perform duties of a peripheral state.

The coveted position of geopolitical significance is presently reserved for none other than Pakistan about which Pakistan is absolutely clear that it is a partner against terrorism which it wants to destroy and for which its civilians and army have made huge sacrifices. Thus, pushing time-tested friends like Pakistan into dust bin while bestowing heaps of laurels upon India which hates Pakistan more than anything else will be a blunder par excellence! With the demand to ‘do more’ ad infinitum, the US refusal to honour F-16 deal or blocking $450 million promised aid to Pakistan are leaving a feeling of bad blood. Likewise, on the agreement level, sanctions against Iran have been withdrawn, but practically speaking; the table has not been turned.

With the fall of Soviet Union, many Russian states including Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan, to name a few, became independent. Independence not only brought economic strength for the Russian states, it also divested Russian Federation to throw away liabilities of these states, and thus Russian economic condition improved. Above all, strong leadership of Vladimir Putin appeared to administer and manage affairs. His handling of situations in Ukraine and Syria show a strong combination of subtle diplomacy, shrewd command of military power and keen insight of the future.

As for China, it, however, rarely indulges in such gimmicks, like the US theory of taking advantage of the chaos. Perhaps China has learnt from Buddhism how to win others without shedding a single drop of blood. Here, it is also pertinent to note that totalitarian fascism and communist dictatorship are passing through process of change over to social democracy and, moreover, elements of capitalism are being practised in today’s Russian Federation and People’s Republic of China and have thus converted to ‘state capitalism’. Chinese economic strength is not owing to any invasion but due to democratization of technology. The presence of Chinese empire in Africa is a sound proof. Hence, at least there is no justification of threat either from China or Russian Federation.

Furthermore, Russian handling of situation in Ukraine and Syria and Chinese refusal to stop developing work over Spratly and Sankuk reefs in South East China has made things difficult for the US to handle. At this stage if China and Russian Federation together constitute Eurasian Union, the International scenario will undergo a sea change.

The geopolitical tactic of the revival of the Silk Road could be a combined response from China and Russia towards the US wooing of Cuba and NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence of Excellence to provide defence shield. The rebirth of the Silk Road will not only be a resurrection of the glorious times when life was more mutually trust-worthy, it would also result in grand recession of American influence to the level of Monroe Doctrine of early 20th century.

 

The writer is an educationist and a senior analyst based in Lahore.

Is there any notable country in Asia which has not yet tasted the US spite and anger? How long can Hobsons’ choice work as decisive and ultimate threat?