Delivering On The New Silk Road Initiative Amidst Regional Political Rivalries

By Mansoor Saadat
April 16, 2017

 The end of 2014 brought Afghanistan to a crossroad, as the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) withdraw their combat forces from Afghanistan. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan played a significant role in its economy that plummet with the sudden decline of military spending. In 2011, the United States government adopted the New Silk Road initiative which aims at developing Afghanistan’s economy by developing energy, trade and infrastructure projects. It aims to improve regional trade between Central and South Asia – through the Afghanistan land-bridge – and thus allow for greater economic integration, peace and prosperity in the Afghan region.

This initiative is a unique opportunity for promoting regional peace and prosperity through economic cooperation. However, among a diverse set of challenges, unresolved political tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in particular, vis-à-vis India, remains one major obstacle that can delay the realisation of this initiative. Given the urgency for an economic alternative in the face of the withdrawal of foreign troops and reduced international aid for Afghanistan, regional political cooperation is more pressing. Therefore, in order to ensure timely delivery on the New Silk Road initiative in Afghanistan, the U.S. will need to provide greater incentives and confidence building measures for improving the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) relations. Hence, the core question of this research in Washington will be: 

What are achievable policy options that the U.S. government can undertake to improve AfPak relations in a way that serves the timely realization of the New Silk Road initiative? 


1. AfPak relations: Why a significant challenge?  

 Under the New Silk Road initiative, one objective is to overcome Afghanistan’s geographical isolation from its region and the rest of the world. This isolation was and still is the main cause of Afghanistan protracted poverty and underdevelopment. The neighbouring countries of Afghanistan play an important role in overcoming this isolation and in the realization of the New Silk Road initiative. The southeastern neighbour, Pakistan, is of critical significance for: a) it has enormous sway on the Afghan Taliban insurgency; and b) it geographically stands on Afghanistan’s main gateway to South Asia. The two factors are intertwined and further complicated by Pakistan-India dispute over Afghanistan. Therefore, given political tensions in the AfPak relations, Pakistan can use these two factors as leverage over Afghanistan in the realization of its regional plans, particularly the New Silk Road initiative. 

a. Pakistan: Sway on Taliban 

 Pakistan’s complex relationship with the Afghan Taliban has puzzled and challenged the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan ever since the aftermath of 9/11. The Taliban insurgency has been and still is having sanctuary in Pakistan and is growing in size, tactics and political clout, posing serious security and political challenges to the economic transition in Afghanistan. Taliban’s current political 

clout and sophisticated insurgency operations – despite a 12-year-long war against the group – is a strong indication of the level of external influence and support to Taliban insurgency. The Afghan government and the international community have continuously requested Pakistan’s support for the Afghanistan peace process. Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban insurgency and its security implication on regional economic cooperation can stall economic cooperation over Afghanistan. 

b. Pakistan: Gateway to South Asia 

 In addition to Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan for an end to its Taliban insurgency and insecurity, it also geographically depends on Pakistan for access to South Asia. A major corridor under the New Silk Road initiative is: the Central Asia to South Asia routes that pass through Afghanistan into Pakistan leading to India and the wider South Asia region. This corridor connects South Asia’s vast energy market to the energy riches of Central Asia, and opens the markets of Central Asia and South Asia for greater flow of goods and products in an increased trade volume. On the longer term, it allows South Asian products to reach beyond Central Asia, to the Middle East and Europe and vice versa. India has estimated that if the Afghan routes open and only 20% of western trade is sent by roads, about $100 billion worth of goods will pass through Afghanistan by 2016.

 Therefore, standing on such an important and critical route of the New Silk Road initiative, Pakistan can impede regional economic cooperation by closing or complicating its border crossing points with Afghanistan. Trade and transit has always been a political instrument for Pakistan to insert pressure on Afghanistan when needed. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA) have never been fully implemented. As recent as 22nd of January 2013, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced that it will close all trading ties with Pakistan in protest for the release of more than three thousand containers belonging to Afghan traders, stalled in Karachi Port by Pakistani authorities for months.

c. Why would Pakistan be an obstacle? 

 Skeptics will argue that why would Pakistan delay regional economic cooperation over Afghanistan, given that it too will benefit from the cooperation? It is true that Pakistan will benefit; but regional cooperation over Afghanistan will give a greater role to other neighbours, in particular India, who is in dire need of access to central Asia. Pakistan is strategically concerned with increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan; and the development of regional trade routes with an increased Indian activity in the region can present a strategic threat to Pakistan. This is one reason, many believe, why Pakistan has been reluctant to cooperate in the fight against the Taliban. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) oil and gas pipeline has been pending – with some progress in recent years – for more than a decade for political reasons, despite its enormous economic incentive for the countries involved. 


Why is this research necessary in the U.S. and particularly in Washington D.C.? 

 The New Silk Road initiative is at the heart of the post-withdrawal-policy of the U.S. towards not only Afghanistan but the region. This initiative is important not only for the region’s economic prosperity but also for the continuity of U.S. presence in the region. Given the intensity of regional political rivalry and economic disparity, – the region is home to both world’s booming and poorest economies – the success of the New Silk Road initiative highly depends on continued U.S. presence in the region and on its role in addressing the political challenges to it. The unresolved AfPak tensions and its complicated Indian 

 Dimension remains a major obstacle. Therefore, as this research aims to study the post 2014 U.S. role in the region, it is necessary for this research to be conducted in the United States, particularly in Washington D.C., among leading U.S. policy makers and analysts. The Rumsfeld Fellowship program presents an opportunity for this research to provide concrete results and have valued impact. It will provide interaction with relevant leading U.S. think tanks, regional experts and leading academics, and most importantly U.S. officials. In addition, conducting this research in Washington D.C. will give more credibility and accuracy to its findings and therefore increase its chances of having an impact.

 Finish the Job: Jump-Start Afghanistan’s Economy, Frederick Starr & Adib Farhadi, 2012, p.13. 

2 We Will End Trade Relations With Pakistan: ACCI, ToloNews, 2013:


Talk by Prof. Dipankar Gupta on “Space and Non-Space: Planning Cities for Citizens”

By Apoorva Rao,
Content Team Volunteer
Dr. Dipankar Gupta presented the Department of Political Science with an avant-garde linkage between geographical town planning and citizenship. He believes that town planning can enhance citizenship if it prioritises the creation of public spaces. To strengthen the linkage, he differentiated between spaces and non-spaces. Spaces consist of the area that a person feels a certain kind of belongingness to while non-spaces consist of those tracts of our post-modern life where we go in and out of to pursue our means. He pointed out how the creation of “spaces” is of utmost importance to town-planners, so much so that they’ve ended up creating cramped enclosed “spaces” that do not invoke the feeling of belongingness. He pointed out that these “ugly” areas are too unaesthetic to provide their purpose. Adding to that, he stated that the formation of accessible public ‘spaces’ will enhance citizenship as it will  provide the citizens with equal opportunity to cultivate their selves through aesthetic means. It’ll provide them with an environment they’ll identify with and which will perhaps, facilitate thoughts. It’ll help in blurring of the lines between the public and the private, between the rich and the poor solely by providing them with accessible public “space”.

Talk with Dr. Siddharth Mallavarapu on “International Relations and The Global South: Carving An Identity”

By Prachi Bhuckal,

Content Team Volunteer

The Political Science Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organised a guest lecture on 16th February 2017 and attempted to enhance the global political and social knowledge and sense of its student body. Dr. Siddharth Mallavarapu, Associate Professor & Chairperson the Department of International Relations at South Asian University, rendered an illuminating session on “International Relations and the Global South: Carving an Identity”. Mr. Mallavarapu holds eminent contributions in the area of International Relations, its theories, disciplinary histories and the pedagogies of International Relations in the Global South.

The session, which was timed at 11:45 a.m., began with a brief introduction of what exactly constitutes International Relations and how it stands as an Anglo-based, ethnocentric discipline. An outline of what classifies as the Global South was also discussed. Finding symmetry in analytical narratives is vital when looking at how International Relations structures an identity. “The Global South is a political category and sense of sensibilities”, according to Mr. Mallavarapu, who called for a historical check on the same.

An intellectual talk raises important questions and many such questions were put up for a better understanding of the subject matter, such as “Can we speak/think of something called ‘Global Justice’?”, “What are the notions of inferiority in this scenario/context?”, “How vital is the decolonisation of the mind?” and many more. The area of diversity, which stands vital in the present-day global view, was also talked about. Mr. Mallavarapu subtly explained how Third World approaches to International Law can contribute in decolonizing International Relations, its virtues and shortcomings.

Many other important topics were also highlighted, such as Imperialism, Theory of International Politics, White World Order, Black Work Politics, Inventions of IR and much more. Altogether, the talk proved to be of immense importance and effect. The leaders of the future took a mind-oriented step forward in hopes of deconstructing the challenging notions and issues that concern International Relations. The Department along with its present study body appeared to be content with the opportunity thus provided to them as the session ended around 1:30 p.m.


Talk by Mr. Indra Sekhar Singh on ‘Conquest of Nature and Eco Feminism’

By Zohra Abdullah
Sub-Editor and Content Team Head

On 9 January 2017, the Department of Political Science of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organised a talk by activist and environmentalist, Mr. Indra Shekhar Singh. Nature and culture come together to form the synthesis of ecofeminism, a much needed concept and movement in today’s culture of conspicuous consumption.

Lecture by Professor Achin Vinaik

Prof. Achin Vanaik

Date: 18 February 2016

Theme: “Nationalism and Communalism”

As the country was fighting for its idea of ‘nationalism’, the Political Science Department also became a ground for a ‘fight of ideas’, a platform to discuss and deliberate concepts and thoughts. Prof. Achin Vanaik from the University of Delhi, a renowned academician and an extremely engaging speaker was just what the students wanted. In a full venue crowded with students from all Departments of the college, Prof. Vanaik traced ideas of ‘Democratic nationalism’, questions institutions and practices of undemocratic nature and provided conceptual clarity to the students on questions of ‘defining nationalism’. Policy and the Indian nation state were explored deeply. His speaking style, engagement sessions were highly admired by the students, who until after the guest lecture was over continued hearing his interesting ideas on the communalism and nationalism debate.

‘Chat with a Diplomat’, organised in Co- Operation with the US Embassy and Global Youth India

22 September 2015

Ms. Jessica Edwardsen
Ms. Emily White
Mr. Branden Young
Mr. Ramesh Jain

In the light of the dynamic India-US relations, The Department hosted an interactive session with Ms. Jessica Edwardsen, Press Officer, US Embassy, India, Ms. Emily Program Director, American Centre, US Embassy, India, and Mr. Branden Young, Deputy North India Coordinator, US Embassy. The event was held in association with Global Youth India, an apolitical, not-for-profit organisation being managed on a voluntary basis by a group of television journalists and young professionals who focus on foreign policy issues in India. The event brought together young students to ideate on foreign policy issues and interact with foreign policy makers from the US embassy.

Lecture with Dr. Rajan Harshe

20 August 2015

The Association hosted Dr. Rajen Harshe as our first guest lecturer. He delivered an extremely informative and engaging lecture about “Globalization and the Fluctuating Contours of International Relations”. His lecture threw light upon how globalization is a multi-layered social process and how it involves free flow of goods and services along with terrorism and knowledge as well. He explained how capitalism and globalization forms a symbiotic relationship, both aiding the growth of one another. Moving beyond the economic aspect of globalization he also went on to explain how globalization affects us culturally through hegemony and he also explained that how in a very indirect way globalization is also propagating gender inequality. Though a very serious topic, Professor Harshe made sure to keep the talk engaging by adding a dash of humor in his speech. The speech was followed by an interactive session where Dr. Harshe in a very lucid way dispelled the doubts arousing in our mind. Such an interactive and engaging session will definitely inspire and encourage our department to hold many such more events in future.

Lecture with Ms. Edith

On the 26th of February 2015, the Political Science Association organized a lecture by Ms. Edith working at the American Embassy on the topic “Black History”. Ms. Emily White and Ms. Madhuri who are also a part of American Embassy joined us for this lecture. Ms. Edith’s talk revolved around the book “Voices from slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives”. February is celebrated as the black history month in USA. She spoke about the trials and tribulations that a slave went through in America, how they escaped their masters and the process of emancipation of slaves. She also talked about how the Nazis took the idea of concentration camps and the various ways of systematically killing the Jews from the practice of slavery in America. She mentioned that while these accounts give us a glimpse into the lives of slaves, we also have to remember the fact that it is impossible to construct history only on the basis of these narratives. She concluded her discussion by pointing out that history cannot be reconstructed from these selective and fragmented accounts but nonetheless these narratives remain an important source for understanding the everyday experience of slavery and its aftermath.