Workshop on Silk Road Trade and Connectivity in Central and South Asia
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The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), in collaboration with the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) and the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), organised a two-day workshop on ‘Silk Road Trade and Connectivity in Central and South Asia’ on 29th & 30th March 2016. The workshop, among other things, focused on infrastructure and connectivity related issues in Central and South Asia against the backdrop of China’s recently rolled out ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (SREB) initiative, an initiative that seeks to link China to Central Asia and further up to Europe through energy pipelines and transport corridors. Participants to the workshop included representatives from China, the UK, India and Afghanistan. The workshop, while analyzing the various underlying dynamics of SREB project – feasibility, cost, benefits, and security, among other related issues, also discussed a few alternative proposals which might be helpful in connecting the Eurasian landmass.

General NC Vij, Director, VIF, in his opening remarks laid out the roadmap for the workshop. While advancing India’s vision of connectivity through the region he underlined the SREB has always remained a subject of intense study for the VIF, corroborated by the fact that four publications have come out of the foundation till date. Even though the SREB does not benefit India in any significant way, it has implications for the country. To that extent, policy experts in India as also in countries impacted by the SREB need to have a deeper understanding of the subject than what has been the case so far.

Day one of the workshop focused on ways in which SREB-related infrastructure and transport projects can help break connectivity bottlenecks in Eurasia. Deliberations across the table in parts also focused on how China and India can enhance bilateral cooperation through connectivity. As a corollary to this, discussions were held on the need to protect the newly-built infrastructure, energy and transport corridors across Central and South Asia through cooperative security solutions. Day two of the workshop focused squarely on the prevailing security environment in the region, especially on Afghanistan, and its larger implications for the SREB and vice versa. Discussants were largely of the view that a deteriorating Afghanistan would seriously undermine the SREB. To that extent, Sino-Indian security cooperation in Afghanistan, especially both countries contributing to strengthening Afghanistan’s national security architecture, especially its Army, is not only imperative for stabilizing Afghanistan, and thereby securing the region, but it is also in their own economic and security interests.

The workshop, on the first day, was organised into three sessions, with a session each devoted to studying aspects of road connectivity, securing
the Silk Road, and stablisation and economic development through connectivity. With Ambassador Ashok Kantha, Lt Gen RK Sawhney and Director International Security Studies, RUSI, Raffaello Pantucci moderating discussions in the respective sessions, the panel of speakers included the following: Brig Vinod Anand (VIF), Dr Lin Minwang (Associate Professor, Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University), Sarah Lain (RUSI), Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee (VIF), Tamim Asey (Director General of Policy Office, National Security Council, Government of Afghanistan), Dr Wang Shida (CICIR), and Prof Nirmala Joshi (Director, India-Central Asia Foundation).

Insofar as the first session on road connectivity is concerned, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Eurasian Land Bridge and China-Central Asia-West Asia corridors - projects that form the backbone of SREB – their feasibility, impact etc were discussed in greater details. This session also looked at different Indian and Chinese visions of Eurasian connectivity to understand better what the various powers have underpinning their regional thinking. The second session focused on the imperatives of increased regional security necessitated by coming up SREB related projects, especially in view of the fact that most of these projects at the initial stages will pass through one of the most volatile regions in the world today, the Af-Pak region in particular. The third session specifically looked at the constraints to easier flow of trade in the region flowing out of intra-regional rivalries and a difficult terrain encompassing major trading routes. While exploring possibilities for China-India cooperation in mitigating some of these challenges, discussants also went into how India’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) or the Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIB) might facilitate such cooperation within the broader framework of Afghanistan stabilization process as also improving trade connectivity in the region.

On the second and final day, the workshop had two sessions, one each on challenges facing Afghanistan and opportunities for cooperation in Afghanistan. With TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) pipeline serving as an investment model in multilateral cooperation, discussants sought to understand security implications of large investment projects in countries which are fundamentally unstable – politically, economically and on many other security parameters, while at the same time efforts were also made to identify joint economic and investment opportunities that could simultaneously build up Afghanistan’s capacity to ensure its own stability. Sushant Sareen (VIF), Tamim Asey (Director General of Policy Office, National Security Council, Afghanistan) and Ritesh Kumar Singh, General Manager, Economic Policy Affairs Division & Group Economist, Raymond Ltd, shared their perspectives on the economic challenges facing Afghanistan in the first session, while Vikas Khitha, Head of Business Development, L&T Finance Holdings, Pankaj Tandon, Vice President, KEC International, New Delhi, Dr Wang Shida (CICIR) and Raffaello Pantucci (RUSI) formed the panel of speakers in the concluding session of the workshop. Raffaello Pantucci and Sarah Lain, both from the RUSI, chaired a session each.

The workshop benefitted immensely from the interventions made from time to time by senior diplomats and bureaucrats sitting in the audience. Amb Kanwal Sibal, Amb Tariq Karim, Amb Sanjay Singh, Adm KK Nayyar and CD Sahay, among others, contributed substantially to help the organizers achieve the objectives of the workshop.

Event Date 
March 29, 2016
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