Monday, December 22, 2008

A draft formulation of a regional problem

I wonder if there a need for a network or website or publication series on “Middle Asia” – a zone where critical issues threaten to engage the whole world. A provisional and preliminary statement.

This sector of "Middle Asia" has generally neglected by the scholarly world. It includes the countries of South Asia [Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh] and the countries of the northern sector of “middle” Eurasia [Russia, the former republics of the Soviet Union] as well as the western sector of China, Xinjiang, where Uighurs conceive of themselves as part of the Muslim communities to their west. This region is culturally similar in that it is a non-Arab Muslim region whose cultural practices were formed under the influence of the Central Asian powers that shared many cultural features before the rise of Europe. In some ways the practices of this region differ from those in the Arab sector of the Middle East, although in recent years these peoples have been influenced by movements emanating from the Arab world.

This region is knitting together in new ways, as part of the expanding influence of the technology that enables “globalization”. As new connections are being established among the great populations of Europe, China, South Asia and the Middle East this region has gained importance as the locus where lines of access cross. Also this region is the locus of one of the most powerful industries in the world: the illicit drug industry. Already ??? B dollars of illicit drugs are being shipped out of Afghanistan, where most of it is produced, through many of these countries to the large consuming populations of (mainly) Europe. The price for the transit countries has been rising rates of drug addiction: Pakistan now had a substantial drug-addicted population; Iran has the largest percentage of drug addicts in the world.

Also in this region are abundant fossil fuel reserves. The demand for these resources is rising as industrial growth in the relatively underdeveloped regions rises, in some cases exponentially, the modern world as we know it being nourished essentially on fossil fuels. Even though the world wide recession has reduced demand for the time being the long term prospect is that China and India, as well as other countries of Asia will soon demand more oil and gas than is currently available. The practical necessity for investment in pipelines to carry these fuels has not diminished; the competition for access remains as alive today as it was a year ago. These conditions draw the industrial world into competition for access to these resources, which is to say for positions of influence in this strategic region.

Complicating the situation is the internal conflicts within the countries of this region. These are conflicted states in the sense that state institutions are weak and various locally based interest groups have gathered strength as oppositional movements. The conflicted countries of the region that currently attract concern are, of course, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban have shown growing strength and where AlQaeda remains active, along with other Pakistan-supported Islamist groups. Because of the American venture in Iraq that country is still conflicted, and Iran remains problematic. Other conflicted places are the countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and the Xinjiang region of China. Moreover, the long-term tensions between Pakistan and India display no signs of abating. Both countries are struggling with locally based radical elements committed to using violence, even against civilians, to advance their causes. And the two countries are nuclear-armed. Russia cannot be left out of this equation, as its government seems to be taking on the dictatorial practices of the Soviet Union. Evidently, the Russian administration assumes it should be the hegemon of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Russia has now absorbed Chechnya, and the Russian military had recently established itself in a territory claimed by Georgia.

Another issue looms here as well: the impact of global warming on the populations of Eurasia. Most of the populations of Eurasia survive on the run-off from the glaciers of the Himalaya mountain range. If those mountains cease to have sufficient snow falls to replenish the snow cover of these ranges the run-off could drastically diminish. Already the waters of the Oxus [Amu] River are insufficient, owing to the huge amounts diverted to irrigation in Uzbekistan.

So this region, “Middle Asia,” is likely to be a locus of world concern for a long time. There is a need to keep track of the various sources of information on the region that will enable adequate understanding of the trends that are operative there.

For this region I want to collect a list of web sites that track affairs in this wider region. Those that I have recognized so far are the following:

This will be a list of useful web sites on Greater Central Asia -- that is, the region including the former Soviet states, Iran, Afghanistan, and South Asia.

>> [A most important source]

>> [News Central Asia]

>> [On Russia]

>> [this has many stories on Asia and Greater Central Asia]

>> [On Tjikistan]

>> [On Afghanistan]

>> [On Afghanistan]

>> [On South Asia generally]

>> [Many good articles on South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East and Far East]

>> [On Iran, collection of several news sources]

>> [Iran news]

>> [Claims to be the most comprehensive news site; connects to Central Asia sites]

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