The quadrilateral summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, brought the presidents of four major regional powers to discuss increased cooperation in regional trade, fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, and making joint efforts for regional peace and security. Earlier in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China, President Asif Ali Zardari had mooted the idea of a revival of the historic Silk Route and the Eurasian Corridor. In its modern avatar, this would take the form of increased connectivity through modern highways, railroads and air services. Increased trade and investment would follow the development of these modern means of communication, bolstered by banking and other mutually beneficial services. The potential for good of these ideas is further underlined by the possibility of Pakistan acting as the southern leg of a trade and energy corridor, linking Gwadar Port with China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe. The dream is ambitious but doable, as underlined by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s remarks on regional issues, particularly Afghanistan, and the role Russia was desirous of playing in implementing the dream.
The summit communiqué emphasised the importance of accelerated training and arming of the Afghan security services in the light of the planned withdrawal of 10,000 US troops this year, another 23,000 by the end of next summer, leaving behind a 65,000-strong force, to be gradually whittled down to perhaps a residual 25,000 by 2014. Medvedev expressed the sense of the meeting when he argued for a regional solution to Afghanistan. Naturally, Afghanistan and all its neighbours are seized of the fact that with the withdrawal of the US-led coalition, the region would have to fill its shoes if Afghanistan was to be stabilised as the first step in the stabilisation of the region as a whole. This would allow the Russian interest in CASA 1000, the project to supply 1,000 MW electricity from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to be implemented, along with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Russia is attempting to recover its influence in a region it has historically had an important role in, especially in the light of the recently emerged tensions in the US-Afghan and US-Pakistan relationships, but without any direct involvement in Afghanistan, from which the Soviet Union retreated with a bloody nose in 1989. Medvedev lamented the lack of progress in these joint energy projects and committed his country to investing millions of dollars to ensure they see the light of day. As part of Russia’s policy of recovering influence in its ‘near abroad’, it has managed an extension in the agreement with Tajikistan for its military base by another 49 years.
This quadrilateral summit of Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan seems to be acquiring a regular character. Last August, President Medvedev had hosted it in Sochi. Next year it is Pakistan’s turn in Islamabad. As is usual at such international moots, they provide opportunities for the participants to have bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the main action, which often are productive. For example, Presidents Zardari and Karzai took the opportunity to discuss Pak-Afghan relations, the transit trade agreement between the two countries, security and mutual cooperation. The atmospherics, body language of all the leaders and the obvious friendliness and bonhomie point to the quadrilateral process acquiring a dynamic that is the obvious need of the countries concerned, as well as the region as a whole. There is a visible tectonic shift away from the western ‘interlopers’ to regional arrangements for mutually beneficial security and economic cooperation. More power to their Excellencies’ elbows.