Greater Central Asia as the new frontier in the twenty-first century
Greater Central Asia (GCA) has been variously defined as the five post-Soviet Central Asian republics (the five ‘stans’), plus Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Throughout this book we have restricted our focus to the five ‘stans’, plus Mongolia and the far western parts of China, but we are mindful of the significance of the neighboring countries such as Pakistan (one of the keys to the proposed New Maritime Silk Road) and Iran and Afghanistan. At one time the five ‘stans’ plus Mongolia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan used to form a coherent and inter-connected sub-region for millennia until the impenetrable Soviet border sliced through the continent in the early 20th century and destroyed the old trade and cultural routes. Impressive levels of trade and cultural exchanges, but also military and political competition that had effects far beyond the region itself, characterized GCA (sensu lato) in earlier times. Today, something similar to the old GCA region is reforming after a brief interlude with the Soviet Union (Russia), China (Mongolia) and Great Britain as lords and occupiers, even if the Central Asian states view their international relations with great suspicion and tension and regionalism is still a far-fetched concept in GCA (sensu lato) or in post-Soviet Central Asia. Historically, Central Asia, a confluence of three major civilizations, sits on the hub of the Silk Road, but it has failed to evolve into an independent area or region. In the second half of the 19th century, this region was a scene for struggles and rivalry between Russia and Britain, and ended up with its annexation by Tsarist Russia.