Tariq Saeedi and Elvira Kadyrova
It is happening right before our eyes. — TAPI is decisively transforming into CAPS, driven by the combined force of the ground realities.
TAPI, as we know, is the acronym for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India. Initially it referred to just a single project – transnational gas pipeline. However, lately it has come to mean an entire corridor that includes the gas pipeline, the road, the railway line, the electrical power transmission lines, the fiber optics link, and possibly the oil pipeline too. We mean all of this, and more, when we talk of the TAPI Corridor.
However, the ground realities are transforming TAPI into CAPS. —– It is a newly coined acronym and it means Central-Asia-Pakistan-Seas. We will stop short of calling it a corridor because it is much wider in scope. In fact, we would prefer if it were called a concept rather than a corridor.
Speaking of the concept, we need to give a second thought to the entire idea of a corridor because some of the lately manufactured corridors are hardly more than an alleyway. The thought process when putting together such corridors went off the tangent somewhere and focused on including someone or excluding someone rather than universalizing the benefits of the corridor itself.
That said, the CAPS is in need of explanation and justification. Particularly objectionable, from several points of view, could be the presence of the letter P in CAPS, which denotes Pakistan.
It is not because of any prejudice or any special merit of Pakistan. It is the question of the geographical location.
Instead of hazarding any explanation of our own, let us turn to Ms. Ellen Churchill Semple.
Ellen Churchill Semple (1863–1932) was an American geographer and the first female president of the Association of American Geographers. She contributed significantly to the early development of the discipline of geography in the United States, particularly the studies of the human geography.
She wrote a landmark paper titled ‘Geographical Location as a Factor in History’ that was published in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, 1908, Vol. 40, No. 2 (1908)
This paper is open access in pdf at this link
She writes, “Area itself, important as it is, must yield to location. Location may mean only a single spot, and yet from this spot powerful influence may radiate. No one thinks of size when mention is made of Rome or Athens, or Jerusalem or Mecca, of Gibraltar or Port Arthur.”
She adds, “The historical significance of many small peoples, and the historical insignificance of many big ones even to the nil point, is merely the expression of the preponderant importance of location over area.”
Semple writes in the same paper, “The unifying effect of the vicinal location is greatly enhanced if the neighbouring people are grouped about an enclosed sea which affords an easy highway for communication.”
Hence, CAPS – Central-Asia-Pakistan-Seas.
As mentioned just earlier, the lumping together of some countries does not automatically constitute a corridor. Actually, sometimes it is vaguely reminiscent of the Danzig Corridor.
An ADB working paper titled ‘What is Economic Corridor Development and What Can It Achieve in Asia’s Subregions?’ published August 2013 explains, “Economic corridors connect economic agents along a defined geography. They provide important connections between economic nodes or hubs that are usually centered in urban landscapes. . . . What economic corridors can achieve for regional economic integration depends first on what characteristics the specific existing economic networks in which the economic corridors are embedded personify, and second on which characteristics corridor development are intended to introduce or strengthen. Corridor characteristics interact dynamically to create patterns of regional economic development. Models that make this interaction explicit have combined elements of the New Economic Geography (nonlinear and General Equilibrium elements).”
Keeping in mind the idea proffered by Ms. Semple and the corridor conditions defined by the ADB paper mentioned above, let’s turn to another term – landlocked.
Most of the terms in vogue today are in need of refurbishment. ‘Landlocked’ is no exception.
When we speak of Central Asia, we would need to settle on a better term rather than landlocked. It would be helpful if we could call the region ‘inland’ rather than ‘landlocked.’
The Central Asian countries are inland; they are not landlocked. Their geographic location is of immense importance. They are at the heart of the Great Silk Road. The economic interaction in the Eurasian landmass cannot flourish without their participation.
Simultaneously, Pakistan has wide access to the open seas. Along its 1001km coastline, there are several all-weather ports. And, apparently Pakistan is proactively offering to share this advantage with its inland neighbours.
This is the initial, perhaps superficial, justification for CAPS (Central-Asia-Pakistan-Seas) as a concept. We will try to build on it as we move along. For the time being, it is important to underline that we are presenting it as a concept, not as a potential corridor.
Anchored to this idea, we need to look at the processes that have led to the transformation of TAPI corridor into CAPS, and continue to do so. What are the ground realities driving this remodelling? /// nCa, 17 February 2023
To be continued . . .