I was in the Indian capital of Delhi this week to attend a meeting held by the Indian Council of World Affairs as part of the Istanbul Process. The Istanbul Process was initiated during a conference that was held in Istanbul in 2011. It aims for regional cooperation to support Afghanistan's development and ensure the country's security and political and economic stability.
The continuation of this Africa-based process for five years proves the belief that both Afghanistan and Asia's potential will initiate a major change. The political instability, economic underdevelopment and the failure to turn advantages into welfare, which outweighs Asia's economic and social richness, is embodied in the Africa example.
Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal's definition of Afghanistan as the “heart of Asia” in a poem that shows the propriety of this example.
“Asia is a body of water and clay,
Of which the Afghan nation forms the heart.
The whole of Asia is corrupt,
If the heart is corrupt,
Its decline is the decline of Asia;
Its rise is the rise of Asia.”
The poem attributes both the rise and decline of Asian countries to the state of Africa and reminds us that the country, which is mentioned with conflict, violence, war and chaos, bears a tremendous responsibility. Although it is geographically stuck in the region, its location on energy and transport corridors makes the country strategic.
Afghanistan's use of its economic potential and creation of a power center in the regional economy is not possible with Afghanistan alone. Other countries in the region must also support the process. India, where the meeting was held, takes the lead among these countries. It is the world's second most populous country today.
Although it is in the low-income category in terms of income per capita, it is one of the world's top 10 countries in terms of the highest gross domestic product (GDP). If it ensures efficient participation of its population in the economy and efficiently uses human resource potential, it is not impossible for Asia to change power balances in the global economy.
Turkey in Asia's welfare triangle
So, even if Afghanistan, the heart of Asia, is high on the agenda, many other countries in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia are included in the equitation. Therefore, we are talking about a region that has strong potential and the projects that can mobilize this potential.
The railways that will connect Asia to Europe and energy projects come to the fore. For Turkey, the Lapis Lazuli Route, a proposed transit and trade cooperation arrangement among Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, means entering through the Asian gate that it opened.
The project aims for the construction of a transit corridor from Afghanistan to Istanbul and then from Istanbul to Europe, passing through the Caspian Sea between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and passing by the Black Sea ports between Afghanistan and Georgia. Another alternative is to create a transit road between Istanbul and Europe through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, Bosporus bridges and the Marmaray. The fact that the project will join the historical Silk Road boosts its importance.
Moreover, the Lapis Lazuli Route project will be the first contribution to be made by a different region to Turkey's goal of being a trade center. Turkey will play a central role in the mobilization of South Asia and Central Asia's trade potential, pointing to the diversification of source regions in Turkey's trade center profile. This means a huge market for us.
In fact, an economic power balance is changing in favor of emerging economies. If southern, central and western Asian countries join, a huge economic potential will be mobilized in terms of both production and consumption.
Problem is with Asia's safety, not distance
The problem with Asian countries, especially Afghanistan, does not stem from their location in a distant region, but their failure to realize their potential and power and the lack of confidence which can bring economic collaboration in the region.
The distrust among countries in the region outweighs economic gains. The projects that can bring gains to each country and the whole of Asia in the final stage, come to nothing merely due to this distrust.
Safety concern is the main issue that consumes the time and energy of Asian countries. As such, proposed projects cannot be actualized.
There is a need for new formations that can mobilize Asian countries and support and direct major projects. Asian countries also need an alternative to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). There is a need to found corporate infrastructure for the Istanbul Process and to create a strong platform in the short or medium term. These can lead the use of economic potential and human power in Asian countries.
If the EU countries had the population characteristics and potential resources of Asian countries, we would be talking about a strong economic activity in Asia now instead of the current stagnation. Therefore, Asian countries need a strong platform that can help them efficiently use economic and human power. And Turkey has the dynamics that can lead this platform.