In 2011, then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rolled out a plan for Central and South Asia: “Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road. Not a single thoroughfare like its namesake, but an international web and network of economic and transit connections. That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure….”
Unfortunately, the logic of the U.S. government’s New Silk Road (NSR) Initiative is not convincingly based on the realities of regional trade between Central and South Asia. The principal narrative of the NSR is that Central and South Asia have complementary economies. While this may appear to be true on paper, it does not adequately reflect regional economic and trade dynamics. Building or rehabilitating transportation infrastructure does not necessarily result in trade development; this requires genuine regional integration, good governance, and functioning transport services and customs procedures. More measured projects, such as the development of small local transportation networks, would probably be more effective, including by allowing some isolated regions to improve local trade.