The ‘New Great Game’ in Central Asia, and the Iran-Turkey rivalry

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The ‘New Great Game’ in Central Asia, and the Iran-Turkey rivalry

In a meeting with officials of the Ministry of Roads and Transport on December 24, 1996, the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed the development of the Bafq-Mashhad railway line and highlighted the need to connect Central Asia to open waters through Iran.
Seven years later, Ayatollah Khamenei once again stressed that Iran is “possibly the only link between Western countries and Central Asia.”
The Iranian leader prognosticated quite clearly the potential scenarios in the following years, emphasising the strategic significance of Central Asia and highlighting Iran’s advantage of geographic propinquity to that region.
It was not well understood at the time, not even among experts or politicians that Iran might gain abundant political and economic benefits by accurately developing a vast and modern railway network to connect with Central Asia, a gateway of promising opportunities.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian region has been the focal point of Iran’s political and economic diplomacy due to its shared culture and history.
In recent years, Tehran has expanded its commercial ties with countries like Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan by pursuing economic cooperation, which has resulted in an exponentially growing trade exchange.
However, the emergence of new political-security alliances among the region’s states is currently happening in Central Asia. A new political climate where the Turkish foray can see the change in the regional equations into economic and financial sectors.
With its pragmatic strategies, the Turkish government prioritised the cultivation of solid ties in diverse fields with the Central Asian republics. Using its diligent and shrewd diplomatic prowess, Ankara has entered the markets of Central Asia in propitious circumstances and timing.
By promoting the Trans-Caspian pipeline project, which is intended to export Turkmenistan’s gas and establishing east-west transit corridors in cooperation with the Republic of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Turkey has opened the Caspian Sea to its relentless economic endeavours.
Meanwhile, we cannot underestimate Turkey’s efforts to rally Asian Turkic-speaking countries, including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, into a single military bloc. In addition to Baku, Nur-Sultan and Tashkent, with similar military cooperation agreements signed, are now viewed as Ankara’s military allies.
Notwithstanding Turkish efforts, the Iranians moved forward and did not stand still.
In an analysis published by the Turkish news agency Anadolu, after mentioning the frequent visits of Central Asian leaders to Tehran, including the President of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, it is stated that Tokayev sought Iran’s assistance in creating a safe corridor to export energy and grain.
Therefore, it is essential for Mr Tokayev and his counterparts in Central Asia to acknowledge Iran’s unique status as the shortest path for Central Asian nations to access the Persian Gulf and, ultimately, worldwide markets.
In the meantime, developing economic diplomacy with Central Asia for the growth of non-oil exports and mitigating the implications of US sanctions is apparent when seen through the lens of Iran.
According to many scholars, the “New Great Game” that began in the 1990s as a geopolitical fierce struggle between various nations for control over Central Asian energy resources has reemerged. China, Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and the European Union are deemed key players in the reinvigorated New Great Game.

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