In the book, you say that among the three great powers engaged in the region, China wins on points. Why is this?
I think we have to judge the relative success of the external powers by what their strategies and starting points [were]. So, 10 years ago, China still had border disagreements with these places, its level of trade was very low. It was an aspirational player and within the course of a decade, it has founded an international organization called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has become the region's leading trade partner. It has actually built ... pipelines that take Central Asian oil and gas eastward, not just talked about building them, and it has concluded security cooperation types of agreements with all Central Asian states as well as border agreements. So, comprehensively, it has fulfilled its agenda.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Pakistan in October, which will reportedly be the first-ever visit by a Russian head of state to Islamabad [Editor's' note: this visit is now being rescheduled]. Is this an indication of Russia's expanding sphere of interest in the region, as the United States runs into trouble?
Yes, absolutely. I think that Russia, in general, wants to tack eastward and, certainly, given the sort of Chinese-U.S. competition for influence on Pakistan -- although both counties would deny that they are in competition for influence, but certainly, the Pakistani government quite publically plays them off each other -- I think you will see Russia, too, try to make Pacific engagement and South Asian engagement more of a priority.
The problem is [that] this region regards Russia more as a European power, more as a post-Soviet player. So, it is going to be very difficult for Russia to actually offer an actual vector of cooperation to a lot of these countries.
So far, there haven't really been any flashpoints between the three great powers in the region. Do you think we might see some sort of clash in the future?
I am not sure necessarily we will see that. The thing that we should not forget is that the overall goals of each of the three main players are different, so that they can coexist, mostly.
For the [United States] it is to secure cooperation, the security and logistical support, for the campaign in Afghanistan.
For China, it is to help develop and stabilize the neighboring region adjacent to Xinjiang, and for Russia it is less material. It is more about pride, prestige, securing great-power status, deference, and respect.
So, in most cases, these three goals have been able to coexist, even as the interactions have intensified.
Do you agree that it appears that the real loser in this three-way power struggle for influence in Central Asia has been human rights?
I think that that is definitely one of the casualties, and there is no way of sugar-coating it. Look, by any kinds of indicators on democracy, governance, human rights, the situation over the last 10 years has worsened.