I wonder if we can really afford to go on looking at the region of Central Asia or Central Eurasia as just the five littoral Caspian states, or those post-Soviet states, plus Afghanistan and Turkey because of certain shared histories, but not put in Pakistan and India, i.e. "South and Central Asia" -- like the title of Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State.
Then, shouldn't you have more of Russia? Because, really, they're so related, especially Russia's predominantly Muslim regions. And then there's China, with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. If you put in US policy and the European Union to the lens on Central Asia, shouldn't you have China, too?
Then maybe you have to have Iraq occasionally, for any parallels or related issues to the war in Afghanistan. Then there's the Middle East and North Africa, MENA as they are always called nowadays (like we've come to speak of AfPak), well, no there aren't any springs sprung but still.
Before you know it, it's like John Muir:
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
The old geographical divisions for military and academic policy may not make sense anymore now that we have the Internet and social media and the means of identifying common unifying or similar strands among different places on the planet.
I've always thought it valuable to study the Central Asia stans as separate because of their shared Soviet legacy. I believe this to be highly important simply because I lived through the era and saw how it played out in the various Soviet republics after the failed coup and the "collapse" of the USSR (it didn't quite collapse). That's just my personal take that many younger people would challenge who now see this region attached to South Asia or believe the Russian influence is now far less and it the region should move to the center of the map in its own right.
Then there are US State Department officials who define a "New Silk Road" growing out of a pre-Soviet "Silk Road" historic utopia of trade that they wish to project into a future utopia.
Aside from the geographical demarcations that may or may not be relevant and useful any more, there is the problem of different interests and narratives. Many kinds of people have a stake in these countries and the entire region, however defined: the authoritarian governments; Western and other governments of the world; multilateral organizations like the UN and OSCE; academics and think-tank experts; humanitarian agencies and non-profit humanitarian groups; human rights organizations, funded by governments or foundations; journalists and bloggers. Oh, and then there's the people of these countries themselves, remember! We hear their narrative least of all, and they take many forms -- human rights advocates, civil society groups, militant Islamist groups, mafia businessmen, ordinary people, academics dependent on the state; independent scholars and so on.
I'm not going to pretend I don't fit into some of these categories myself and then have my own bias. I just wish to hear more of the argumentation for adopting this or that narrative and what the facts are for supporting it.
Given how important this part of the world is becoming, with the US reliance on Pakistan blocked and now substituted increasingly by reliance on Uzbekistan and other neighbours in Central Asia, and given that the war in Afghanistan is supposed to wind down with removal of troops in 2014, I think it should get a lot more discussion than it does. It doesn't, because there is a tendency to define complex fields like this as only legitimately discussed by academics or specialists or officials on closed mailing lists or invitation-only conversations or on sequestered blogs like Registan where moderators delete critics. Other news sites, including EurasiaNet have comments closed.
RFE/RL arguably has some of the best reporting and most open and tolerant comments section. But that means it can get crowded, and crowded with undereducated goofs in the American midwest as much as the Uzbek diaspora.
That's ok, better that than silence, but a problem with RFE/RL that personally made me stop posting there as much is that the authors themselves never enter the discussion. They are in a kind of ivory tower of journalism and commentary in which the masses are seen at a distance waving their pitchforks or torches, so you can never really engage in a serious debate with adults. We are all infantalized by being in comments where not only anti-Americans and anti-Muslim commentators rage just above the moderator's line, but the authors and editors are completely unavailable for comment.
There's a few other sites like Neweurasia and Global Voices but I find them stilted and also prone to snarky over-moderation -- they adopt a "progressive line" in places that's annoyingly narrow-minded, and also insufficiently cover certain countries, like Belarus. (BTW, I'm going to cover Belastan on this blog, which is the artificially-maintained coercive state known as Belarus under the dictator Lukashenka, and use the term "Belarus" to describe what my colleagues and friends in civil society there are doing on other blogs.)
I doubt sincerely that by myself, I could create a discussion site that might even approximate some of the readership and engagement of long-existing other sites, and I have no pretentions. My hope is to find a few friends to discuss these matters with differently.