Studies on Central Asia

By Dr. K.N. Pandita

I was happy to read the news of a two-day seminar on Central Asian Studies organised in the University of Kashmir. I read Governor’s inaugural address with full attention.

As one who was among the first posse of faculty to be posted at the newly opened Centre of Central Asian Studies in Kashmir University in 1976, and later on rose to be its adhoc Director till my superannuation in 1986, I had the privilege of whatever small role in the origination of the Centre and its progress as an area study centre of the UGC. Unfortunately, after my superannuation I did not remain in touch with the Centre for the reason that I spent most of my days touring extensively either in Central Asia or in Europe and the US as an academic at large. Even during the civil war in Tajikistan in mid nineties, I was in Dushanbe watching the cruel march of history of transition of that State from authoritarian rule to republicanism.  

I know work is in progress in the field of research on relations between Kashmir and Central Asia by our literati and still more work remains to be done. Many researchers at the Centre have been visiting Central Asian States as visiting or exchange faculty. This is the age of interaction among peoples and should be encouraged and expanded.

However as one who has been so closely connected with Central Asia, I would like to convey some of my ideas to the younger generation of scholars and researchers at the Centre of Central Asian Studies in Kashmir University just with the purpose of widening the scope of interaction.

The Governor has touched upon very important areas of bilateral relationship that need to be worked at and probed into. There is no doubt about scope and vision he has expressed. It is something like capsule guideline and I am confident the faculties and researchers are capable of dealing adequately with the themes.

In particular, I would like to suggest to the young scholars to pay serious scholarly attention to contemporary and current history, politics, geo-strategy and culture of Central Asia first during the Soviet power and then after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the first place it is of immense importance to study the deep social-cultural transformation of Central Asian States during the seven decades of Soviet power. The question is not whether that arrangement was good or bad. The point is to determine what transformation it brought about and what impact it had practically and pragmatically on the vast Central Asian civilization and thought process.

In late 1980s, I once had a very long briefing by one of the most distinguished scholars of Tajikistan, late Professor Muhammad Asimi, the then Chairman of the Tajik Academy of Sciences and former Education Minister of Tajikistan on the impact of Soviet system on life and thought of Central Asian peoples. In my work titled Uniting Hearts Uniting Generations, which is a political biography of late, Asimi published and released in Denver, USA on 28 August 2013, this theme has been treated elaborately. In my two lectures delivered at the University of Khujand (also called the Heart of Turkistan on the banks of Syr Darya in Tajikistan) I had dealt with this subject. The lectures were published in a Tajik journal.

Secondly, a sea change has appeared in the social and political scenario of all Central Asian Republics after they attained independence from erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991. The two decade long history of recent past has unfolded the immense economic and strategic importance of the region. The area has been sucked into the vortex of international politics and geo-strategic imperatives not only for its strategic location as the bridge between the west and the east but also as new found immense hydrocarbon energy source, namely Turkmen gas, Kazakh oil, Uzbek gas and oil, and also Kyrgyz water resource and Tajik minerals. This has given great impetus to the revival of ancient Silk Road but in its new avatar.

Contemporary Central Asia is going to be the great play ground of cross continent economic and trade activities in coming years. Its manpower is of unimaginable potentiality which will play a crucial role in the shaping of the destiny of the Asian Continent. I would very much wish that scholars and researchers at the Centre of Central Asian Studies in Kashmir University envision the historic role which is in the offing in this part of Asian Continent and reflect on it with impulsive anticipation. Their study and conclusions must deeply influence our younger generations in most constructive manner.

Sufism that came to Kashmir from Central Asia during the Middle Ages is an impressive social phenomenon that shaped the mind and thought of the Kashmiris. Looked with deeper insight, we find it was a unique and indigenous effort of synthesizing given streams of thought. It sustained our society till date.

But while appreciating that inimitable phenomenon, we should also know that Central Asian intellectuals also played matchless role in stimulating the spirit of enquiry based on the science of logic which they had borrowed from the great Greek philosophers through their Arabic translations done by polyglots of various faiths like Zoroastrians, Christian Armenians, Judeans, and non-Arabs, thanks to the munificence of the Abbasid Caliphs especially Harun and Mamun and their viziers of Buddhist origin converted to Islam in Balkh.

It is good to talk nostalgically of Central Asian Sufism, cuisine, fruits, calligraphy, various arts, crafts and skills finding their way into Kashmir in middle ages. But it is also the requirement of our times to turn our attention to the inquisitive mind of Central Asian thinkers, philosophers and erudite in making excellent but dispassionate use of logic in reasoning out issues, situations and scenarios in which we are placed today. We are in the 21 century —- a century of science and technology, a century that beckons to harmony and concord among nations, communities and groups.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and Central Asian Republics announced their independence, their detractors, particularly in the western world, began to behave like prophets of doom and destruction anticipating unending rivalry, fighting and dissensions among the Central Asians. Totally ignorant of the sea change that had overtaken the peoples of Central Asia, all their condemned predictions proved false. On the contrary, the Central Asians not only disproved their fallacious theories but came together hand in hand to fight divisive forces appearing under jingoism, parochialism or fundamentalism. This is a unique lesson which our scholars must study and analyse dispassionately for the benefit of all thinking people in our State. This could become the strongest chord binding us with all ethnicities in fabulous Turkistan.

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