Category Archives: Central Asia

Four More Years: Central and South Asia

Four More Years: Central & South Asia

Dispatches From The Edge

Nov. 30, 2012

From the ice-bound passes of the Hindu Kush to the blazing heat of the Karakum Desert, Central Asia is a sub-continent steeped in illusion. For more than two millennia conquerors have been lured by the mirage that it is a gateway to immense wealth: China to the east, India to the south, Persia to the west, and to the north, the riches of the Caspian basin. Greeks, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, British, and Soviets have all come and gone, leaving behind little more than forgotten graveyards and the detritus of war.

Americans and our NATO allies are next.

It is a cliché that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, but a cliché doesn’t mean something is not true, just that it is repeated over and over again until the phrase becomes numbing. It is a tragedy that the US was “numb” to that particular platitude, although we have company. In the past 175 years England has invaded Afghanistan four times.

Our 2001 invasion was itself built on a myth—that the Taliban had attacked the US on 9/11 was fabricated to lay the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq 17 months later. That both invasions turned into disasters is hardly surprising. Rudyard Kipling and TE Lawrence predicted those outcomes more than a 100 years ago.

Most of all, the war has been a calamity for the Afghan people. The country has staggered through more than 30 years of war. According to a recent UN survey, conditions for Afghans in the southern part of the country are desperate. Some one-third of the area’s young children—one million under the age of five—are acutely malnourished. “What’s shocking is that this is really high by global standards,” Michael Keating, deputy head of the UN mission to Afghanistan, told the Guardian (UK). “This is the kind of malnutrition you associate with Africa, and some of the most deprived parts of the world, not with an area that has received so much international attention and assistance.”

The area in question embraces Kandahar and Helmand, the two provinces targeted by Washington’s 2009 troop surge. That the provinces have widespread malnutrition and are still deeply restive—both are among the most dangerous areas in the country— is a commentary on the futility of the entire endeavor.

The question is, what now? How the White House answers that will go a long way toward determining whether Afghanistan can begin to extricate itself from its long, national nightmare, or once again collapse into civil war that could destabilize the entire region.

There are a couple of truths the White House will need to absorb.

First, there can be no “residual” force left in the country. Right now the Obama administration is trying to negotiate a status force agreement that will allow it to keep anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 troops in the country to train the Afghan army and pursue al-Qaeda. Such an agreement would exempt US forces from local laws, and is a non-starter for Afghans from the get go. The Taliban and their allies—in particular the highly effective and quite lethal group, the Haqqanis—will not allow it, and insisting that US troops remain in the country will guarantee the war continues.  If there is one truth in Afghanistan, it is that the locals don’t cotton to outsiders.

Nor are the regional neighbors very enthusiastic about having the American military in residence next door. Since those neighbors—specifically Iran, China, Pakistan and Russia—will be central to any final settlement, one does not want to annoy them. It doesn’t take much effort to derail a peace process in Afghanistan.

As for al-Qaeda, it doesn’t exist in Afghanistan, and it is even a specter of its former self in Pakistan. In any case, the Taliban and its allies are focused on local issues, not worldwide jihad, and pose no threat to the US or NATO. Indeed, way back in 2007, Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, pledged that the organization would not interfere in the affairs of any other country.

The White House can get the ball rolling by finally closing down Guantanamo and releasing its Taliban prisoners. Pakistan has already started its prisoner release. Washington must also stop its aggressive use of drones and Special Forces to pursue Taliban leaders. These so-called “night raids” and drone assassinations are not only provocative, but make any final agreement more difficult to negotiate. The US has already decapitated much of Taliban’s mid-level leadership, which, in turn, has atomized the organization into scores of local power centers. In fact, that decentralization may make reaching a final agreement much more difficult, because no single person or group of people will be empowered to negotiate for local Taliban affiliates.

In the long run the war will most likely be resolved the way most things end in Afghanistan: in a compromise. For all their war-like reputation, Afghans really excel in the art of the deal. The Taliban will be part of the government, but all the scare talk about Islamic extremists sweeping into power is exaggerated. The Taliban are mostly based in the Pashtun-dominated south and east, and they will remain the biggest players in Helmand, Kandahar and Paktika provinces. But Pashtuns only make up a plurality in the country—about 42 percent—and will have to compromise with the other major ethnic groups, the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. Even when the Taliban ruled the country it never succeeded in conquering northern Afghanistan, and it has less support today than it did then.

One major danger comes from US support for local militias that do nothing to control the Taliban, but are quite successful at building up provincial warlords and protecting the opium trade (harvests increased 18 percent over a year ago). The Soviets followed exactly the same path, one that eventually led to the devastating 1992-96 civil war.

In short, the US needs to get out, and as quickly as possible. Its NATO allies have already boarded that train—the French are leaving a year early, the Dutch are gone, and the Brits are bunkered down—and prolonging the war is more likely to end in a debacle than any outcome favored by Washington. It is not our country, we don’t get to determine its history. That is a lesson we should have learned in Vietnam, but apparently did not.

The future of Afghanistan is linked to Pakistan, where current US policy is in shambles. A recent poll found that 74 percent of Pakistanis considered Washington an enemy. Many attribute those figures to the deeply unpopular American drone war that has killed scores of civilians. The drones have definitely made a bad situation worse, but the dispute goes deeper than missile-toting Predators and Reapers.  Pakistan is legitimately worried about its traditional opponent in the region, India, and Islamabad views Afghanistan as part of its “strategic depth”—a place to which to retreat in case of an attack by the much stronger Indian Army. Given that Pakistan has lost four wars with its southern neighbor, paranoia about the outcome of a fifth is understandable.

Instead of showing sensitivity to this concern, Washington has encouraged India to invest in Afghanistan, which it has done to the tune of over $2 billion. India even has paramilitary forces deployed in southern Afghanistan. Further, the Obama administration has taken Kashmir off the table, in spite of the fact that, in the run-up to the 2008 elections, Obama promised to seek a solution to the long-running conflict. Dropping Kashmir was a quid pro quo for a growing alliance between New Delhi and Washington aimed at containing an up and coming China.

But Kashmir is far too dangerous to play the role of a regional pawn. India and Pakistan came very close to a nuclear war over the area in the 1999 Kargil incident, and both countries are currently accelerating their nuclear weapons programs. Pakistani and Indian military leaders have been distressingly casual about the possibility of a nuclear war between the two countries. Rather than actively discouraging a nuclear arms race, Washington has made it easier for New Delhi to obtain fuel for its nuclear weapons programs, in spite of the fact that India refuses—along with Pakistan—to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As with agreeing to mute concerns over Kashmir, the US’s waver of the NNPT is part of Washington’s campaign to woo India into an alliance against China. A nuclear exchange between the two South Asian countries would not only be a regional catastrophe, but would have a worldwide impact.

Independent of the dangers Kashmir poses for the region and the world, its people should have the right to determine their own future, be it joining Pakistan, India, or choosing the path of independence. A UN sponsored referendum would seem the obvious way to let Kashmir’s people take control of their won destiny.

For starters, however, the US should demand that New Delhi accept a 2004 Indian government commission’s recommendation to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which Human Rights Watch calls “a tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination.” The Special Powers Act was first created to control Catholics in Northern Ireland and then applied across Britain’s colonial empire. It is used today by Israel in the Occupied Territories and India in Kashmir. It allows for arrests without warrants, indefinite detainments, torture, and routine extra-judicial killings.

Washington’s fixation with lining up allies against China has also seen the US cut corners on human rights issues in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Indonesia. But recreating a version of the old Cold War alliance system in the region is hardly in the interests of Central and South Asians—or Americans, for that matter. India and Pakistan do not need more planes, bombs and tanks. They need modernized transport systems, enhanced educational opportunities, and improved public health. The same can be said for Americans.

There was a time when countries in Central and South Asia were responsible for much of world’s wealth and productive capacity. In 1750, India produced 24.5 percent of the world’s manufactured goods. England, in contrast, produced 1.9 percent. By 1850, the world had turned upside down, as colonialism turned—or to use the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s term, “de-evolved”—India from a dynamic world leader to an economic satrap of London. The region is emerging from its long, colonial nightmare, and it does not need—indeed, cannot afford—to be drawn into alliances designed half a world away. It is time to bring the 21st century’s version of “the Great Game” to an end.

—30—

28 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Asia, Central Asia, FPIF Blogs, India, Middle East, Pakistan

Turkey Haunted by Hubris

Turkey Haunted by Hubris

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

Nov. 1, 2012

Two years ago Turkey was on its way to being a player in Central Asia, a major power broker in the Middle East, and a force in international politics. It had stepped in to avoid a major escalation of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia by blocking U.S. ships from entering the Black Sea, made peace with its regional rivals, and, along with Brazil, made a serious stab at a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis.

Today it is exchanging artillery rounds with Syria. Its relations with Iraq have deteriorated to the point that Baghdad has declared Ankara a “hostile state.” It picked a fight with Russia by forcing down a Syrian passenger plane and accusing Moscow of sending arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It angered Iran by agreeing to host a U.S. anti-missile system (a step which won Turkey no friends in Moscow either). Its war with its Kurdish minority has escalated sharply.

What happened? The wages of religious solidarity? Ottoman de’je vu?

There is some truth in each of those suggestions, but Turkey’s diplomatic sea change has less to do with the Koran and memories of empire than with Illusions and hubris. It is a combination that is hardly rare in the Middle East, and one that now promises to upend years of careful diplomacy, accelerate unrest in the region, and drive Turkey into an alliance with countries whose internal fragility should give the Turks pause.

If there is a ghost from the past in all this, it is a growing alliance between Turkey and Egypt.

Population-wise, the two countries are among the largest in the region, and both have industrial bases in an area of the world where industry was actively discouraged by a century of colonial overlords (the Turks among them). Ankara recently offered $2 billion in aid to cash-strapped Egypt, and both countries have moderate Islamic governments. Cairo and Ankara have also supported the overthrow of the Assad regime.

“Apparently now Egypt is Turkey’s closest partner in the Middle East,” Gamel Soltan of American University in Cairo told the New York Times. But while Egypt was once the Ottoman’s wealthiest provinces, 2012 is not the world of sultans and pashas, and, in this case, old memories may well be a trap.

Egypt is deeply mired in poverty and inequality. Indeed, it was as much the economic crisis gripping the region as issues of democracy and freedom that filled Tahrir Square. Cairo is in serious debt and preparing a round of austerity measures that will sharpen that inequality. The government of President Mohamed Morsi announced it will slice gas subsidies, which will fall particularly hard on the poor, especially given a jobless rate of over 12 percent and youth unemployment running at more than double that.

At first glance, both governments have a lot in common, particularly because Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are considered “moderately” Islamic. But many in the Brotherhood consider the AKP and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan far too “moderate”—in Turkey it is still illegal to wear a head scarf if you run for public office or work in a government office.   While the West considers Morsi’s and Erdogan’s government “Islamic,” some of the jihadists groups Cairo and Ankara are aiding in their efforts to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria consider the Egyptian and Turkish government little more than non-believers or apostates.  As Middle East expert Robert Fisk puts it, the jihadists are a scorpion that might, in the end, sting them both, much as the Taliban has done to its Pakistani sponsors.

Turkey apparently hopes to construct a triangle among Ankara, Cairo, and the wealthy oil monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (Jordan and Morocco, two other monarchies, have been asked to join). The combination of population, industry, and wealth, goes the thinking, would allow that alliance to dominate the region.

The Council does have enormous wealth at its disposal, but how stable are autocratic monarchies in the wave of the democratic aspirations raised by the Arab Spring? Bahrain’s king rules through the force of the Saudi Army. Saudi Arabia itself is struggling to provide jobs and housing for its growing population, while weighed down by inequality, high unemployment, rampant corruption, and a restive Shia minority in its eastern provinces. Jordan’s monarch is wrestling with an economic crisis and a political opposition that is pressuring king Abdullah II for a constitutional monarchy.

How this new alliance will affect the Palestinians is not clear. Turkey had a falling out with Israel in 2009, and Egypt and Qatar have been sharply critical of Tel Aviv’s treatment of the Palestinians. So far, however, it appears the Islamic group Hamas in Gaza will benefit more than the secular Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank.

With the exception of Bahrain, all the countries involved have large Sunni majorities that, at first glance, would put them on the same page religiously. But most the Gulf monarchs are aligned with radical Islamic groups, some of which have morphed into al-Qaeda-like organizations that have destabilized countries from Pakistan to Iraq. On occasion, these groups have turned on their benefactors, as Osama bin Laden did on Saudi Arabia.

Such Islamic groups are increasingly active in the Syrian civil war, where Turkey finds itself in a very similar role to the one played by Pakistan during the 1979-89 Soviet-Afghan war. Some of the groups Pakistan nurtured during those years have now turned on their patrons. Will Turkey become the next Pakistan? In an interview with the Financial Times, one Syrian insurgent said that many of the rebels were stockpiling ammunition for “after the revolution.”

Bulent Alizira of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Financial Times that Turkey is in danger of becoming “like Pakistan, which became the forward base for the Afghan rebels. If that were to happen, it could confront all the pressures that Pakistan faced and from which it has never recovered.”

And why would the Erdogan government pick a fight with Russia? Russia is a major trading partner, and Turkey is keen on establishing good relations with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) founded by Russia and China in 2001. The organization includes most of the countries in Central Asia, plus observers from India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. The SCO accounts for 75 percent of the world’s energy resources and population, and coordinates everything from trade to oil and gas pipelines. Why would Ankara irritate one of the major players in the SCO?

Might it be pique at Moscow for blocking more aggressive measures by the UN Security Council to intervene in the Syrian civil war?  Russia, along with China, has consistently called for a political resolution to the Syria crisis, while Turkey has pursued a strategy of forcible regime change.  Erdogan has a reputation for arrogance and letting his temper get the best of him.

“His personal ambitions and overweening certainties may be eclipsing his judgment,” Morton Abramowitz of the Century Foundation told UPI, “and affecting Turkish interests.” Abramowitz served in the Carter and Reagan administrations and was appointed ambassador to Turkey from 1989 to 1991. He is also a director at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Relations between Turkey and Iran have also cooled, in part because of the U.S. anti-missile system, but also because Ankara is trying to overthrow one of Iran’s few allies in the region. In any case, backing Sunni jihadists against the Alawite Assad regime is hardly going to go down well in Shia Iran, or for that matter, in Shia Iraq. The Alawites are a branch of Shism.

Why, too would Turkey alienate major trading partners like Iran and Iraq? It is possible that the wealthy monarchies of the Gulf—who are anti-Shia and view Iran as their greatest threat— made Ankara an offer it can’t refuse. Whether the monarchies can deliver in the long run is another matter.

In the meantime, the Syrian war has unleashed the furies.

*Car bombs have made their appearance one again in Lebanon.

*The Kurds have bloodied the Turkish Army.

*Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured out of Syria, and the fighting inside the country is escalating.

*Anti-aircraft missiles—the Russian SAM-7, or Strela, most likely “liberated” during the Libya war—have made an appearance. The hand-fired missiles may indeed discomfort Syrian aircraft, but if they get into the hands of the Kurds, Turkish helicopters will be in trouble as well, as will any number of other air forces, from Lebanon to Jordan. A Strela was fired at an Israeli aircraft in the Gaza Strip Oct. 16.

Turkey’s role in the Syrian civil war finds little resonance among average Turks. Some 56 percent disagree with the policy, and 66 percent oppose allowing Syrian refugees into the country.

“We are at a very critical juncture,” journalist Melih Asik told the New York Times. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China. Behind us we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the US.”

Four years ago Turkey set out to build strong ties with other countries in the region—“zero problems with the neighbors”—and decrease its dependence on the US. Today those policy goals are in shambles. But that is where illusion and hubris lead.

—30—

7 Comments

Filed under Asia, Central Asia, Europe, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Etc, Middle East, Syria

Pakistan: Anatomy Of A Crisis

Pakistan: Anatomy Of A Crisis

FPIF Blog

Conn Hallinan

Dec. 2, 2011

In the aftermath of the Nov. 26 NATO attack on two border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the question being asked is whether the assault was a  “fog of war” incident or a calculated hit aimed at torpedoing peace talks in Afghanistan? Given that the incident has plunged relations between Washington and Islamabad to a new low at a critical juncture in the 10-year war, the answer is vitally important

According to NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border and retaliated in self-defense. American officials have suggested that the Taliban engineered the incident in order to poison U.S.-Pakistani relations. But there are some facts suggesting that the encounter may have been more than a “friendly fire” encounter brought on by a clever foe, an ill-defined border, and the normal chaos of the battlefield.

Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Samiullah Rahmani denies they were even in the area—and the insurgent group is never shy about taking credit for military engagements (of course, if deception was involved that is what the Taliban would say). However, this particular region is one that the Pakistani army has occupied for several years and is considered fairly “cleansed” of insurgents.

The incident was not the case of a drone attack or bombing gone awry, a common enough event. For all the talk of “precision weapons” and “surgical strikes,” drones have inflicted hundreds of civilian deaths and 500 lb bombs have very little in common with operating rooms. Instead, the NATO instruments were Apache attack helicopters and, according to Associated Press, an A-130 gunship. In short, the assault was led by live pilots presumingly indentifying targets to their superiors.

Those targets were two border forts, architecture that has never been associated with the Taliban. It is true the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is porous and not always clearly defined, but the Afghan insurgents don’t build concrete posts. A “fort” is duck soup for a drone or a fighter-bomber, which is why the Taliban favor caves and hidden bunkers.

Naturally enough, both sides disagree on what happened. The Americans say they took fire from the Pakistani border, engaged in a three-hour running fight, and called in the choppers at the end of the battle.

But, according to the Pakistanis, there was no fire from their side of the border, and helicopters started the battle, which went on for a little less than two hours. Pakistan also says there were two Apache attacks. The first struck outpost Volcano, and when the fort’s nearby companion, outpost Boulder, fired on the helicopters, it also came under assault. Pakistan claims that its military contacted NATO to warn them they were attacking Pakistani troops, but the firing continued. The helicopters finally withdrew, only to reappear and renew the attack when the Pakistanis tried to reinforce the besieged forts.

Might it have been a matter of bad intelligence?

According to the Pakistanis, Islamabad has been careful to identify its posts to NATO in order to avoid incidents exactly like this. Pakistan Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem said, “it is not possible” that the “NATO forces did not know of the location of the Pakistani posts.”  Pakistan Gen. Ashram Nader called the attack a “deliberate act of aggression.”

Could it have been “deliberate”? Mistakes happen in war, but the timing of this engagement is deeply suspicious.

It comes at a delicate moment, when some 50 countries were preparing to gather in Bonn, Germany for talks aimed at a settling the Afghan War. Central to that meeting is Pakistan, the only country in the region with extensive contacts among the various insurgent groups. If the U.S. plans to really withdraw troops by 2014, it will need close cooperation with Pakistan.

“This could be a watershed in Pakistan’s relations with the U.S.,” Islamabad’s high commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, told the Guardian (UK). “It could wreck the time table for the American troop withdrawal.”

Pakistan has now withdrawn from the Bonn talks, and relations between Washington and Islamabad are as bad as they have ever been. The Pakistanis have shut down two major land routes into Afghanistan, routes over which some 50 percent of supplies for the war move. Islamabad has also demanded that the CIA close down its drone base at Shamsi in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.

Who would benefit from all this fallout?

It is no secret that many in the U.S. military are unhappy about the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban, in particular the organization’s most lethal ally, the Haqqani Group. There is an unspoken but generally acknowledged split between the Defense Department and the State Department, with the former wanting to pound the insurgents before sitting down to talk, while the latter is not sure that tactic will work. Could someone on the uniformed side of the division have decided to derail, or at least damage, the Bonn meeting?

It is also no secret that not everyone in Afghanistan wants peace, particularly if it involves a settlement with the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, made up of mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks, want nothing to do with the Pashtun-based Taliban that is mainly grouped in the south and east, and in the tribal regions of Pakistan. The Afghan Army is mostly Tajik, who not only make up the bulk of the soldiers, but 70 percent of the command staff. President Hamid Karzi is a Pashtun, but he is largely window dressing in the Northern Alliance-dominated Kabul government.

There are broader regional issues at stake as well.

It was no surprise that China immediately came to Pakistan’s defense, with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechu expressing “deep shock and strong concern” over the incident. China is not happy about the NATO deployment in Afghanistan and less so about the possibility of permanent U.S. bases in that country. At a Nov. 2 meeting in Istanbul, China, along with Pakistan, Iran and Russia, opposed a long-term American deployment in the area.

Iran is worried about the threat of U.S. military power on its border, Islamabad is concerned that prolonging the war will further destabilize Pakistan, and Beijing and Moscow are suspicious that the Americans have their sights set on Central Asia gas and oil resources. Both Russia and China rely on Central Asia hydrocarbons, the former for export to Europe, and the latter to run its burgeoning industries.

China is also anxious about the Obama administration’s recent strategic shift toward Asia. The U.S. has openly intervened in disputes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea, and recently signed an agreement to deploy 2,500 Marines in Australia. Washington has also tightened its ties with Indonesia and warmed up to Myanmar. To China, all this looks like a campaign to surround Beijing with U.S. allies and to keep its finger on the Chinese energy jugular vein. Some 80 percent of China’s oil moves through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

A key ingredient in any formula to offset Beijing’s growing power and influence in Asia is the role of India. New Delhi has traditionally been neutral in foreign policy, but, starting with the Bush administration, it has grown increasingly close to Washington. China and India have a prickly relationship dating back to the 1962 border war between the two countries and China’s support for India’s traditional enemy, Pakistan. China claims on part of India’s border area have not improved matters.

India would also like a Taliban-free government in Kabul, and anything that discomforts Islamabad is just fine with New Delhi. There are elements in the American military and diplomatic community that would like to see Washington dump its alliance with Pakistan and pull India into a closer relationship. A fair number of Indians feel the same way.

So far, the White House has refused to apologize, instead leaking a story that showing any softness vis-à-vis Pakistan during a U.S. election year is impossible.

In the end, the border fight may turn out to be an accident, although we are unlikely to know that for certain. Military investigations are not known for accuracy, and much of what happened will remain classified.

But with all these crosscurrents coming together in the night skies over Pakistan, maybe somebody saw an opportunity and took it. In a sense, it is irrelevant whether the attack was deliberate or dumb: the consequences are going to be with us for a long time, and the ripples are likely to spread from a rocky hillside in Pakistan to the far edges of the Indian Ocean and beyond.

Conn Hallinan can be read at middleempireseries.wordpress.com

—30—

11 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Asia, Central Asia, China, FPIF Blogs, India, Middle East, Oil, Pacific, Pakistan

Libya & Afghanistan: Getting It Wrong

Libya & Afghanistan: The Price of Getting it Wrong

Dispatches From The edge

Conn Hallinan

Oct 12, 2011

“In 1979, when Soviet troops swept into Afghanistan, an angry Jimmy Carter organized an unofficial alliance to give the Soviets ‘their Vietnam’ (which Afghanistan became).” New York Times, 11/9/11

The writer of the above paragraph is Marvin Kalb, a former network correspondent, Harvard professor emeritus, co-author “Haunting legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.”

It is false history.

As Paul Jay of the Real News (and before him, the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur) discovered, the Carter administration made the decision to intervene in an Afghan civil war fully six months before the Soviet invasion. In a July 1979 “finding” the White House authorized U.S. military and intelligence agencies to supply the anti-communist mujahideen fighters with money and supplies.

The “finding” was the beginning of “Operation Cyclone,” a clandestine plan aimed at luring the Soviets into invading Afghanistan. From a relatively modest $23 million down payment, Cyclone turned into a multi-billion behemoth—the most expensive intelligence operation in U.S. history—and one that eventually forced the Soviets to withdraw.

Cynics might shrug and respond that isn’t truth always the first casualty of war? Except in this case the casualties are still coming in as the U.S. marks its 10th year occupying Afghanistan. And when one totes up the collateral damage from that July 1979 memo, which led to the eventual victory of the Taliban, it chills the soul.

When the mujahideen went home, they took the war with them, to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Central Asia, North Africa, and a host of other places. They also permanently altered the skyline silhouette of New York City. In the annals of disastrous “blowbacks”—unintended consequences flowing from a policy or event—U.S. support for overthrowing the Afghan government and supporting the mujahideen has little competition.

Ancient history?

On Mar. 18, President Obama told the U.S. Congress that U.S. involvement in the war in Libya would be a matter of “days not weeks.” It turns out, lots of days, 227 and counting.

“It’s really quite interesting how resilient and fierce they’ve been,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Jodice II told the New York Times. “We’re all surprised by the tenacity of the pro-Qaddafi forces.”

Besides the rather creepy use of the word “interesting” to describe people you are trying to blow up with 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles, the key word in the general’s statement is “surprised.” Aside from destruction, about the only truth of war is surprise. As Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Army chief of staff, and one of the great military minds of the 19th century, once noted, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

It appears that when the President made those comments, he had been listening to generals, always a very bad idea. President Johnson listened to generals in Vietnam, and they told him some variation of what our current generals obviously told Obama: Piece of cake. We’ll bomb the bejesus out of these Arabs, and in a few days they’ll turn tail and run for the sand dunes.

Except they didn’t.

In the long run the combination of bombing, ground support by British Special Forces, and the unpopularity of the regime will eventually defeat the pro-Qaddafi forces, but because this has turned into a war of some 34-plus weeks, there is going to be some very serious blowback.

For starters, take the 20,000 mobile ground to air missiles, most of which have gone missing. There are two basic kinds that someone—we haven’t the foggiest idea who—has gotten their hands on.

The SA-24 “Grinch”, or Igla-S, is a very dangerous character. It has a range of some three miles, a powerful warhead, and a guidance system that lets it find targets at night. It is similar to the U.S. Stinger that so distressed the Soviets in Afghanistan. Introduced in 1983, it can hit a plane at 11,000 feet. It can also down drones and cruise missiles, and helicopters are toast.

The other ground-to-air is the older Russian SA-7 “Grail,” or Strela-2, originally deployed in the 1968, but upgraded in 1972. It has an infrared detection system—it homes in on an aircraft’s engine heat—and the upgraded model has a filter for screening out decoy flares. The SA-7 is similar, but considerably superior, to the U.S. Redeye. The SA-7 has a range of a little over two miles and can reach up to 16,000 feet.

“We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya,” according to Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights emergencies director, who says that “ in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles.” According to Bouckaert, “They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone.”

One prediction: Niger has recently been using helicopters to attack the Tuareg-led Movement of Nigeriens for Justice in the Sahara. Tuaregs are demanding compensation for rich deposits of uranium that French companies are currently mining, and the Niger government has responded with military force. The Qaddafi government supported the Tuaregs in their fight with Niger, and supplied them with weapons. Want to make a bet that the Tuaregs end up with some of those missiles and that the Niger military is about to lose some helicopters?

And the fall of Qaddafi may not end the fighting. Libya is a complex place with strong crosscurrents of tribe and ethnicity. For instance, it is unlikely that the Berbers in the south will accept continued domination by the Arab north.

As for false history: journalism, as the old saw goes, is history’s first draft. According to the mainstream media, the U.S. and NATO got into the Libyan civil war to protect civilians, and indeed, one of the reasons the war has gone on so long is that NATO is reluctant to attack targets in Qaddafi strongholds, like Sirte, because such attacks might result in civilian casualties.

Which makes it hard to explain the Agence France Presse story entitled “NATO, NTC [National Transitional Council] deadlier than Kadhafi diehards: Sirte escapees.”

Sirte, Libya (AFP) Oct. 6, 2011-Fine words from NATO and Libyan new regime fighters about protecting civilians means little to the furious residents of Sirte, whose homes are destroyed and relatives killed in the battle to capture Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown.

 

“Why is NATO bombing us?” asks Faraj Mussam, whose blue minivan was carrying his family of eight jammed in beside mattresses and suitcases as they fled the city this week.”

According to the AFP story, the greatest danger civilians face in Sirte is from NATO bombs and shelling by NTC forces outside the city. A Red Cross official told AFP that there are still tens of thousands of residents in Sirte—it was a city of 100,000 before the February revolution—and they are under constant danger from artillery and bombs.

“When asked if NATO was fulfilling its mission to protect civilians, one aid worker, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, replied: ‘It wouldn’t seem so.’

 “ ‘There’s a lot of indiscriminate fire,’ he said, adding that many of the Sirte residents and doctors he had spoken to had complained of the deadly results of NATO air strikes.”

According to AFP, NTC soldiers say that firing artillery and rockets into Sirte doesn’t endanger civilians because they are all gone. It is a contention aid workers heatedly dispute.

The UN resolution that authorized the NATO intervention was supposedly aimed at protecting Libyan civilians. It quickly morphed from saving lives to regime change, and somehow the “protect civilians” only seems to apply to those who are on one side of the civil war. Sooner or later that narrative is going to come out, and the next time “protecting civilians” comes up in the UN, it is unlikely to get serious consideration.

More than 30 years ago the U.S. intervened in the Afghan civil war in order to goad our Cold War enemy into a fatal mistake (and then lied about it). We are still paying for that policy.

Eight months ago the U.S. and its allies engineered an intervention in Libya’s civil war behind the cover of protecting civilians, a rationale that is increasingly being challenged by events in that country.

What the “blowback” from the Libyan War is still unclear, it might be a bad idea to invest a lot of your money in commercial air travel, particularly anywhere in Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia. Qaddafi’s days may be numbered, but those SA-24s and SA-7s are going to be around for a long time.

–30—

1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Africa, Central Asia, FPIF Blogs, Middle East, Military

The Great Game’s New Clothes

The Great Game’s New Clothes

Dispatches From The Edge

May 5, 2011

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta, the U.S. never informed Pakistan about the operation to assassinate al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin because it thought the Pakistanis could “jeopardize the mission” by tipping off the target.

Maybe, and maybe not. This is, after all, the ground over which the 19th century “Great Game” was played, the essence of which was obfuscation. What you thought you saw or knew was not necessarily what was.

The “official” story is that three CIA helicopters—one for backup—took off from Jalalabad, Afghanistan and flew almost 200 miles to Abbottabad, most of it through Pakistani airspace. Pakistan scrambled jets, but the choppers still managed to land, spend 40 minutes on the ground, and get away.

Is it possible the helicopters really did dodge Pakistani radar? During the Cold War a West German pilot flew undetected through the teeth of the Soviet air defense system and landed his plane in Red Square, so yes. Choppers are slow, but these were stealth varieties and fairly quiet. But at top speed, the Blackhawks would have needed about an hour each way, plus the 40 minutes on the ground. That is a long time to remain undetected, particularly in a town hosting three regiments of the Pakistani Army, plus the Kakul Military Academy, the country’s equivalent of West Point. Abbottabad is also 35 miles from the capital, Islamabad, and the region is ringed with anti-aircraft sites.

Still, it is possible, except there is an alternative scenario that not only avoids magical thinking about what choppers can do, but better fits the politics of the moment: that Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) knew where Bin Ladin was and fingered him, estimating that his death would accelerate negotiations with the Taliban. Why now? Because for the first time in this long war, U.S. and Pakistani interests coincide.

Gen. Hammad Gul, former head of the ISI, told the Financial Times on May 3 that the ISI knew where he was, but regarded him as “inactive.” Writing in the May 5 Guardian (UK), author Tariq Ali says that a “senior” ISI official told him back in 2006 that the spy organization knew where bin Ladin was, but had no intention of arresting him because he was “The goose that laid the golden egg.” In short, the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader helped keep the U.S. aid spigot open.

Indeed, bin Ladin may have been under house arrest, which would explain the absence of trained bodyguards. By not allowing the al-Qaeda leader a private militia, the ISI forced him to rely on it for protection. And if they then dropped a dime on him, they knew he would be an easy target. As to why he was killed, not captured, neither the U.S. nor Pakistan wanted him alive, the former because of the judicial nightmare his incarceration would involve, the latter because dead men tell no tales.

As for the denials: the last thing the ISI wants is to be associated with the hit, since it could end up making the organization a target for Pakistan’s home-grown Taliban. If the ISI knew, so did the Army, though not necessarily at all levels. Did the Army turn a blind eye to the U.S. choppers? Who knows?

What we do know for certain is that there is a shift in Pakistan and the U.S. with regards to the Afghan war.

On the U.S. side, the war is going badly, and American military and intelligence agencies are openly warring with one another. In December the U.S. intelligence community released a study indicating that progress was minimal and that the 2009 surge of 30,000 troops had produced only tactical successes: “There remains no clear path toward defeating the insurgency.”  The Pentagon counter-attacked in late April with a report that the surge had been “a strategic defeat for the Taliban,” and that the military was making “tangible progress in some really key areas.”

It is not an analysis agreed with by our NATO allies, most of which are desperate to get their troops out of what they view as a deepening quagmire. A recent WikiLeak cable quotes Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Union, saying “No one believes in Afghanistan anymore. But we will give it 2010 to see results.” He went on to say Europe was only going along “out of deference to the United States.”  Translation: NATO support is falling apart.

Recent shifts by the Administration seem to signal that the White House is backing away from the surge and looking for ways to wind down the war. The shift of Gen. David Petraeus to the CIA removes the major U.S. booster of the current counterinsurgency strategy, and moving Panetta to the Defense Department puts a savvy political infighter with strong Democratic Party credentials into the heart of Pentagon. Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed to the war but could never get a hearing from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican.

The last major civilian supporter of the war is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but Gates, her main ally, will soon be gone, as will Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. The shuffle at the top is hardly a “night of the long knives,” but the White House has essentially eliminated or sidelined those in the administration who pushed for a robust war and long-term occupation.

A surge of sanity? Well, at least some careful poll reading. According to the Associated Press, six in 10 Americans want out of the war. Among Democrats 73 percent want to be out in a year, and a USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to address an accelerated withdrawal. With the war now costing $8 billion a month, these numbers are hardly a surprise.

Pakistan has long been frustrated with the U.S.’s reluctance to talk to the Taliban, and, from Islamabad’s perspective, the war is largely being carried out at their expense. Pakistan has suffered tens of thousands of civilian and military casualties in what most Pakistanis see as an American war, and the country is literally up in arms over the drone attacks.

The Pakistani Army has been deployed in Swat, South Waziristan, and Bajaur, and the U.S. is pressing it to invade North Waziristan. One Pakistani grumbled to the Guardian (UK), “What do they [the U.S.] want us to do? Declare war on our whole country?” For the 30 million Pashtuns in the northwest regions, the Pakistani Army is foreign in language and culture, and Islamabad knows that it will eventually be seen as an outside occupier.

A poll by the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan’s northwest—home and refuge to many of the insurgents fighting in Afghanistan—found some 80 percent oppose the U.S. war on terror, almost nine in every 10 people oppose U.S. attacks on the Taliban, and three quarters oppose the drone attacks.

The bottom line is that Pakistan simply cannot afford to continue the war, particularly as they are still trying to dig themselves out from under last year’s massive floods.

In April, Pakistan’s top military, intelligence and political leadership decamped to Kabul to meet with the government of Harmid Karzai. The outcome of the talks is secret, but they appear to have emboldened the parties to press the U.S. to start talking. According to Ahmed Rashid, author of “Taliban” and “Descent into Chaos,” the White House is moving “the fledgling peace process forward” and will “push to broker an end to the war.” This includes dropping “its preconditions that the Taliban sever links with al-Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution before holding face-to-face talks.”

Given that in 2008 the Taliban agreed to not allow any “outside” forces in the country and pledged not to pose a danger to any other country, including those in the West, this demand has already been met. As for the constitution, since it excluded the Taliban it will have to be re-negotiated in any case.

While there appears to be a convergence of interests among the major parties, negotiations promise to be a thorny business.

The Pentagon will resist a major troop drawdown. There is also opposition in Afghanistan, where Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara minorities are deeply suspicious of the Taliban. The Karzai government also appears split on the talks, although recent cabinet shuffles have removed some of the more anti-Pakistan leaders.

Then there is the Taliban, which is hardly a centralized organization, especially since U.S. drone attacks and night raids have effectively removed more experienced Taliban leaders, leaving younger and more radical fighters in charge. Can Taliban leader Mullah Omar deliver his troops? That is not a given.

Both other insurgent groups—the Haqqani Group and Hizb-i-Islami—have indicated they are open to negotiations, but the Americans will have a hard time sitting down with the Haqqanis. The group has been implicated in the deaths of numerous U.S. and coalition forces. To leave the Haqqani Group out, however, will derail the whole process.

The U.S. would like to exclude Iran, but as Rashid points out, “No peace process in Afghanistan can succeed without Iran’s full participation.” And then there is India. Pakistan sees Indian involvement in Afghanistan as part of New Delhi’s strategy to surround Pakistan, and India accuses Pakistan of harboring terrorists who attack Indian-controlled Kashmir and launched the horrendous 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Murphy’s Law suggests that things are more likely to end in chaos than reasoned diplomacy. But self-interest is a powerful motivator, and all parties, including India, stands to gain something by ending the war. India very much wants to see the 1,050-mile TAPI pipeline built, as it will carry gas from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Fazilka, India.

A lot is at stake, and if getting the peace process going involved taking out Osama bin Ladin. Well, in the cynical world of the “Great Game,” to make an omelet, you have to break eggs.

Back in the Victorian era the British Army marched off singing a song:

“We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do/

We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and we’ve got the money too”

But in the 21st century most our allies’ armies don’t want to fight, ships are useless in Afghanistan, there aren’t enough men, and everyone is broke.

For 33 years the people of Afghanistan have been bombed, burned, shot, tortured and turned into refugees. For at least the moment the pieces are aligned to bring this awful war to an end. It is time to close the book on the “Great Game” and bring the troops home.

—30—

4 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Central Asia, Europe, FPIF Blogs, India, Iran, Middle East, Military, Pakistan

Pakistan’s Nukes: The U.S. Connection

 

Pakistan’s Nukes :The U.S. Connection

Dispatches From The Edge

March 8, 2011

 

Washington—New American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Obama came to office…for the Obama administration the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the President’s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world.”—New York Times

 

The above words, written this past February, were followed by a Times editorial, titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Folly,” decrying that “the weapons buildup has gotten too little attention,” and calling on Washington to “look for points of leverage” to stop it.

 

Well, the administration and the Times may be unhappy about Pakistan’s nuclear buildup, but it certainly should not have come as a surprise, nor is there much of a secret to the “points of leverage” that would almost certainly put a stopper on it: scupper the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement between the U.S. and India.

 

Back in 2003, Douglas Feith, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Bush Administration, pulled together a meeting of the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group to map out a blueprint for pulling New Delhi into an alliance against China. The code word used during the discussions was “stability,” but as P.R. Chari of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies noted, “What they really mean is how to deal with China.”

 

The Bush administration changed the Clinton Administration’s designation of China as a “strategic partner” to “strategic competitor,” and in its U.S.-China Security Review concluded that Beijing is “in direct competition with us for influence in Asia and beyond” and that in “the worst case this could lead to war.” Another Pentagon document revealed by Jane’s Foreign Report argued that both India and the U.S. were threatened by China, and that “India should emerge as a vital component of US strategy.”

 

One of the obstacles to that alliance was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which blocks any country that is not a signer from buying nuclear fuel on the world market. Since neither India nor Pakistan has signed the Treaty, they can’t buy fuel from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. That has been particularly hard on India because it has few native uranium sources and has to split those between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. The ban, however, is central to the NPT, and one of the few checks on nuclear proliferation.

 

But the Bush administration proposed bypassing the NPT with the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement that permitted India to purchase nuclear materials even though New Delhi refused to sign the Treaty. India would agree to use the nuclear fuel only in its civilian plants and open those plants for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But the Agreement also allowed India to divert its own domestic supplies to its weapons program, and those plants would remain off the inspection grid. In short, India would no longer have to choose between nuclear power and nuclear weapons: it could have both.

 

In July 2008, Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister Khurshid Kusuri predicted that if the 1-2-3 Agreement went through, “The whole Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will unravel,” and, in a letter to the IAEA, Pakistan warned that the pact “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.”

 

However, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration paid any attention to Pakistan’s complaints. The results were predictable.  Pakistan ramped up its nuclear weapons program and may soon pass Britain as the fifth largest nuclear weapons nation in the world.

 

It also dug in its heels at the 65-nation 2011 Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and blocked a proposal to halt the production of nuclear weapons-making material.  The 1-2-3 Agreement and the push to bring India into the Nuclear Suppliers group, warned Ambassador Zamir Akram, were “undermining the validity and sanctity of the international non-proliferation regime” and would “further destabilize security in South Asia.” The Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) is a priority for the Obama administration.

 

Islamabad is not alone in its criticism of the 1-2-3 Agreement or the FMCT. A number of nations are challenging NPT signers, including the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France, to fulfill Article VI of the NPT that requires the elimination of nuclear weapons. While the U.S. and Russia have reduced their arsenals, both still have thousands of weapons, and the Americans are in the process of modernizing their current warheads.

 

Pakistan is a far smaller country than India, and would likely face defeat in a conventional conflict. It has already lost three wars to India. Its ace in the hole is nuclear weapons, and some Pakistanis have a distressingly casual view of nuclear war. “You can die crossing the street, or you could die in a nuclear war,” remarked former Pakistan army chief Gen. Mirza Aslem Beg. A BBC poll found that the Pakistani public has an “abysmally low” understanding of the threat.

 

Many Indians are not much better. Former Indian Defense Minister Georges Fernandes commented that “India can survive a nuclear attack, but Pakistan cannot.” And that same BBC poll found that for most Indians “the terror of a nuclear conflict is hard to imagine.”

 

Both countries have recently rolled out cruise missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Pakistani Hatf-7, or “Babur,” has a range of almost 500 miles and a speed of 550 miles. It appears to have been copied from the U.S. BGM-109 “Tomahawk,” several of which crashed in Pakistan during 1998 air strikes against Afghanistan. The Indian PJ-10 BrahMos cruise has a shorter range—180 miles—but a top speed of 2100 mph. India and Pakistan also have ballistic missiles capable of striking major cities in both countries.

 

In its editorial declaiming Pakistan as guilty of “nuclear folly,” the Times pointed out that “Pakistan cannot feed its people [or] educate its children.” Neither can India. As a 2010 United Nations Development Program report discovered, as bad as things are in Pakistan, life expectancy is lower in India, and the gap between rich and poor is greater. In fact, neither country can afford large militaries—Pakistan spends 35 percent of its budget on arms, and India is in the middle of a $40 billion military spending spree—and a nuclear war would not only destroy both countries, but also profoundly affect the entire globe.

 

Nuclear weapons are always folly, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The U.S. currently spends in excess of $1 trillion a year on all defense and security related items, while our education system is starving, our infrastructure is collapsing, and hunger and illiteracy are spreading.  If the Times wants to ratchet down tensions in South Asia, let it call for dumping the 1-2-3 Agreement and beginning the process called for in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measure relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

 

 

—30—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Asia, Central Asia, India, Middle East, Military, Pacific, Pakistan

Pakistan, China, and the CIA

The CIA, Pakistan & Tangled Webs

Dispatches From The Edge

Feb. 27, 2011

Was American CIA agent Raymond Davis secretly working with the Taliban and al-Qaeda to destabilize Pakistan and lay the groundwork for a U.S. seizure of that country’s nuclear weapons? Was he photographing sensitive military installations and marking them with a global positioning device? Did he gun down two men in cold blood to prevent them from revealing what he was up to? These are just a few of the rumors ricocheting around Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar in the aftermath of Davis’s arrest Jan. 27, and sorting through them is a little like stepping through Alice’s looking glass.

But one thing is certain: the U.S. has hundreds of intelligence agents working in Pakistan, most of them private contractors, and many of them so deep in the shadows that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), doesn’t know who they are or what they are up to. “How many more Raymond Davises are out there?” one ISI official asked Associated Press.

Lots, it would appear. Five months ago, the Pakistani government directed its embassies in the U.S. to issue visas without letting the ISI or Pakistan’s Interior Ministry vet them. According to the Associated Press, this opened a “floodgate” that saw 3,555 visas for diplomats, military officials and employees issued in 2010.

Many of those visas were for non-governmental organizations and the staff for the huge, $1 billion fortress embassy Washington is building in Islamabad, but thousands of others covered consular agents and workers in Lahore (where Davis was arrested), Karachi and other cities. Some of those with visas work for Xe Services (formally Blackwater), others for low-profile agencies like Blackbird Technologies, Glevum Associates, and K2 Solutions. Many of the “employees” of these groups are former U.S. military personnel—Davis was in the Special Forces for 10 years—and former CIA agents. And the fact that these are private companies allows them to fly under the radar of congressional oversight, as frail a reed as that may be.

How one views the incident that touched off the current diplomatic crisis is an example of how deep the differences between Pakistan and the U.S. have become.

The Americans claim Davis was carrying out surveillance on radical insurgent groups, and was simply defending himself from two armed robbers.  But Davis’s story has problems. It does appear that the two men on the motorbike were armed, but neither fired their weapon and, according to the police report, one did not even have a shell in his pistol’s firing chamber. Davis apparently fired through the window of his armored SUV, then stepped out of the car and shot the two men in the back, one while attempting to flee. He then calmly took photos, called for backup, climbed into his car, and drove off. He was arrested shortly afterwards at an intersection.

The Pakistanis have a different view of the incident. According to Pakistani press reports, the two men were working for the ISI and were trailing Davis because the intelligence agency suspected that the CIA agent was in contact with the Tehrik-e-Taliban, a Pakistani group based in North Waziristan that is currently warring with Islamabad. As an illustration of how bizarre things are these days in Pakistan, one widespread rumor is that the U.S. is behind the Tehtik-e-Taliban bombings as part of a strategy to destabilize Pakistan and lay the groundwork for an American seizure of Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal.

The ISI maintains close ties with the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, as well as its allies, the Hizb-e-Islami and the Haqqani Group. All three groups are careful to keep a distance from Pakistan’s Taliban

Yet another rumor claims that Davis was spying on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group with close ties to the ISI that is accused of organizing the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India. The Americans claim the organization is working with al-Qaeda, a charge the Pakistanis reject.

When Davis’s car was searched, police turned up not only the Glock semi-automatic he used to shoot the men, but four loaded clips, a GPS device, and a camera. The latter, according to the police report, had photos of “sensitive” border sites. “This is not the work of a diplomat,” Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told the Guardian (UK), “he was doing espionage and surveillance activities.”

The shooting also had the feel of an execution. One of the men was shot twice in the back and his body was more than 30 feet from the motorbike, an indication he was attempting to flee. “It went way beyond what we define as self-defense, “ a senior police official told the Guardian (UK), “It was not commensurate with the threat.” The Lahore Chief of Police called it a “cold-blooded murder.”

The U.S. claims that Davis is protected by diplomatic immunity, but the matter might not be as open and shut as the U.S. is making it. According to the Pakistani Express Tribune, Davis’s name was not on a list of diplomats submitted to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry on Jan. 25. The day after the shooting the embassy submitted a revised list that listed Davis as a diplomat.

Washington clearly considered Davis to be important. When he asked for backup on the day of the shooting, another SUV was dispatched to support him, apparently manned by agents living at the same safe house as Davis. The rescue mission went wrong when it ran over a motorcyclist while going the wrong direction down a one-way street. When the Pakistani authorities wanted to question the agents, they found that both had been whisked out of the country.

Almost immediately the Obama administration sent Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to Islamabad to apologize and pressure Pakistan to release Davis. But the incident has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Pakistan, where the CIA’s drone war has deeply alienated most Pakistanis. Opposition parties are demanding that the CIA agent be tried for murder. A hearing on the issue of whether Davis has diplomatic immunity will be heard Mar. 14.

In the meantime, Davis is being held under rather extraordinary security because of rumors that the Americans will try to spring him, or even poison him. Davis is being shielded from any direct contact with U.S. officials, and a box of chocolates sent to Davis by the Embassy was confiscated.

The backdrop for the crisis is a growing estrangement between the two countries over their respective strategies in Afghanistan.

The U.S. has stepped up its attacks on the Afghan insurgents, launched a drone war in Pakistan, and is demanding that Islamabad take a much more aggressive stance toward the Taliban’s allies based in the Afghan border region. While Washington still talks about a “diplomatic resolution” to the Afghan war, it is busy blowing up the very people it will eventually need to negotiate with.

This approach makes no sense to Pakistan. From Islamabad’s point of view, increasing attacks on the Taliban and their allies will only further destabilize Pakistan, and substitutes military victory for a diplomatic settlement. Since virtually every single independent observer think the former is impossible, the current U.S. strategy is, as terror expert Anatol Lieven puts it, “lunatic reasoning.”

Pakistan wants to insure that any Afghan government that emerges from the war is not a close ally of India, a country with which it has already fought three wars. A pro-Indian government in Kabul would essentially surround Pakistan with hostile forces. Yet the Americans have pointedly refused to address the issue of Indian-Pakistan tension over Kashmir, in large part because Washington very much wants an alliance with India.

In short, the U.S. and Pakistan don’t see eye to eye on Afghanistan, and Islamabad is suspicious that Americans like Davis are undermining Pakistan’s interests in what Islamabad views as an area central to its national security. “They [the U.S.] need to come clean and tell us who they [agents] are, what they are doing,” one ISI official told the Guardian (UK). “They need to stop doing things behind our back.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions about the matter. Was the ISI onto Davis, and was he really in contact with groups the Pakistani army didn’t want him talking to? What did Washington know about Davis’ mission, and when did it know it? Did Davis think he was being held up, or was it a cold-blooded execution of two troublesome tails?

Rumor has it that the CIA and the ISI are in direct negotiations to find an acceptable solution, but there are constraints on all sides. The Pakistani public is enraged with the U.S. and resents that it has been pulled into the Afghan quagmire. On the other hand, there are many in Washington—particularly in Congress—who are openly talking about cutting off the $1.5 billion of yearly U.S. aid to Pakistan.

What the incident has served to illuminate is the fact that U.S. intelligence operations are increasingly being contracted out to private companies with little apparent oversight from Congress. At last count, the U.S. Defense Department had almost 225,000 private contractors working for them.

The privatization of intelligence adds yet another layer of opacity to an endeavor that is already well hidden by a blanket of “national security,” and funded by black budgets most Americans never see. The result of all this is a major diplomatic crisis in what is unarguably the most dangerous piece of ground on the planet.

—30—

2 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Asia, Central Asia, China, India

Killing The Peace In Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Killing Peace

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 15, 2011

In spite of a White House declaration that “progress” is being made in Afghanistan, by virtually any measure the war has deteriorated significantly since the Obama Administration surged troops into Kandahar and Helmand provinces. This past year has been the deadliest on record for U.S. and coalition troops. Civilian casualties are on the rise, and, according to the Red Cross, security has worsened throughout the country. U.S. allies are falling away, and the central government in Kabul has never been so isolated. Polls in Afghanistan, the U.S. and Europe reflect growing opposition to the nine-year conflict.

So why is the White House pursuing a strategy that is almost certain to accelerate a descent into chaos, and one that runs counter to the Administration’s stated goal of a diplomatic solution to the war?

It is not an easy question to answer, in part because the major actors are hardly being straight with the public.

For instance, while U.S. commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus says his strategy of counterinsurgency is making headway, in fact the military abandoned that approach long ago. Instead it has ramped up the air war and replaced the campaign to win “hearts and minds” with “night raids” aimed at assassinating or capturing Taliban leaders and supporters.

“Night raids” have more than tripled, from an average of 5 a night to 17, and they more and more resemble the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War. Phoenix was aimed at decapitating the leadership of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and dismantling the NLF infrastructure in the countryside. It ended up assassinating somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 people.

As in the Phoenix Program, night raids are directed at destroying “shadow governments” the Taliban have established in virtually every province in the country. Over the past three months, U.S. and NATO forces claim they have killed or captured 360 “insurgent leaders,” 960 “low-level leaders,” and some 2,400 fighters.

The Taliban have responded by assassinating government officials in Kandahar and increasing their cooperation with the two other insurgent groups, the Hizb-i-Islami and the Haqqani Group.

In spite of the raids, United Nation’s maps show that the central battlegrounds of Kandahar and Helmand provinces are still considered “very high risk” and the situation has grown considerably worse in the north and east.

The White House argues that the only solution to the long-running war is a diplomatic one, but the administration seems bent on systematically sabotaging that outcome by trying to kill the very people who will be central to any negotiated peace.

“By killing Taliban leaders, the war will not come to an end,” former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttwakil told the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, “on the contrary, things get worse.” Indeed, according to former Taliban leader Abdul Salam Zaeef, the killings push more radical leaders to the fore. “It will be worse for everyone if the [current] Taliban leadership disappears,” Zaeef told Scahill.

The US has also sharpened its criticism of Pakistan to the point that a recent intelligence analysis essentially says the Islamabad is the major problem. There is even talk about sending U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the special 3,000-man Afghan army organized by the CIA into Pakistan to attack insurgent camps near the border, an act that would almost certainly further inflame anti-Americanism in that country.

In reality, there is not a whole lot Pakistan’s 600,000-man army can do. It is already fighting a homegrown Taliban, and its tense relations with India require it keep substantial forces on their mutual border. It has also largely taken over the job of dealing with Pakistan’s devastating floods last year. But even were it use all its forces, it is doubtful it could control the mountainous, 1553-mile border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistanis argue that current U.S. policy, not the border, is the problem. They point to the fact that the Americans have hitched themselves to the corruption-plagued Karzi government and have little to show for the billions spent to train the Afghan Army and police. “The Americans are looking for a scapegoat,” says leading Pakistan politician Mushahid Hussain.

Is the problem that Obama has turned the war over the military?

For all of Petraeus’ talk about “hearts and minds,” the military’s job description is to kill people. That is why Karl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern war, pointed out that war is much too important a matter to be left in the hands of generals.

The Obama Administration seems paralyzed by a combination of those in its ranks who support a muscular foreign policy, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the late Richard Holbrooke, a fear that the Republicans will brand them as “soft” in the 2012 elections, and an unwillingness to confront the generals.

The tragedy here is that many of the pieces for a deal are already in place. The Taliban and its allies are not tightly organized groups with a common ideology other than expelling invaders. They range from dedicated jihadists to local people fighting over turf or for revenge. And while Afghans have a reputation for being fierce, they actually excel at the art of the deal. If they did not, the country would have been depopulated long ago.

Of course, there are substantial roadblocks to overcome. The Taliban insists all foreign troops must leave, and the U.S. and Karzi demand the insurgents accept the Afghan constitution and put down their weapons. None of the above is likely to happen.

But the Taliban said back in 2008 that they would accept a “timetable” for foreign troops to leave. Of course both sides would have to agree to a ceasefire.

The U.S will have to back off from its insistence that the insurgents accept the current constitution. The document establishes a powerful centralized government, a form of organization that flies in the face of the country’s history and which few Afghans outside of Kabul support. A constitution based on strong local autonomy would garner more support. In turn, the insurgents would have to guarantee that groups like al-Qaeda could not set up shop.

The Americans insist they will not talk with the Haqqani Group or others they consider “irreconcilables,” but you have to negotiate with the people you are fighting. No party has the right to veto the participation of another.

Any agreement will have to take into account regional security issues, including Islamabad’s fear that India will make Afghanistan a client state, thus surrounding Pakistan on both sides.

The polls are on the side of those who want to end the war.

A recent survey found that 83 percent of Afghanis want negotiations, (though 55 percent show little sympathy with the insurgency). According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 60 percent of the American public say the war “is not worth fighting.” Opposition to the war is much higher in Europe, reaching 70 percent in Germany.

The U.S. polls suggest that any Republican charge of the administration being “soft” is not likely to make much headway with voters.

Further, the conflict is hemorrhaging money at a time of severe economic crisis. The war is costing $8 billion a month, not counting the tens of billions the U.S. has spent training the Afghan Army and police. So far, the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars is $1.1 trillion, but, according to economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmer, the long-term costs of both wars will be $3 trillion.

One thing Democrats in Congress can do is to press for a troop drawdown starting this year. Again, the polls show 55 percent support withdrawals starting in summer 2011, with another 27 percent saying it should begin sooner.

According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, delaying the withdrawal date from the end of 2011—the President’s original goal—to 2014 will cost an extra $125 billion. As a comparison, the House Republicans pledge to cut $100 billion from the domestic budget—excluding the military, Homeland Security, and veterans—would require a 20 percent across-the-board cut in all programs.

The war is lost. We are broke. Many of the key protagonists are prepared to talk. It is time to silence the guns and seek common ground.

Read Conn Hallinan at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

—30—

1 Comment

Filed under Central Asia, Military, Pakistan

Kashmir: Obama and the Vale of Tears

Kashmir: Obama & the Vale of Tears

Dispatches From The Edge

Nov. 30, 2010

There are lots of dangerous places in this world: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bolivia, Iran, Palestine, Yemen, and Somalia to name a few. But there is only one that could destabilize a goodly part of the globe and end up killing tens of millions of people. And yet for reasons of state that is the one place the Obama administration will not talk about: Kashmir.

And yet this is a region that has sparked three wars between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, is in the midst of serious political upheaval, and is central to reducing tensions in Central and South Asia.

None of these facts come as a surprise to Obama. While running for office in 2008 he explicitly called for a solution to Kashmir.  “It won’t be easy, but it is important,” he told Joe Klein of Time magazine.

Given that India and Pakistan came within a hair’s breath of a full-scale nuclear confrontation during the 1999 Kargil incident, the importance seems obvious.

According to a recent study in Scientific American—“Local Nuclear Wars and Global Suffering”—such an exchange would kill and maim untold millions, flood the surrounding region with nuclear fallout, and create a “nuclear winter” for part of the globe.

Kashmir also fuels extremists in the region—both Hindu and Islamic—which in turn destabilizes Pakistan and Afghanistan. The conflict has killed between 50,000 and 80,000 people, “disappeared” several thousand others, seen thousands imprisoned and tortured, and subjected millions of Kashmiris to an onerous regime of occupation, with laws drawn straight from Britain’s colonial past.

Why then would President Obama remain silent on the subject, particularly since the outlines of a solution have been in place since 2007?

Commenting on Obama’s recent trip to Asia, Robert Kaplan, author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power,” says “In geopolitical terms, the President’s visit” was about “one challenge: the rise of China on land and sea.”

Indeed, this past year has seen Washington hurl one missive after another at Beijing. The U.S. strongly backed Japan over its recent dust up with Chinese fishing vessels in the East China Sea. Washington also intervened between China and several Southeast Asian nations over tensions around the Spratly and Paracel islands. The U.S. and South Korea recently carried out naval maneuvers close to China’s shores, Washington announced new arms sales to Taiwan, and during the recent G20 meetings in Seoul, Obama tried to pin the blame for a global currency crisis on Beijing.

While Washington denies it has any plans to “surround” China with U.S. allies, that seems to be exactly what it is doing when it courts Indonesia, tightens its alliance with Japan, and sets up new military bases in Australia. But the jewel in this anti-Chinese crown is India, and Washington will do whatever it takes to bring New Delhi on board.

The Obama administration has already endorsed the Bush administration’s 1-2-3 Agreement that allows India to violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Not only does the Agreement undermine one of world’s most important nuclear treaties, but, in a letter to the International Atomic Agency and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, Pakistan warned that the Agreement “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the sub-continent.”

While in India, Obama announced it would end most “dual use” technology restrictions, allowing India to buy material that could end up enhancing its military. The U.S. also agreed to sell $5.8 billion in military transport planes to New Delhi.

But of all these, the decision to avoid Kashmir may be the most dangerous and destabilizing.

Tensions over Kashmir go back to 1947, when India and Pakistan first came into being. At the time, largely Muslim Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu prince, who decided to go with India even though, under the British formula for dividing the two countries, Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan. When Pakistan responded by infiltrating soldiers into Kashmir, it touched off a war that, to one degree or other, has gone on for 63 years.

Today Kashmir is divided between the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir held by Pakistan, and the Indian-controlled Kashmir and largely Hindu Jammu. A Line of Control that divides the two areas.

In 1989 Kashmiris staged a revolt, and Pakistan began infiltrating paramilitaries across the Line to attack Indian forces in Kashmir. That war dragged on until 2007, when Pakistan and India began secret back channel negotiations towards achieving a settlement. The talks, however, were scuttled when military dictator-turned-president Pervez Musharraf lost power, and militant jihadis attacked Mumbai in 2009, killing 165 people. India charged that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Directorate was behind the attack.

As difficult as the situation in Kashmir seems, according to journalist and writer Steve Coll, it is solvable and a failure to deal with it is dangerous. “The conflict has again and again spilled outside of Kashmir.”

Coll is a former reporter and editor at the Washington Post, author of numerous books on the Middle East and Central Asia, and president of the New American Foundation.

U.S. policy has been to keep Kashmir and Afghanistan as separate problems, but, Cole argues, “that policy is no longer consistent with the facts.” Muzamil Jaleel of the daily Indian Express agrees that the two countries “are linked so much now that India and Pakistan are fueling ethnic tension in Afghanistan.”

The current unrest in Kashmir, which has claimed more than 100 lives, is very different than the previous war. It is largely a non-violent movement composed almost exclusively of local Kashmiris rather than fighters infiltrated from Pakistan. It also has a strong contingent of young people, whose tech-savvy skills have put Kashmir’s resistance on the Internet. A decade ago Indian troops could wall off Kashmir. Today, the whole world is watching.

Cole contends the framework for a settlement is fairly straightforward.

First, India would have to rein it its 500,000 troops and paramilitaries. At the same time, the draconian Special Powers Act—originally designed to crush opposition to British rule in Ireland and currently used by the Israelis in the Occupied Territories—would have to be shelved. The laws give virtual immunity to widespread human rights violations by the Indian authorities and allow imprisonment without charges.

Second, the Line of Control would become an international border, but a porous one that allows free passage for Kashmiris.

Third, the residents of Kashmir and Jammu would be given a certain amount of local autonomy.

In the long run, the people of Kashmir ought to be able to hold a referendum about their future. The UN originally proposed such an undertaking, but first Pakistan and then India scotched it, fearful that residents might vote to join one or the other country. In fact, most residents would likely vote for independence.

An autonomous or even independent Kashmir is not only in the interests of the 10 million or so people that inhabit one of the most beautiful—and tragic—areas of the world, it would help defuse terrorism in Pakistan and India. To sacrifice that for what can only be a temporary alliance against an emerging China is profoundly short sighted.

Washington’s silence is no longer a viable option. “We are not asking the Americans to take a position against India and for Kashmir. We are just saying that there is a general recognition that India and Pakistan need to be pushed in terms of a dialogue,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the spiritual leader of Kashmir’s separatists, told the Financial Times.

Others warn that Indian repression of the current non-violent movement might drive it to take up arms. “The status quo is not digestible for Kashmiris,” Sheikh Showkat Hussan, a Kashmir law professor, told the Financial Times.

Today, Kashmir is a vale of tears, a place capable of sparking off a nuclear war that would affect everyone on the globe. It need not be so.

–30–

1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Asia, Central Asia, India, Policy

Oil & Blood: The Looming Battle for Energy

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

July 30, 2009

In the past month, two seeming unrelated events have turned Central Asia into a potential flashpoint between an aggressively expanding North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a nascent strategic alliance between Russia and China. At stake is nothing less than who holds the future high ground in the competition for the world’s energy resources.

Early this summer, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted a sharp drop in world oil reserves, which energy expert Michael Klare says means that the “era of cheap and plentiful oil is drawing to a close” and is likely to result in “a new era of cutthroat energy competition.”

In early July, after a full court press by Washington and an agreement to increase its yearly rent, Kyrgyzstan reversed a decision to close the U.S. base at Manas, thus allowing the U.S. a powerful toehold in the countries bordering the oil and gas rich Caspian Basin.

While Manas is portrayed as a critical base for the ongoing campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the war in Central Asia is less over “terrorism” than it is over energy. “Never reading the words ‘Afghanistan” and ‘oil’ in the same sentence is still a source of endless amusement” says the Asia Times’ Pepe Escobar, author of “Globalistan.”

Escobar, who has coined the term “Pipelineistan” to describe the vast network of oil and gas pipelines that “crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet,” sees Afghanistan as strategically placed between the Middle east, Central and South Asia, “at the core of Pipelineistan.”

As Escobar points out, “It’s no coincidence that the map of terror in the Middle East and Central Asia is practically interchangeable with the map of oil.”

As the old joke goes: It’s not all about oil; some of it is about natural gas.

For most Americans and Europeans, Afghanistan appeared on their radar screens shortly after the 9/11 assaults on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. But according to Escobar, three months before the 2001 attack, U.S., Iranian, German and Italian officials got together in Geneva and discussed toppling the Taliban because it was “the proverbial fly in the ointment” in a scheme to run a $2 billion, 800 mile natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Karachi, Pakistan via southern Afghanistan.

According to the Pakistanis, the U.S. developed a plan in July for launching attacks into Afghanistan from bases in Tajikistan.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO moved aggressively to fill the vacuum left by the demise of the Warsaw Pact. One time Soviet allies Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic, along with the former Soviet provinces of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were recruited. The Ukraine and Georgia are currently up for membership.

According to Escobar, one of NATO’s first forays in the energy war was the Balkans.

While NATO represented the Yugoslav war as a fight to liberate the Albanians in Kosovo, Moscow and Beijing viewed it as an opportunity for the Albanian Macedonian Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) to build a $1.1 billion pipeline to bring Caspian Basin oil to the West, thus bypassing Iran and Russia

The AMBO pipeline—due to open in 2011—will transport Caspian Basin oil via Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. The pipeline is protected by the huge U.S. “Bondsteel” base in Kosovo, “The equivalent of a giant immobile aircraft carrier, capable of exercising surveillance not only over the Balkans but over Turkey and the Black Sea region,” says Escobar.

Certainly the AMBO pipeline, as well as the current Baku-Tblisis-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, makes little economic sense. It would be vastly easier and cheaper to send the oil through Iran.

How could Russia, China, and Iran not interpret the war in Kosovo, then the invasion of Afghanistan (where Washington had previously tried to pair with the Taliban and encourage the building of another of those avoid-Iran, avoid-Russia pipelines), and finally Georgia (that critical energy transportation junction) as straightforward wars for Pipelineistan?” Escobar asks.

For every action, however, there is an opposite and equal reaction.

In 2001, Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which now has observer status from Iran, Pakistan and India, and growing relations with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, formally a U.S.-dominated alliance.

Unlike NATO, the SCO is a regional organization, not a military alliance, but one—counting observers— that embraces a growing percentage of the world’s GNP, and 75 percent of both the world’s energy resources and global population.

However, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is a military alliance that, besides being made up of all of the SCO members, also includes Belarus and Armenia.

Last February CSTO created a collective rapid reaction force, which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says, “will be just as good or comparable with NATO.” The force will consist of a Russian airborne division and air assault brigade, a Kazakh air assault brigade, and battalions from each of the other members, excepting Uzbekistan. According to Russian expert Ilya Kramnik, the collective action force “will give CSTO a quick tool, leaving no time for third parties to intervene.”

The only “third party” capable of intervening in Central Asia is NATO.

In many ways, Beijing is the linch pin in this 21st century “Great game,” because China is weathering the current worldwide depression better than most countries. While its exports have taken a beating, the Chinese have successfully fallen back on their enormous internal market to take up some of the slack. As a result, China recently opened the aid spigots to nations in the region.

In June, China loaned Turkmenistan $3 billion, which will give it a stake in the Turkman’s enormous Yolotan Osman gas field, rumored to be the world’s largest. The Turkmenistan loan also benefits Moscow by underwriting the Russian oil company Roseneft, and the pipeline buildier, Transneft. Kazakhstan got a $15 billion loan, giving China a 22 percent share in Kazak oil production.

According to former Indian diplomat and current Asia Times commentator M.K. Bhadrakumar, after years of tension between Moscow and Beijing, the two countries are burying that past and “steering their relationship” in the direction of a “strategic partnership in the overall international situation,” rather than competing over energy resources.

This past April, Russia and China signed a $25 billion oil agreement that will supply Beijing with 4 percent of its needs through 2034. The two countries are currently negotiating a natural gas deal.

Beijing is planning an almost 4,000 mile, $26 billion Turkman-Kazakh-China pipeline to run from the Caspian Basin to Guangdong Province in China. Included in the deal is a proviso to keep “third parties”—NATO bases—out of the country

In the meantime, Russia is paying premium prices to lock up Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkman gas. It is also negotiating to buy more Azerbaijani oil, which if successful, could end up bankrupting the western-controlled BTC pipeline that runs through Georgia.

Writing in Business Week, S. Adam Cardais, former editor of the Prague Post, says that Russia is “doing its damnedest to keep Europe out of Central Asia,” and that Russia and China “may have already outmaneuvered Europe.”

But Washington is hardly throwing in the towel. The Manas coup is a case in point, and the Obama administration is increasing aid to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Apparently the gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan to Pakistan that fell apart shortly before the U.S, invaded Afghanistan has also been revived.

In short, the Central Asian chessboard is enormous, the pieces are numerous, and the stakes are high.

Pipelineistan is not limited to the Middle East and Central Asia. It exists wherever gas and oil flow, from the steamy depths of Venezuela’s Oronoco Basin, to the depths of the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil.

“Oil and gas by themselves are not the U.S.’s ultimate aim,” argues Escobar, “It’s all about control.” And if “the U.S. controls the sources of energy of its rivals—Europe, Japan, China, and other nations aspiring to be more independent—they win.”

The U.S. has enormous military power, but as Iraq, and now Afghanistan, makes clear, the old days when one could corner a market by engineering a coup or sending in the Marines are fast receding. The old imperial nations are fading, and the up and comers are more likely to be speaking Portuguese, Chinese and Hindi than English. The trick over the next several decades will be how to keep the competition for energy from sparking off brush fire wars or a catastrophic clash of the great powers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Central Asia