Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean

In my previous post I noted that the Chinese have spent 1.5 billion dollars in constructing a deep sea port at Gwadar, Pakistan. Today's NYT says Chinese warships are planing to escort their commercial vessels with warships in the Indian Ocean, "from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca". As recently as March a Chinese warship docked in Abu Dhabi, the first time their warships have docked in the Middle East for years. Gwadar makes the perfect base for such ships. So, what some thought was supposed to be mainly a terminus for a planned pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to the Baluchistan port of Gwadar obviously will have other uses.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Enduring Strategic Importance of Afghanistan for the Industrial World

Andrew Bacevich said on Bill Moyers Journal [4/9/10 PBS] that the war with the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan is the longest war in American history and is “utterly devoid of strategic purpose.” Moyers was enough convinced of this himself that he quoted Bacevich in the program that was aired last night. I have a great respect for Bill Moyers [and am outraged that his program and NOW have both been taken off PBS without sufficient explanation] but on this I think he has it wrong.

Bacevich's view represents the usual American short term vision -- we seem only to think ahead in four-year segments -- and is unworthy of a man of his intellect and justly respected reputation.

I am of course dismayed at any suggestion that the United States should again abandon its oft-repeated commitment to the Afghan peoples. The American government supported the war against the Soviets during the 1980s and then disappeared in 1990s as the mujahedin fought over control of the country. Similarly, the Americans entered Afghanistan in 2001 and crushed the Taliban/AlQaeda, but then, again, withdrew its serious military assets to wage war in Iraq. If the Americans again abandon the Afghanistan peoples, a third time in as many decades, they would forever seal their reputation as untrustworthy and entirely self-serving.

But that is not the relevant reply to Bacevich's claim that the war has "no strategic purpose." The reply is to look ahead to see what American and other industrial nation's interests are. If we look at the long term trajectory of affairs we see a world whose needs for hydrocarbons are rising exponentially. And in the region of Afghanistan, immediately to the north in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, are situated huge reserves of minimally developed gas and oil [leaving aside those that may exist in Afghanistan where the necessary research has yet to be done]. These reserves are just now being developed. And already there is a race for access to the reserves by the industrial nations of Eurasia. As Afghanistan is situated between Central Asia and the South Asian and Middle Eastern states it will eventually be a natural corridor of export from Central Asia to the many industrial countries already clamoring for it. []

In fact, three different pipeline plans are already in place: two of them from Turkemenistan's Daulatabad gas field into Pakistan, one across the north, the other following the ring road through Herat and Kandahar, and the third running due south to Baluchistan and its Indian Ocean coast.

It is for this that the great powers are involved in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war, in their own interest. [] The United States already is trying to make sure that the hydrocarbon pipelines of Central Asia avoid Russia and Iran in order to avoid interdiction. So, for the Americans no less than the Indians and Pakistanis and Chinese and Japanese, etc. etc. Afghanistan needs to have peace, a secure peace, so that the pipeline construction festivities can begin. When that happens the United States needs to be in position to influence the agreements that will for a good while anchor the political and economic alliances of the industrial powers.

The Obama administration surely must understand this. The European leaders must know this, even if their own citizens don't. Certainly the Chinese are demonstrating how well they understand it for they have been making deals with the Afghans for long term development. The Chinese are Afghanistan's largest trading partner even now. And the Chinese have already -- note already -- built the port at Gwadar in Pakistan which will be the terminus of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Baluchistan pipeline on the Indian Ocean. One and a half billion dollars they have already invested in what was once a small fishing village. The ostensible reason is to construct a port that will accommodate ocean-going oil tankers. That Gwadar just happens to control the mouth of the Persian Gulf . . . well, is that merely an incidental circumstance?, or did it have something to do with other long term plans? The Chinese seem to be thinking decades ahead.

BGR, the German energy development company, estimates that within a crucial ellipse that includes the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea region, western Kazakhstan and northwestern Russia reside 74% of the worlds oil supplies and 70% of the world's gas supplies. [] The huge resources lying directly north of Afghanistan will someday be transported by pipeline through either Afghanistan or Iran to the Indian Ocean whence it will be shipped to a thirsty industrial world.

That's what can reasonably be seen in the moderately near future.
Why doesn't Bacevich see that?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

An insight on Pakistan's gamble with Islamism

Farooq Sulehria of New Age Islam is suggesting in the article below that Pakistan could be risking its essential integrity by its continued dependent on Islamist groups. His notion that the trend is further downward -- even further than it has gone so far -- is worth looking at carefully. [Click on the title for a link to the source.] RLC

The War within Islam
31 Mar 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com
Pakistan: In Search of Strategic Death
By Farooq Sulehria
Old Eskimos had a clever technique for hunting wolves. They would plant a bloody knife in the snow. Lured by the smell of blood, the wolves would approach the knife and lick the blade, cutting their tongues. Without realizing that they were drinkng their own blood, wolves would continue licking until they had bled to death.
Back in 1980s, Pakistan military adopted a doctrine of strategic depth. This doctrine is proving Eskimos' knife for Pakistan. The doctrine implies that Pakistan needs Afghanistan as backyard beyond India's reach. The Afghan-India nexus dominating military's mind is evident from a recent interaction General Kayani had with media recently. On February 1, he told foreign correspondents: ''“We want Afghanistan to be our strategic depth''. In two days time, he was telling Pakistani journalists:'' I am India-centric.''
It is in search of strategic depth that Pakistan military, post-September 11, has been hunting with the American-hound and running with Taliban-hare. Definitely not an easy position. That country's military establishment has not given up Jihadi assets is evident from media reports.
Woe unto missing Saudi billionaire! He disturbed the order Pakistan military had established in the region. No matter with what horrible consequesnces for the masses.
When the 'communist' era came to an end in Afghanistan, mutually combating Mujahideen pillaged Kabul in their bid to outdo each other for the control of government. Gulbadin Hikmatyar was Pakistan's favourite horse in this race. When he proved futile, Pakistan saddled Taliban.
Back in 1997, objective conditions favoured Pakistan-sponsored Taliban's seizure of Kabul. It remains Pakistan military's sole victory at an external front. A disinterested USA welcomed Taliban's arrival in Kabul. To quote New York Times, the ''State Department was touting the Taliban as the group that might finally bring stability''. A US diplomat, Jon Holtzman, was advised to visit Kabul. Trip was, however, cancelled after media kerfuffle about women rights. Still $125 million were granted in aid (largest foreign aid).
The State Department maintained secret correspondence with Taliban regime. At the time, media were replete with rumours regarding US-backing for Taliban. Unlike the anti-US image Taliban have cultivated in recent years, they were also pretty cozy with infidel Uncle Sam. The US rationale for Taliban support was not merely an over-publicised gas pipeline project that Unocal wanted to pursue. Clinton Administration, it was rumoured, had Iran in mind while welcoming Taliban. Whether these rumours were true or not, Taliban's second major sponsor, Riyadh, definitely wanted to contain Iran through staunchly anti-Shia Taliban.
Thus, all three infamous As that matter in Pakistan i.e. Army, America and Allah (represented here by Riyadh) were united in seeking, by default, cherished strategic depth. Equally important was the turmoil in Russia and Central Asian Republics (CARs). Following the Soviet dissolution, new regimes in Russia and CARs were struggling to consolidate. Most importantly, Afghans were desperate for peace after years of brutal infighting among Mujahideen gangs. Hoping against hope, at least a section of Afghans pinned their hopes in Taliban even if it meant sacrificing civil liberties.
Fifteen years on, odds are stubbornly going against Taliban. The USA is not merely on the other side of the fence, it in fact is guarding (no matter how unsuccessfully) the fence. Saudi royals, one of them personally humiliated by Mullah Omar on the question of Osama's expulsion, would find it imprudent to annoy Washington by patronising Taliban. Regimes in CARs and Russia, dealing with confessional militancy, would not sit idle in the face of Taliban take over of Kabul.
Pakistan's all-weather friend China, facing Uighur uprising, has publicly expressed her disapproval of Taliban. Most importantly, big majority of Afghans, particularly non-Pakhtuns constituting almost 55 percent of the population, having lived Taliban nightmare are not ready to experience it one more time. Though Pakistan's pro-Taliban media have pretty successfully painted Taliban as popular peace-harbingers ( in 1990s) and popular liberation force (2001 onwards) yet Afghan perception of Taliban is different. Opinion polls find Taliban's popularity below ten percent. Hence, Taliban march on Kabul, by proxy providing strategic depth to Pakistan, may not be resisted by the USA, Iran, India, China, CARs and Russia but by most Afghans.
However, despite lacking a mass social base, Taliban have the advantage of an unceasing supply of fanatics ready to explode on Afghan streets en route paradise. This factor has shattered early US hopes of a steady occupation in a strategically important country neighbouring Iran, gas-rich Central Asia while China is at stone's throw. Meantime, not merely Obama administration has staked its political future on Afghanistan, Afghan war is a good war (essential to nip the evil of terror in Afghan bud) hence a good tool to keep NATO united. The NATO fell apart in case of Iraq.
Afghanistan provided Washington the opportunity to discipline European satraps. Hence, to tranquillise the Taliban uproar, Washington has resorted to a multi-pronged policy. An Iraq-style surge (over 30, thousand more troops to Kabul). An aggressive drone-Pakistan-policy to force Islamabad (read Pakistan military) into giving up dual policy on Taliban. Also, by droning Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan,----particularly targetting leadership----US wishes to weaken Taliban. Fallujah-style military offensive in Marhaj (Helmend province) to flush Taliban out is an attempt to demoralise Taliban. All this is aimed at bringing a weak Taliban (and Pakistani patrons) to a negotiating table. Caught between the hammer of ''war on terror'' and anvil of ''strategic depth'', Pakistan instead of reaching strategic depth, will embrace a strategic death.
Everytime Pakistan military hunts Taliban, there is a boomrang suicidal attack. According to a think tank, in 2009:“If the casualties in terrorist attacks, operational attacks by the security forces and their clashes with the militants, inter-tribal clashes and the cross-border attacks of the US and Nato forces in Fata are counted, the overall casualties amount to 12,632 people dead and 12,815 injured.”