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?

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