Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Afghan pipe dream

The Afghan pipe dream......Video (9 min): After 9/11, Why Afghanistan? Investment Banker Karl Schwartz lays it out

1. The Caspian Sea Basin (Kazakstan, Turkmenistan etc.) holds between 11 and 12 TRILLION dollars in oil and gas resources

2. There are only three ways to get it out:

- East to China

- West through Iran, Russia, and Turkey to Europe

- South through Afghanistan and Pakistan

3. The Taliban who controlled Afghanistan before 9/11 made pipeline deals with non-US companies and refused to change them to give control of the region's resources to the US

America's convoluted, Alice-in-Wonderland interpretation of this summer's top political show - the "free expression of the people" in the Afghanistan election - reads like an opium dream. In fact, it is actually a pipe dream - as in Pipelineistan. With the added twist that no one's saying a word about the pipe that's delivering the opium dream.

As in an opium dream, delusion reigns. The chances of United States President Barack Obama actually elaborating what his AfPak strategy really is are as likely as having his super-envoy Richard Holbrooke share a pipe with explosive uber-guerrilla warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Obama says "success in Afghanistan" involves "diplomacy, development and good governance" - but all dazed and confused
world public opinion sees are packs of extra marines being deployed to "fight the Taliban".

Former Waziristan jihad master Baitullah Mehsud, a "Pak", not an "Af" Taliban, may have been done in by a clever US Predator drone. But one Osama bin Laden - as in an opium dream - still ghostly roams across the Hindu Kush, eight years after the 9/11 fact. A vision or a waking dream, he may be playing Return of the Living Dead in "Pak", not "Af" - so why all these extra marines frantically canvassing Afghan lands?

Or should we believe Pakistan Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who said there "is no evidence that Osama bin Laden is present in Pakistan" and that "those making claims of his presence in the country should provide valid proof of it"?

Furthermore, the US notion that a motley crew of Pashtun peasants, angry young religious men, gangsters, highway robbers and anti-government rabble-rousers sprinkled around Pashtun country in Afghanistan would suddenly start welcoming shady al-Qaeda new breeders bent on destroying Western civilization as we know it is, well, no less than an opium dream.

As for the sham election, who cares who's the winner - Pashtun President Hamid Karzai, aka "the kebab seller", Tajik Abdullah Abdullah or anyone else? Afghanistan will be ruled by Barack Hussein Obama anyway. "The Taliban" - this ghostly, immaterial entity - may start getting less cash from their former Pakistani intelligence masters; but pious, Salafi Persian Gulf potentates will still make sure they more than balance their budget - unlike certain Western powers. They couldn't care less about super-envoy Holbrooke's recently announced campaign to freeze wire transfers to "the Taliban".

Unable to fire Karzai, Washington watches impotently as he drafts psycho killer Uzbek General Rashid Dostum to campaign for him - as if sporting Tajik commander Muhammad Fahim as his running mate was not enough. It's Do the Warlord Dance in Kabul - and the prize is buckets of drug money for everybody so funding for private militias remains as free as a full supply of opium to the world economy.

And in the end, the warlords will find a shortcut to get rid of Karzai anyway.

Just ask the perennial Hekmatyar - who is fighting not only Karzai but the US and coalition troops (as if he's reading too much recent Iraq history, he insists on a timetable for Western troop withdrawal). Incidentally, good ol' friend of Saudi Arabia Hekmatyar is not a "Taliban" - but a Pashtun nationalist.

As for installed-by-George W Bush Karzai, he may be an Americanized aristocrat from the minor Popolzai tribe who knows his Pashtunwali - the inflexible Pashtun tribal code; but he's also a no-holds-barred opportunist who studied in India, so he's betting on India to counter Pakistani influence over Afghanistan. He wants no "Pak" dominating "Af", while for Washington everything is now "AfPak". He knows that "the Taliban" control the day and virtually all the night in over half of Afghanistan. He knows he's got to do something to try to stop Westerners killing Pashtuns in droves. Yet another American puppet turns against his masters.

Ich bin ein Talibanistaner

And what to make of the McChrystal, Gates and Mullen show - worthy of the Marx Brothers? To amuse the galleries, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen did a two-on-one and faced down commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan General Stanley McChyrstal's inimitable Dr Strangelove impersonation by asking him to take it easy and submit his new Afghan report to Obama only after the Afghan election.

Iron Gates wants an orgy of new troops; super-envoy Holbrooke, for his part, wants a massive nation-building squad - he's building his own (doomed), counterinsurgency-heavy, Afghan shadow government. The bottom line is that, mired in the opium dream that all Afghans love the concept of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) occupying their country, the Pentagon wants a star-studded AfPak show running for decades.

McChrystal first said the Taliban are winning. Then he said they're not. Then he asked for - what else - more troops and more help on the civilian side. There will be 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2009. At the moment there are 96,500 US plus NATO troops on the ground – including 4,050 Germans, 485 Norwegians, 470 Bulgarians and 2,378 from "other nations".

The extrapolations into ridicule boggle the mind. The 4,050 members of the Bundeswehr fighting "Taliban" in northern Afghanistan near Kunduz now have to shout out a trilingual warning before getting down to the nitty gritty. First, in English, it's "United Nations - stop, or I will fire!" Then comes the Pashto remix - "Melgaero Mellatuna-Dreesch, ka ne se dasee kawum!" And then the Dari remix. Forget about the cool and crisp Achtung! Sounds more like a Monty Python sketch about the European Commission in Brussels. Even German top commander General Wolfgang Schneiderhahn is embarrassed.

While all this funky charade goes on, virtually nobody - apart from Canadian energy economist John Foster, in an op-ed published by The Star newspaper - is talking about the (real) Afghan pipe dream. Once again, since the late 1990s, it all comes back to TAPI - the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Pakistan/India gas pipeline, the key reason Afghanistan (as an energy transit corridor) is of any strategic importance to the US, apart from being deployed as an aircraft carrier stationed right at the borders of geopolitical competitors China and Russia. TAPI, financed by the Asian Development Bank, should in theory start to be built in 2010.

Both Russia and Iran, accomplished chess masters, are honing their moves to make TAPI unworkable. Until then, the AfPak theater basically boils down to the US and NATO at war against nationalist Pashtuns. Washington hysteria will continue to rule - as in "the Taliban" about to take over Islamabad's nukes and convert the US into TalibanUStan. And last but not least, please save the last bowl of opium for that oh-so-savvy wild bunch - the warlords.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Introductory Observations....

Triangular strategic configurations seem to be more of a feature of international strategic discourse on Asian security. It is a favorite theme for examination and discussion especially when the global security landscape becomes more fluid and uncertain.

As per international studies on this subject the search for triangular configurations have become more strategically marked in the post-Cold War period when either the United States assumes unquestioned global strategic dominance or when the United States global power is perceived to be declining.

In the later stages of the Cold War, it was former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who perceptibly introduced triangular configurations when he sought to balance Russia with US quasi-strategic alliance linkages with China.

Today one witnesses a lot of feasibility studies of the Russia-China-India Triangle, the Japan-China-United States Triangle, the United States-China-India Triangle and the United States-China-Pakistan Triangle and some have explored the possibility of the Untied States-European Union – China Triangle.

A globally strategic paradigm shift would have taken place in the global power balance had the Russia-China-India Strategic Triangle could have substantially materialized. This was examined in a couple of Papers on this website by this Author. The striking conclusion was that short of China re-casting its South Asia policy formulations and shedding its strategic hostility towards India the Russia-China-India Strategic Triangle was nor workable.

Similarly, an Asian strategic triangle of China-Japan-India would have been a formidable combination. This proposition cannot take off simply became China cannot strategically condescend to share Asian strategic space with Japan and India.

Significantly, to be noted is the fact that in all United States strategic discourse on triangular configurations, China is preferred as the strategic partner of the United States and then others. This rules out a fair number of triangular strategic configurations in Asia.

What has not come to notice in international strategic discussion on triangular strategic linkages is the attractiveness of a Russia- India-Iran Strategic Triangle to all these three countries for mutual strategic benefits.

The aim of this Paper is to examine the possibilities of a Russia- India-Iran Strategic Triangle emerging by dwelling on the following aspects:

Russia-India-Iran: Their Respective Strategic Significance
Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: Contextual Strategic Factors which may Prompt its Emergence
Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: The Impact on the United States and China
Russia-India-Iran: Their Respective Strategic Significance

Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle in terms of comparative strategic analysis would far outweigh any triangular strategic configurations linking the United States and China with any third nation combination. This formidable strategic potential arises from the sum total of the respective strategic strengths and geo-strategic significance of Russia, India and Iran.

Russia’s striking geo-strategic and geo-political significance needs no introduction. Russia has shared the global strategic stage as the only other superpower other than the United States. Russia as discussed in many Papers of this Author since 2000 has been in a resurgent mode to reclaim its erstwhile status as a superpower and emerge as an independent center of global power. Russia’s strategic assets are intact and under active modernization.

Russia’s constant devaluation in United States strategic discourse and policy formulations is deliberate with psychological warfare component added to it. If the United States has global strategic fears, it is only from Russia. China can never provide the strategic ballast to the United States in its strategic tussles with Russia.

India’s strategic significance as an emergent global power with a resurgent economic growth, also needs no introduction. Like Russia, India is a nuclear weapons power and has a highly professional conventional military might.

India is the predominant regional power in the Indian Sub-continent and its contiguous regions, despite the United States and China’s strategic nexus with Pakistan and their assisted build-up of Pakistan’s military profile to checkmate India.

Iran’s geo-strategic and geo-political profile which is otherwise significant gets undervalued as a result of United States virtual demonization of Iran as an irresponsible and rogue nuclear power in the making. Iran undoubtedly is the predominant regional power in the Gulf Region. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf littoral Arab monarchies are no strategic match to Iran minus their military alliance linkages to the United States.

Russia as the apex or the pivotal head of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle has extremely good political relationships with both India and Iran. The Indian and Iranian military inventories are predominantly Russian in origin and provide military inter-operability between the three.

Russia and Iran, the two together, control significant oil and gas reserves of the world which plays an important role in India’s energy security plans..

There are no divisive political or other issues which divide Russia, India and Iran. This is highly significant as the US-China-third country strategic triangle suffers from the inherent distrust between United States and China. Their strategic getting together in any triangular combination is a shaky and artificial strategic contrivation to balance Russia.

Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: Contextual Strategic Setting which may Prompt its Emergence

In the initial part of this Paper, the various strategic triangular configurations being discussed by the Western strategic community seem to focus largely on the combination of United States – China with third countries in Asia, to the exclusion of Russia.

This virtually amounts to a US-China Dyad in a new unfolding version of the Cold War. The United States advocacy of a G-2 combination of the United States and China is another indicator of US-China Dyad controlling the World Order.

Now let us examine the linkages of Russia, India and Iran with the United States and which briefly can be outlined as under:

US-Russia relations are contentious and strategically competing. All United States approaches to China, despite their own mutual mistrust are conditioned by the determinant of enlisting China as a quasi-ally against Russia.
US-India relations today can be termed as politically correct. The US-India Strategic Partnership may be attractive to the present Government, but it has lost its sheen to India’s strategic community because of the China-Pakistan predominance in US policy formulations in South Asia.
US-Iran relations are hostile with Iran under constant threat of US military intervention on the nuclear issue. The United Stated strategic hostility towards Iran is conditioned by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s fears of Iran.
The common thread that runs in the above strategic pattern is that the United States has chosen in its foreign policy formulations to ignore the global and regional strengths of Russia as a global power and India and Iran as the predominant regional powers in the region.

China’s relations with Russia, India and Iran as part of the US-China Dyad also deserve a brief look. The following picture emerges:

China-Russia so called strategic nexus is only in name. Russia mistrusts China’s strategic dalliance with USA. Russia has many other strategic fears arising from China.
China-India relations border on latent hostility if not in the open. Both are intense rivals to claim the Asian strategic space.
China-Iran relations despite Chinese eternal rhetoric are not without deep strategic misgivings. China's build-up of Pakistan as a nuclear weapons power probably is one of the determinants in addition to USA, of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, notwithstanding that Pakistan years ago had assisted Iran in its nuclear pursuit.
If anything in the past that drew Russia and Iran to China strategically, it was China’s hostile postures towards the United States. The reverse is true now today.

To deflect charges that the above examination is an over-simplification (necessitated by keeping the paper short) the strategic realities that need to be emphasized are:

The United States in some way or the other thwarts the superpower aspirations of Russia. The United States as part of its National Security Strategy does not accept the regional power status of India (despite recent rhetoric) and Iran. The United States strategic agenda can therefore be construed as at odds with the national aspirations of Russia, India and Iran.
China as an emergent global power for reasons of its global aspirations would logically not accept any accretions to the strategic profile and status of Russia, India and Iran as powers that dominate the strategic setting in Asia and globally too.
Russia, India and Iran prompted by factors dismissed above can logically be expected to move towards the evolution of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle relationship if the current trend towards a United States-China Dyad concretizes.

Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: The Impact on the United States and China

The emergence or the prospects of emergence of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle leaves only one option for the United States. It is to pre-empt or wean away India from such a combination. The United States to succeed would have to pay a heavy strategic price for the same. It would have to jettison its China and Pakistan baggage from its strategic formulations in its approaches to India. The United States seems inclined not to do so.

In relation to Russia, the United States may not jettison China and thereby prompting India to bring about a value-added resurgence in its proven and tested Russia-India Strategic Partnership.

As far as impact on China is concurred, one can estimate that in the pursuance of its global power aspirations, China can be expected to jettison its current strategic linkages with Russia and Iran, in favor of United States.

The resultant fortified US-China Strategic Dyad would provide additional compelling reasons for India to move both towards a strong Russia-India Strategic Partnership and the Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle. The same reasons would compel both Russia and Iran to do likewise.

Concluding Observations

In the ensuing era where there is a global perception that US global power is declining and forcing the United States to harness China as an emerging global power, in a strategic United States-China Dyad, it would be strategically logical for countries which distrust United States and China singly or both together, to seek alternative strategic linkages.

The possible emergence of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle needs to be viewed in light of the above strategic trends which draw the United States and China together despite the deep cleavages that exist between them.

A possible Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle would be a formidable strategic combination to contend with, especially when no strategic cleavages exist between them. Such a combination could substantially alter the global balance of power and the Asian security landscape.

Friday, August 14, 2009

As it catches up to its neighbor and arch-rival, India finds its safety compromised.

India’s China Problem

Gordon G. Chang

As it catches up to its neighbor and arch-rival, India finds its safety compromised.


China and India wrapped up their 13th round of border talks on Saturday in New Delhi. The meeting produced agreements on various matters, such as the installation of a hot line between the Chinese and Indian capitals and plans to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties next year. The two nations also agreed to expand bilateral trade, hoping to meet their target of $60 billion for 2010, a substantial increase over last year’s $51.8 billion.

Yet there was no progress when it came to the main subject for discussion–competing territorial claims in Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin. Beijing and New Delhi are no closer to settling disputes that led the two giants to war in 1962 and that have, in recent years, hampered relations. Chinese officials see their nation on the rise and feel no need to compromise. The number of incursions by China’s troops into Indian-controlled territory appears to be increasing.

India, generally acknowledged as the weaker of the two, has tried to maintain cordial ties, often following former Prime Minister Nehru’s “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” slogan, promoting the notion that the two Asian nations are brothers. Beijing, for its part, has been under no such delusions, playing a hard game. In the middle of the 1970s, it began helping Pakistan build a nuclear weapon to keep arch-rival India off balance. Since then, the Chinese have supported Islamabad’s campaign of terror against the Indian state.

The terrorists attacking Mumbai hotels last November used Chinese equipment–the distinctively blue Type 86 grenades, manufactured by China’s state-owned Norinco, which has continually supplied parties working with militants inside India. China has given Pakistan most of the ordinance that its notorious Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence–better known as ISI–gives to terrorist groups. Almost all of the sophisticated communications equipment used by terrorists in India, especially Kashmir, is Chinese-made and was routed through the Pakistani army. The training the Chinese give to Pakistani personnel is, with Beijing’s knowledge, leached to terrorists. Furthermore, in April and May 2006, May 2007 and August 2008, China blocked U.N. sanctions against and censure of Lashkar-e-Taiba and its front, Jammat-ud-Dawa, the organizations responsible for the horrible hotel attacks.

No wonder the Indians are starting to reassess their ties with Beijing. Although it is unlikely the Chinese will attack India before 2012, as Bharat Verma, editor of India’s leading defense journal, predicted last month, the Indians can expect tougher Chinese actions in the years ahead.

This month, Zhan Lue, a Chinese analyst connected to China’s Ministry of National Defense, suggested that Beijing try to divide India into as many as 30 states. The article, unfortunately, appears to represent the thinking of Chinese strategists and has been widely circulated inside China.

Breaking up India is about the only thing Beijing can do to keep pace with its subcontinent rival. The Chinese today are proud they inhabit the most populous state on earth, but, due to their brutally enforced one-child policy and other factors, the Chinese population will level off sometime around 2030, according to official Beijing estimates. India, at about that time, will take over the top ranking. And thanks to an extreme gender imbalance, the

Demographic trends are not the only problem for China. As India’s population nips at China’s heels, its economy is also taking off. Starting liberalization later than China, India has appeared to be a laggard. But now India is consistently posting big increases in gross domestic product. In the most recently concluded fiscal year, the country’s GDP growth came in at 6.7%. Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics claims higher growth, but its numbers are overstated. Moreover, the Chinese have an export-led model that is particularly ill-suited to current global conditions while the Indians have a more balanced economy bound to outperform China’s in the years ahead.

There are other reasons for the Chinese to feel nervous. India, turning away from Nehru’s “non-aligned” orientation, is finding powerful new friends, such as the U.S. The growing partnership between the world’s largest democracy and its most powerful one suggests an enormous setback for Chinese plans to destabilize New Delhi. The democracies in Asia may not yet be ready to formally create an “arc of freedom” to defend themselves, but nations in the region are increasingly concerned about Beijing’s hostility and aggressiveness. We can expect, therefore, the states to China’s south and east to continue to grow closer together. The Indians do not want to be anyone’s pawn in containing an apparently rising China, but they are beginning to find common cause with Beijing’s neighbors nonetheless.

Whether or not the Chinese teach India “the final lesson” by launching an attack, Verma’s advice about strengthening the country’s northern border seems prudent. Just three days after the border talks with New Delhi ended in failure, the Chinese started the two-month long “Stride-2009,” their “largest-ever tactical military exercise.” Designed to improve the country’s “long-range force projection,” the massive war game is sending a message to India, especially because it appears troops will be sent to bordering Tibet. In 1962, China’s People’s Liberation Army surprised India with its ability to fight in hostile terrain far from its bases. Now, the PLA wants to improve its ability to do so.

The real danger to India is not the heightened readiness of the Chinese army or even the improvement in its capabilities. In May, Fali Homi Major, then India’s air force chief, said China posed more of a threat than Pakistan to his country. He was widely criticized in New Delhi and forced to retract his remarks. The Indian government, however, will not be able to defend its borders until its officials can start talking in public about the dangers it faces. India and China should be friends and brothers, but at this moment they are not.