Thursday, June 30, 2011

More and more psychological warfare, US-Saudi Oil Threat To Iran Rings Hollow...

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (right) greets Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in November 2007.
More and more psychological warfare, US-Saudi Oil Threat To Iran Rings Hollow...

Saudi Arabia worries about stability, security and Iran; Turki Addresses US-Brit Officers–A Saudi Wahhabi-Sectarian national security doctrine for the next decade...

[Even the Saudis do not have the refining capacity to supply gasoline for the world, or possibly even to service their own growing needs (SEE: Oil-Rich Middle-East Running Low on Gas: Analyst).]

“Saudi Arabia in particular faces a growing shortage of oil products: Without new refining capacity we forecast the Kingdom will import 248 billion liters of gasoline and diesel this decade at a cost of 170 billion dollars.”

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (right) greets Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in November 2007.
By Robert Tait
When Saudi Arabia’s one-time intelligence supremo warned that Riyadh was considering using its vast oil wealth as a weapon against neighboring Iran, it appeared that the lingering cold war between the two rival Gulf powers was about to heat up.

The grim portent was served by Prince Turki al-Faisal, who warned that the Saudis could flood the international oil markets to bring down the price of crude unless Tehran halted its controversial nuclear program.

“Iran is very vulnerable in the oil sector, and it’s there that more could be done to squeeze the current government,” “The Wall Street Journal” quoted Faisal — a senior member of the Saudi royal family — as telling a private gathering of United States and British military officers in June.

Saudi Arabia, he went on, was ready to replace Iran in the international oil market — thus depriving Tehran of the vital revenues it needs to keep its fragile economy afloat and to fund its uranium-enrichment activities, which Riyadh and the West suspect is a front for building a nuclear bomb.

“To put this into perspective, Saudi Arabia has so much [spare] production capacity — nearly 4 million barrels per day — that we could almost instantly replace all of Iran’s oil production,” Faisal said.

Growing Hostilities

Faisal once headed Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency but now holds no official government office. Saudi officials have said his comments were made purely in a private capacity.

Yet they articulated the hostilities between the two neighbors, which have grown during this year’s Arab Spring, a period in which Saudi troops deployed in Bahrain to help snuff out a Shi’ite revolt that Riyadh claims — despite Iranian denials — has been fomented by Tehran.

Iranian students participate in a demonstration to oppose the presence of Saudi troops in Bahrain, outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on May 3.

And according to Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian commentator with the Israel-based Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, Faisal Turki was also illustrating Saudi Arabia’s assumed role of being the spearhead of an economic attack on Iran.

“The Saudis are now heading an international campaign to weaken Iran’s economy and to stop the nuclear program. Whereas the Americans are the ones that are imposing sanctions on different parts of the economy,” Javedanfar says, “the Saudi are the ones who are basically going for the jugular.

“They are going for Iran’s oil industry by going to Iran’s customers, such as India and saying, ‘Don’t buy oil from Iran; you can buy oil from us and we can basically give it to you at a better price.’ They want to flood the market to bring the price of oil down. They know that Iran is vulnerable because 80 percent of the country’s income comes from oil.”

Iran, which currently holds the presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), hit back angrily.

“Iran will stop any move designed to play with oil prices through production hikes,” the country’s caretaker oil minister, Mohammad Aliabadi, said after Faisal’s comments were made public.

The Iranians already blocked a Saudi effort to increase production at the last OPEC meeting in Vienna on June 8.

Indulging In Hyperbole

Yet while there is general agreement that Iran’s overreliance on oil revenues is an Achilles heel, not everyone is convinced that Riyadh’s threat would have the effect of crippling Islamic regime economically.

Kamran Dadkhah, associate professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston, says Saudi Arabia — despite being OPEC’s biggest oil producer — is indulging in hyperbole by believing it can bring Iran to its knees.

“Saudi Arabia is, indeed, the only OPEC member with spare capacity and excess capacity and financial resources to manipulate the oil markets,” Dadkhah says. “But to bankrupt Iran through this process is a wrong statement.

“If you flood the market with oil, OK, the price of oil will come down. [But the] Iranians will sell at a lower price. Iran has sold at $9 a barrel at times, and there is no reason that it is the Iranian oil that will be replaced. It may be some other oil producer that has to cut down on their supply because the price has come down or even [whose] customers will be replaced.”

Moreover, according to Dadkhah, Iran could afford to fund its nuclear program with oil prices much lower than the $108.19 a barrel of Brent crude was fetching on June 28.

“Iran doesn’t need all the money it is getting now just to go with the nuclear program,” he says. “Even a part of it would be enough to finance that.”

Countering Faisal’s threat is Iran’s retaliatory capability. It is, as Dadkhah points out, capable of causing “mischief” in response to any hardships imposed on it, not least by encouraging restiveness among Shi’a populations in Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia itself. As a last resort, Tehran also has the option of firing at oil tankers passing through the Gulf and of sabotaging oil and gas pipelines.

Such considerations are unlikely to have been lost on the Saudis — meaning Faisal’s remarks probably carried a strong element of psychological warfare.

Gerd Nonneman, professor of Gulf studies at Exeter University in England, believes the comments were intended as a display of Saudi Arabia’s potential power which, in practice, the kingdom’s ruling dynasty would be reluctant to use.

“[Flooding the market] is not quite a nuclear option,” Nonneman says, “but [Saudi Arabia] really puts itself out there. I think they also wouldn’t simply want to be doing a free favor to the U.S. and the West without being taken seriously otherwise. So I think it’s a balancing game. They were considering upping their production very significantly. In fact, they are going to up it by at least half-a-million barrels a day. Whether they were going to go further, that would expose them further in a number of ways. That’s why Prince Turki, rather than any official, was used to put this idea out there. It’s a kind of trial balloon.”

In a UK speech, Prince Turki al-Faisal outlines Saudi Arabia’s concerns relating to the Arab spring, its foreign policies and Iran....

Prince Turki Al Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz Al
Prince Turki al-Faisal, who spoke at RAF Molesworth.
It was a very discreet meeting deep in the English countryside. The main speaker was Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia‘s best-known and best-connected royals. The audience was composed of senior American and British military officials. The location was RAF Molesworth, one of three bases used by American forces in the UK since the second world war. Now a Nato intelligence centre focused on the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the sprawling compound amid green fields was an ideal venue for the sensitive topics that Turki, former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, wanted to raise.

After an anecdote about how Franklin D Roosevelt was told by a naked Winston Churchill that nothing between them or their countries should be hidden, Turki warmed to his theme: “A Saudi national security doctrine for the next decade.”

For the next half an hour, the veteran diplomat, a former ambassador to Washington and tipped to be the next foreign minister in Riyadh, entertained his audience to a sweeping survey of his country’s concerns in a region seized by momentous changes. Like Churchill, Turki said, the kingdom “had nothing to hide”.

Even if they wanted to, the leaders of the desert kingdom would have difficulty concealing their concern at the stunning developments across the Arab world. Few – excepting the vast revenues pouring in from oil selling at around $100 a barrel for much of the year – have brought much relief to Riyadh.

Chief among the challenges, from the perspective of the Saudi royal rulers, are the difficulties of preserving stability in the region when local autocracies that have lasted for decades are falling one after another; of preserving security when the resultant chaos provides opportunities to all kinds of groups deemed enemies; of maintaining good relations with the west; and, perhaps most importantly of all, of ensuring that Iran, the bigger but poorer historic regional and religious rival just across the Gulf from Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, does not emerge as the winner as the upheavals of the Arab spring continue into the summer.

“The [Saudi king], crown prince and government cannot ignore the Arab situations, we live the Arab situation and hope stability returns,” the al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted Prince Nayef, the second in line to the throne and minister of the interior, as saying in Riyadh last week.

The prince, known as a conservative, went on to add that the possibility “of interference to prolong the chaos and killing between the sons of the Arab people … could not be discounted”.

Iran, a majority Shia state committed to a rigorous and highly politicised Islamist ideology, remains at the heart of such fears in Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni state ruled by the al-Saud family since its foundation in 1932. Recent moves such as the Saudi-inspired invitation to Morocco and Jordan, both Sunni monarchies, to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of Sunni autocratic states, are seen by analysts as part of Riyadh’s effort to bolster defences against Tehran. So too is the deployment of Saudi troops under the umbrella of the GCC to Bahrain, where largely Shia demonstrators took to the streets to demand greater democratic rights from the Sunni rulers.

One fear in Riyadh is that the 15% or so of Saudi citizens who are Shia – and who largely live in the oil-rich eastern province – might mobilise in response to an Iranian call to arms.

“It is a kind of ideological struggle,” said a Ministry of Interior official.

Describing Iran as a “paper tiger” because of its “dysfunctional government … whose hold on power is only possible if it is able, as it barely is now, to maintain a level of economic prosperity that is just enough to pacify its people”, Turki, according to a copy of his speech at RAF Molesworth obtained by the Guardian, said the rival state nonetheless had “steel claws”, which were “effective tools … to interfere in other countries”.

This Tehran did with “destructive” consequences in countries with very large Shia communities such as Iraq, which Turki said was taking a “sectarian, Iranian-influenced direction”, as well as states with smaller ones such as Kuwait and Lebanon. Until Iraq changed course, the former intelligence chief warned, Riyadh would not write off Baghdad’s $20bn (£12.5bn) debts or send an ambassador.

More worryingly for western diplomats was Turki’s implicit threat that if Iran looked close to obtaining nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would follow suit, threatening a nuclear war between the two powers. “Iran [developing] a nuclear weapon would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences,” Turki said.

A senior adviser told the Guardian that it was “inconceivable that there would be a day when Iran had a nuclear weapon and Saudi Arabia did not”.

“If they successfully pursue a military programme, we will have to follow suit,” he said. For the moment, however, the prince told his audience, “sanctions [against Iran] are working” and military strikes would be “counterproductive”.

One alternative, Turki told his audience, would be to “squeeze” Iran by undermining its profits from oil, explaining that this was something the Saudis, with new spare pumping capacity and deep pockets, were ideally positioned to do.

Money has long been a key foreign policy tool for Saudi Arabia. Turki’s speech reveals the extent to which the kingdom is relying on its wealth to buy goodwill and support allies. In Lebanon, to counter Syrian influence and the Shia Hezbollah movement, the kingdom has spent $2.5bn (£1.6bn) since 2006.

Several billion more will reach the Palestinians, either directly or via the Palestinian Authority, Turki said. Then there is the $4bn (£2.5bn) in unconditional “grants, loans and deposits to Egypt’s emerging government”, which “stand in stark comparison to the conditional loans that the US and Europe have promised”.

This was an indication of the “contrast in values between the kingdom and its western allies”, the prince said.

The aim of such expenditure – only a fraction of the state’s $550bn (£343bn) reserves – is to minimise any potential ill-will towards Saudi Arabia among populations who have deposed rulers backed previously by Riyadh.

King Abdullah, who has ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, initially backed long-term ally Hosni Mubarak, reportedly personally interceding on his behalf with President Barack Obama.

“The calculation in Riyadh is very simple: you cannot stop the Arab spring so the question is how to accommodate the new reality on the ground. So far there is no hostility to the Saudis in Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere, popular or political,” said Dr Mustafa Alani, from the Gulf Research Centre, Dubai.

One difficult issue is that of the “unwanted house guests”. Saudi Arabia has a long tradition of offering a comfortable retirement home to ex-dictators, and two of the deposed leaders – Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen – are now in the kingdom. Ben Ali is reported to have been housed in a villa on the Red Sea coast. Saleh is in a luxury hospital receiving treatment for wounds caused by the bomb that forced his flight from the country he ruled for 21 years as president, and is now under pressure from his hosts to retire permanently.

Other regional rulers are being gently pressured to ease crackdowns, in part in response to western outcry over human-rights abuses, one official said.

Yemen, however, remains a major security concern to the Saudis, who worry about the presence of Islamic militants and Shia rebels who, again, they view as proxies of Iran.

“It is very important to make sure Yemen is stable and secure and without any internal struggle,” said one Interior Ministry official.

In his speech in the UK, Turki worried that Yemen’s more remote areas had become a safe haven for terrorism comparable to Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Along with money, religion too has been used as a weapon of Saudi foreign policy. Since 1986, Saudi kings have used the title of custodian of the two holy mosques – Mecca and Medina – and “as such [the kingdom] feels itself the eminent leader of the wider Muslim world”, said Turki. Iran challenges this claim.

One key western concern has long been the export of rigorous and sometimes intolerant strands of Islam. Between the 1979 Iranian revolution and the 9/11 attacks, this was seen as a key part of Saudi foreign policy. It also served to placate clerical establishment internally. In the last decade, a major effort has been made to cut back funding for extremism abroad. The results, government spokesmen admit, are sometimes mixed.

Senior Saudi charity officials told the Guardian that their work was not only “non-political” but also avoided any attempt to spread Wahhabism, as the puritanical Saudi strands of Islamic practice are often known, too.

“We follow the wishes of local communities and never get involved in politics. We are a purely humanitarian organisation, said Dr Saleh al-Wohaibi, the secretary-general of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (Wamy), a Riyadh-based NGO engaged in relief work and development assistance across the Islamic world, which has been accused of funding extremism.

However, al-Wohaibi confirmed Wamy had built thousands of religious schools in countries such as Pakistan. Since 9/11, he said, donations from within Saudi Arabia had reduced considerably.

At mosques in Riyadh last week, religious students said they hoped to travel overseas as soon as possible. “It is our duty to help other countries all over the world to improve their practice of Islam and [to improve] the image of Saudi Arabia,” said Abdalillah al’Ajmi, 18, after evening prayers at the al-Rajhi mosque in Riyadh.

In his speech at Molesworth, Turki simply referred to Islam playing “a central … role” in ensuring Saudi security in the years to come. “Saudi Arabia is … the birthplace of Islam …. Iran portrays itself as the leader of not just the Shia world but of all Muslim revolutionaries interested in standing up to the west,” he said.

A Saudi bomb?

Julian Borger

Diplomatic editor

Prince Turki al-Faisal’s remarks reflect alarm at the progress of Iran’s nuclear programme and eroding confidence in the protective umbrella of Saudi Arabia’s longstanding ally, America.

In 2003, as its forces got bogged down in Iraq and the US began to look vulnerable, the Saudi government laid out three alternatives for itself: build its own bomb, shelter under someone else’s, or agree a Middle East nuclear-free zone. Tentative talks on a zone are underway with a view to a UN-chaired conference next year, but few observers believe Israel would surrender its nuclear arsenal or that Iran would halt its programme.

As for its own weapon, Saudi Arabia has declared it will spend $300bn on 16 nuclear reactors, for which it is about to open bids. But they would be turnkey projects with safeguards making it almost impossible to use the fuel to make weapons.

Building a Saudi bomb would require starting a uranium enrichment programme from scratch. Even with unlimited resources that would take years.

In the short term, Saudi Arabia could look to other states. Since the Arab spring, the monarchy has become disillusioned with Washington’s capacity to defend it. Instead, it may see its best option for a rapid response (to an Iran nuclear test, for example) as Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is reported to have an “option” on Pakistan’s nuclear capability, in return for financing Pakistan for decades.

And the US would find it hard to stop such destabilizing nuclear co-operation. Its influence with both the Pakistanis and the Saudis has frayed considerably.

As the standoff between Iran, the United States and their allies intensifies, the number of possibilities that lie ahead gradually shrinks. Some sort of a compromise seems inevitable down the road, but whether violence will precede it and who exactly will be left to negotiate remains a mystery.

Armed conflict, too, can take several forms, and these are not mutually exclusive. The preferred solution for the West is that the Iranian regime is overthrown from within; the threat of war also hangs, however, while the Islamic Republic maneuvers adeptly and guns for a regional reshuffle according to its own tastes.

In the past days and weeks, the two sides have been flexing their military muscles and issuing veiled threats. This week, Iran started a massive 10-day military exercise, code named "Great Prophet 6". It tested a new radar system, new fortified underground missile silos, and ground-to-ground missiles that could reach all parts of the Middle East, alongside various other technological achievements.

Western diplomats responded with alarm. "Iran has also been carrying out covert ballistic missile tests on rocket launchers, including testing of missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload in contravention of UN resolution 1929," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC [1].

Iran promptly denied the allegation, but Hague's announcement is significant, particularly as it comes on the heels of an Iranian announcement that it will triple its stash of uranium enriched to the level of 20% U-235 by the end of the year.

"Though uranium enriched to this level is intended mostly to fuel Tehran's small nuclear research reactor, which produces medical isotopes," explains Israeli analyst Yossi Melman, "it also bolsters the knowledge of Iranian nuclear experts and their ability to control all stages of enrichment - including to a level of 93%, which enables the production of fissile material used in making a nuclear weapon."

According to Melman, the greatest danger is that Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and a few other key Iranian officials ascribe to messianic beliefs that condition the coming of the Mahdi (Messiah in Shi'ite Islam) on "a huge proportion of the world's population be[ing] annihilated in a great war".[2] Nuclear weapons would seem chillingly well-suited to use as a tool to save the world in this scenario.

This argument, however, seems extreme, even alarmist, and a majority of Western analysts hold the view that the Iranian regime is ultimately rational. Some have even pointed out that Iranian policy in the Middle East has been more coherent in the past decade than that of the United States. As a Chatham House report famously put it back in 2006, "While the US has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess."

On the chess-like field of Realpolitik, too, the tensions are steadily escalating, and Iran poses a major strategic threat to the policies of the United States and its allies. The former circumstance was highlighted by the Iranian announcement last month that it had shared information with Russia on two advanced American drones that it claimed to have shot down earlier this year. While there is nothing surprising in the action itself, such cooperation is usually kept quiet, and the announcement came at a sensitive time, ostensibly as a message of defiance.

Some speculate that Iran may be preparing to respond militarily to any Western intervention in the domestic troubles of its ally Syria. If such an intervention materializes, it would presumably come in the next weeks and months.

Others, such as Asia Times Online's M K Bhadrakumar, point out Iran's recent overtures with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bhadrakumar writes of a recent top-level "conference on terrorism" between the heads of the three states:
At this point in time, the varying degrees of antipathy felt toward the US on the part of Pakistan and Afghanistan on the one hand and Iran's inveterate standoff with the US on the other give impetus to the three neighboring countries drawing closer ... Pakistan is a major Sunni country and Iran's interest lies in ensuring that it does not become part of the Saudi-led alliance against Iran in the Middle East. Iran can flaunt its friendship with Pakistan to expose the Saudi campaign to whip up the phobia of a Shi'ite-Sunni schism in the Middle East today by way of branding Tehran as the leader of the Shi'ite camp and rallying the Sunni Arab opinion [3].
Yet Iraq arguably tops the list of American worries. As the deadline for the withdrawal of American troops there looms, Iranian influence grows. A number of analysts, including Stratfor, have warned that in the long term this could destabilize key US ally Saudi Arabia [4].

Iran, on the other hand, worries that the US might extend its presence in Iraq, and is doing its best to accelerate the American departure. According to a number of reports, a recent increase in violence in the country is orchestrated by Iran, with the following message for the Americans: "Don't stay. Reconsider. [5]"

This situation could easily spin out of control and deteriorate into a full-blown war, especially considering that all the other fronts between the two sides are heated as well. Proxy attacks on US forces, if proven, could easily serve as a casus belli against Iran.

Meanwhile, reports have it, the United States and its allies are quietly piling up forces in the region. There seems to be no critical mass just yet (from what is known, there are two American aircraft carriers close to Iranian shores; conventional wisdom has it that the United States usually attacks such big targets with at least three), but the trends are worrisome.

Debka, an Israeli intelligence-analysis site that is known for publishing both rumors and legitimate intelligence leaks, offers the following assessment:
Last week, Iranian warships and submarines deployed in the Red Sea tracked the movements of two big US aircraft carriers, the USS Enterprise and USS George H W Bush, which crossed each other in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on June 21 heading in opposite directions through this strategic chokepoint between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean ... Strategists in Tehran see danger in these crisscross movements by US war fleets.

According to our military sources, the Enterprise, which is older, slower and has less fire power than the Bush, was moved to the Mediterranean because there it is supported by American air bases scattered across western and central Europe, whereas the Bush was consigned to waters opposite Iranian shores because it is virtually a single-vessel fighting machine capable of operating without support.
It should be noted that the Mediterranean presence could be oriented against both Libya and Syria, while the US might be more inclined to use a smaller, faster and more modern career against Iran, since the latter well-developed anti-ship capabilities and could pose a danger to US careers if attacked.

At this stage, the buildup seems to be intended more as a message than as preparations for an imminent attack. The preferred scenario for the Americans is that the Iranian regime (alongside its allies in Syria and Lebanon) fractures from within, collapsing in the process its foreign-policy stance and halting its external expansion.

There are some signs that this may happen. In the past months, the internal power struggle between Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has intensified. Also the Iranian position in Syria has deteriorated somewhat, together with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's legitimacy.

A couple of months ago, a crisis erupted between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, and many speculated that the president might be forced to resign [6]. Several top Ahmadinejad aides were arrested. Subsequently, the tensions subsided somewhat, and the president's men were released, but a week later reports surfaced that another one of his close confidantes, former Iranian deputy foreign minister Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, had been arrested [7]. Apparently, the crisis continues.

It is possible, even likely, that Western influence is covertly working to deepen the cracks; yet the problem with this strategy is that the Iranian regime is fully aware of it, and may be emphasizing the theatrics to keep its opponents in check. This is true both internationally and domestically, where the so-called Green movement (the self-proclaimed democratic opposition) is split on its course [8].

The fate of the Syrian regime is also far from clear yet. If Assad survives, he will have done so with heavy Iranian assistance, and may well be forced further into the Iranian embrace. Thus, while he would be weakened himself, at least in the short term he would be more likely to conduct Iranian policies (in the past, he has often tried to hold his own course).

In other words, the Iranian regime may turn out to be a superior chess player to Western leaders, always staying one step ahead as it races toward its goals. This creates the very real danger that the US and its allies may have to make hard choices in the near future about using the military muscle they have been flexing.

In Israel, the tone of discussions is gradually shifting from pre-emptive attack to deterrence. A number of Israeli analysts have recently advanced the argument that the Jewish state needs to boost its deterrence and to keep the pre-emptive strike option for the hypothetical moment right before Iran chooses to use (rather than to acquire) nuclear weapons. Boosting the deterrence is generally understood to mean acquiring new submarines (boosting the alleged second-strike capability), missile defenses and advanced airplanes.

Still, Israeli leaders, alongside a few key observers, refuse to rule out the possibility of an imminent Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program, and continue to argue that Iran poses an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israel has been known to project contradictory intentions before surprise military operations in the past, and the fact that its government is keeping a stiff upper lip, much more so than a year ago, can be interpreted as a warning sign.

Saudi Arabia has also fallen relatively silent in the past weeks, as it quietly tries to maneuver in the crises in Yemen and Syria. In some ways, this also looks like a silence before a storm: Syria, in particular, as likely as Iraq to serve as a trigger for any potential showdown between the US and Iran.

If the Assad regime falls (perhaps with some foreign assistance), the entire Iranian deterrence axis featuring Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas would be gravely threatened. Thus, Iran may well be provoked into action, and even if this action is limited (for example, in Iraq), it could easily spiral into a war.

In general, the confrontation seems to be approaching its climax, and some kind of action to change the status quo seems inevitable. This action could be covert (a mixture of sabotage, diplomatic maneuvering and regime change from the inside in key countries), or it can be overt (war).

Its consequences may be felt immediately, or over time. At both extremes of the theoretical analysis stand the possibilities of a complete collapse of the Iranian regime and its allies and of a rout of the American-led alliance and the emergence of Iran as a regional hegemon.

Both of these options, however, are relatively unlikely; decisive military victory, especially in the highly codified modern form of warfare, has largely remained elusive, and its pursuit bears some resemblance to messianic logic.

What is more likely to happen is a significant upset in the geostrategic balance that would bring about some sort of a temporary accommodation, be it shorter or longer-lasting. Currently, its precise terms are almost impossible to forecast, while the debates over who has one will begin only after those terms emerge.

India Has outsourced its foreign policy, defense, energy security to Ziocons and USA?

India Has outsourced its foreign policy, defense, energy security to Ziocons and USA?

Shobhan Saxena

29 June 2011,

We are so proud of the techies in our little Silicon Valleys (Bangalore, Hyderabad) that we mistakenly believe that the nerve-centre of US economy is now in India and the Americans can’t do anything until a guy sitting somewhere in India presses a button.

No doubt, thousands of young Indians (with fake names and fake accents) every day tell hundreds of thousands of Americans how to make their credit card payments or how to use a toilet cleaner, but to assume that we run America is preposterous. The fact is that our economy is dependent on American companies which outsource their work to us (at the cost of poor Americans). If the Americans stop hiring our cheap labour, it’s India that will get hit, not the Americans. Every time an American leader talks against outsourcing, India’s BPO bosses begin to shiver with fear.

But, this outsourcing business is not one way. The Americans might be using us for running their software labs, kitchens, clinics and grocery stores, but we have outsourced our foreign policy to Washington. It’s no longer the purpose of Indian foreign policy to protect India’s interest, its objective is to protect and serve American interest. Our foreign policy mandarins no longer use their brains, they look at Washington for inspiration, guidance and orders.

A very good example of this complete sell-out was seen last week, when India failed to send a representative to an international summit on terrorism in Tehran. Though Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent an invitation to Indian vice-president, the government not only ruled out Hamid Ansari’s participation in the meeting but it also failed to name a replacement. (In recent years, Iran has invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at least twice and he hasn’t responded at all). As a result, there was no Indian participation in an important regional meeting on a crucial issue like terrorism. No points for guessing why the Indian government, whose ministers see a terror threat everywhere, declined the Iranian invitation. Obviously, it was done under American pressure. New Delhi doesn’t want to be seen having friendly relations with a country which is at loggerheads with US. It’s difficult to say if India chickened out after someone from Washington called someone in Delhi, but Indian leaders know very well what makes the Americans happy or what irritates them. So, to make their masters in Washington happy, India’s foreign ministry decided to annoy the Iranians.

India was not the only country under pressure to give the meeting a miss, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan too were being pressured – both by US and Saudi Arabia – to decline the Iranian invite. But not only Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari attended the summit, they also had a tripartite meeting with Iran, underlining the “necessity for further cooperation among the regional and the neighboring countries”. They pledged to expand their “cooperation in political, security, economic and cultural areas, as well as fighting terrorism and foreign interventions”.

In a brutally frank statement Karzai emphasized Iran's role in creating peace and stability in the region, saying “The Afghan nation demand for withdrawal of foreign forces from their country, in this situation Iran and Pakistan can have an important role in establishing peace in Afghanistan.” And Zardari said that the relations between Iran and Pakistan are supported by a firm cultural and historical background. "These relations will have a far brighter future," he said.

What does this mean for India? It means India has become a non-player in Afghanistan and it has pushed Iran towards Pakistan. In the past 10 years, India has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan with the objective of curtailing Pakistan’s influence in the country. Now, it’s very clear from Karzai’s statement that India has no role in Afghanistan at all. Why? Blind followers of US foreign policy, Indian ministers and diplomats have been speaking the American lingo on Afghanistan and playing silly side-kick to the American big brother. Now, as Americans are planning to pull out of Afghanistan while striking a deal with Taliban, India stands lost and confused. All the regional countries – Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan – and the US are in the picture but India is out, looking like a non-state actor.

By aligning our foreign policy with American interest, India is now on the verge of losing old friends and making new enemies. Our friendship and cultural relations with Iran go back to centuries, but we now have begun to believe western propaganda about Iran. Even ordinary Indians tend to believe that Iran is some kind of medieval black hole run by a clutch of evil minds. I was in Tehran in June 2008, when the country was preparing to vote for its presidential election, and I saw how democracy works in that country. There were TV debates between the four presidential candidates; young boys and girls campaigned on the streets late at night; different groups organized political rallies every day; and the polling was as free and fare as possible. But, following some disturbances in Tehran, the western media went to paint the entire Iranian system as illegitimate even as western governments continued to support corrupt, medieval and illegal governments in the Arab world – from Morocco to Egypt to Saudi Arabia to Bahrain.

The fact is that Iran has been the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle Eastern region. And it’s the only country which refuses to hand over its resources (oil and gas) to greedy American companies. That explains American hatred towards Iran. That explains the US plans to destroy Iran’s oil industry. Under US pressure, India hasn’t paid Iran any money for the oil bought from that country. India owns $5 billion to Iran. The oil is coming every day but India is not showing any interest in paying Iran. This despite the fact that there is no UN sanctions against Iran’s oil industry. China and European countries are buying oil from Iran but India is proving its loyalty to America by inventing new excuses every day.

This government wants to make India a client state of United States. The way it’s functioning, its dream of being an American lackey may succeed one day, but it will come at a very heavy cost of losing real and trusted friends in our immediate neighborhood....

The Arab Spring: Opening A Pandora's Box for Eurasia, MENA, Africa, India, China and beyond?

The Arab Spring: Opening A Pandora's Box for Eurasia, MENA, Africa, India, China and beyond?

By A. K. Verma

The so called Arab spring represents a massive popular movement, not seen or predicted in the Arab world ever since the Suez sponsored Nasserite upheaval. It is as significant as the falling of the Berlin wall. The effects of the falling of the Berlin wall are still being felt. Similarly, the Arab spring will lead to irreversible and continuous changes.

Although a common thread links the movement in all the regions its origins are not monocausal. The common denominator is that the entire region seeks a total transformation of ruling political structures and processes, fundamental reforms in governance to foster social equity and emancipation of the poverty ridden classes. The downtrodden have risen to forge a new identity, to look for better opportunities in education, development and personal enhancement.

The spring started in Tunisia with a policewoman slapping a young adult who immolated himself later. This ignited into a blaze the widespread discontent which had been there in Tunisia against the regime, leading ultimately to the flight of the president of Tunisia. Reactions followed in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria where similar undercurrents of discontent prevailed against the autocratic regimes. The Egyptian president had to abdicate also. The Yemen President, hurt in an assault at the Presidential Palace, took refuge in Saudi Arabia. Other rulers are facing armed insurrections.

The specific issues vary from country to country but broadly they can be placed in two categories. The movements in Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya are more social than political or economic, engineered by unhappy tribal or sectarian maladjustments, aggravated by authoritarian rulers. In Egypt, Yemen and Syria the roots lie in political, economic and sectarian dissatisfactions. Only Bahrain is monarchial: the rest of the five countries are republican. Great anxieties are being felt in their neighbourhood, especially the monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the gulf region. If the unrest spreads to these regions, absolutely unpredictable consequences can arise. Instability in Saudi Arabia will lead to severe repercussions in the oil and energy politics of the world. There are many who dread at the thought of instability in Saudi Arabia as it is also the custodian of the Muslim holy places of Mecca and Medina.

In Egypt the problem also has an inter religious dimension. The Copts and the Muslim citizens have never been able to live in total harmony all these decades past. In Bahrain and Syria the rulers are from minority communities, Sunni and Shia respectively and the Shia Sunni divide has now come to the fore as never before in these two countries. The sectarian conflict is also being provoked from outside, Saudi Arabia in the case of Bahrain and Iran in the case of Syria. Iran is also supporting the majority populace of Bahrain. The Sunni cause has received support from the Saudis who are forever striving to establish the supremacy of Sunni Islam over the entire Islamic world through liberal funding and projecting Wahabism and Salafism. In Libya, the problems arise from a society, divided heavily between the tribes, clans and regions, each imbued with its own sense of sub nationalism. The Libyan unrest is compounded further by a Western interference, operating under a new aggressive principle of defending the indigenous population against the so called depredations of its own regime This is too thin a cover to disguise the Western Powers’ real objectives in Libya, originating from their desire to control the economic and oil resources of Libya. The West is otherwise also reluctant to lose its preeminence in the Arab world, particularly Egypt and Yemen. The interests of the West and Saudi Arabia in this respect coalesce. These developments point to two geopolitical factors at play in the region, rising Shia Sunni rivalries and the open Western intervention in the region, to safeguard their energy security.

Aggravation of Shia Sunni divide will cause unbridled manifestation of competitive religious chauvinism, as is already happening in Pakistan, and as had become common, though largely one-sided, during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Several Arab countries have significant Shia populations like Kuwait (30%) and Saudi Arabia (17% mostly in oil locations), not to mention Iraq which has a majority. As Shia Sunni antagonism crosses the point of no return these countries could get severely troubled.

The West, to protect its concerns regarding hydrocarbons, has already co-opted the UN to justify armed attacks in Libya. It has also set in motion the reconstitution of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), primarily of Arab Sheikhs and monarchs, but now to include also the kings of Jordan and Morocco. The GCC will be expected to provide counterweight to the republican Arab regimes if they emerge as hostile entities.

Some broad contours of the likely shape of events in the affected regions can be made out but the distant future remains very hazy. In Egypt while a general consensus to have a new constitution has evolved, the debate remains unsettled what should come first, elections or constitution. A significant development in Egypt has been the recognition of the Muslim brotherhood as a political party, which entitles it to participate in elections overtly using its own agenda as its manifesto. The Muslim brotherhood had for a long time tried to seek recognition and acceptability in the country but had not succeeded so far. Although it has indicated now that its participation in the elections and in the governance thereafter if elected to power, will be bereft of any overtones of violence, it cannot be taken for certain that its strategy will not change in the future, like the Maoists in Nepal who joined the civil processes in Nepal giving up their violent ideology but have retained the desire to become ultimately the supreme power in Nepal. The Muslim brotherhood in Egypt always had the aim of establishing a complete sway over the country and, thereafter, to spread the tentacles of its ideology to other regions of the Arab world. The Muslim brotherhood had been founded in the vision that all Arabs would unite to form one single Islamic Umma but that dream was not fulfilled because the Arabs felt that they were Arabs first and Muslims later. Will this dream reappear in case the Muslim Brotherhood gains power in Egypt remains to be seen but the possibility that some kind of pan Islamist ideology will get promoted in the Arab world under its tutelage will be on the cards.

In Yemen, after the President ran away to Saudi Arabia, a serious tribal conflict has ensued. Yemen is a major strong hold of Al Qaeda in the Arab world and therefore the Saudis and West are deeply interested there to liquidate it. In Bahrain Saudi troops have helped the ruler to crush the Shia opposition for the time being but the discontent rages. Possibly, in Libya, Muammer Qaddafi will have to leave the country in which case how the equation of governance will be resolved with acute differences existing among its tribes, clans and regions will be a time consuming affair. The West would like a pro West government to be established in Libya but the Arabs of Libya are also highly anti US and they do not necessarily consider pro Western government to be in their best interest.

In Syria issues are equally complex. The Syrian president controls all the levers of military power with members of his Alawite sect in all key positions. The Sunni majority, unable to construct a serious alternative, may decide to accept the continuing leadership of President Bashir, albeit reluctantly, till better scenarios surface. Sooner or later, however, the strength of the majority will be felt in the ruling corridors of Syria more and more emphatically and the status quo will change. Syria is the last bastion of Bath socialist philosophy and ideology and if Bashir is thrown out that will mark the end of the last secular establishment in the Arab world.

Who are the real shakers and movers in the Arab world? They are largely the young generations familiar with the internet, face book and twitter and, thanks to them, cognizant of the happenings all over the world in terms of enlarging peoples’ rights, economic renaissance and upward mobility. They are better educated than previous generations but they lack adequate avenues of employment and personal development. Their education and awareness heightens their sensibilities, strengthens their aspirations for better living standards and raises their demands for liberty, equity, justice and fair play in their societies. Their desperation was acute and any spark anywhere had the potential for their frustrations to explode. The Tunisian episode became the trigger and they have seized the opportunity to seek new spaces for themselves.

Will the new structures of governments which may get established be able to fulfill the aspirations of this growing community of young people and, if they do not, what will be the consequences? Their energies will then stretch into areas which will militate against a harmonious existence and relationship between the governed and the governing.

In such a milieu an ideology like Muslim brotherhood gets a new opportunity to stake a new role and play it out more successfully than what it was able to achieve in the past.

Egypt is the largest Arab country and can be expected to be in a leadership role in the region. A Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo may act as a magnet for the Islamists in the entire region. Since Islam remains inhospitable to democracy, in due course Islam will rise to preeminence in all the countries. Sooner or later this will result in the clergy assuming more importance and weightage in the administration as happened in Pakistan. The process can develop into a sturdy slide towards Islamization of the Arab world and later into an Islamist configuration as a more myopic view of Islam gets generated elsewhere in the world.

The grounds for such a configuration worldwide are fairly strong. In many regions irrespective of the nature of regimes, where Muslims feel victimized, Muslims are always pushing towards Islamization. In Muslim countries, the thrust towards Islamization invariably spawns a drift towards Islamism. In certain countries in Western Europe and also in the United States, the writings on the wall have been deciphered. They are forsaking the values of multiculturalism, which grew out of Renaissance, and Reawakening in some previous centuries in Europe and which had become articles of faith in the conscience of the Western people. Threats of terrorism, fear of Muslim immigrants overtaking and outnumbering the natural residents, and the rigidity of Islamic practices and doctrines which lead to unbridgeable gaps with other religions, have compelled several European countries to turn their face away from multiculturalism. An outline of a dreadful scenario could be in the offing, foreseen more than 15 years ago by a Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, who had created a lively controversy then by enunciating what he called a theory of Clashes of Civilizations. Discarding multiculturalism is tantamount to hardening one’s own cultural posture. Set against the Muslim desire to live by their own religious and cultural standards, the space for compromise in these countries narrows down. Under these circumstances can a clash in a higher profile be ruled out altogether in the future? In the US this dilemma is not being articulated in the public domain yet because their constitution recognizes the supremacy of the rights of the individual over the rights of the State. There are many Muslims in America who are born Americans and, therefore, enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population. Publicly, the administration there cannot ask the Muslim Americans to live by the values of the majority. There the conflict is sought to be controlled covertly in the sense that laws have been amended or enacted, like the Patriot Act, to give the enforcement agencies more powers to keep under aggressive surveillance any citizen suspected of transgressing the laws of the country or acting suspiciously.. This private posture of the US government cannot remain hidden for too long and the battle will be out in the open as in Germany, France and Australia. Muslims are averse to any reforms in their religious and ideological doctrines. In the “new” Arab world already burdened with anti US and anti west images, the reactions are bound to be mirror opposites. The growing influence of Al Qaeda ideology will ensure such a result.

Some conclusions which can be immediately drawn from the unfolding events in the Arab world are as follows:-

(a) The area will remain destabilized over an extended period.

(b) There will be long disputes over new political structures and methods of governance. Democracy’s chances appear slim.

(c) Polity will get polarized with religious conservatism gaining an upper hand.

(d) As Al Qaeda has made significant in roads and anti US and anti West sentiments predominate, a slide towards Islamism seems unavoidable in the long run.

(e) The dominant strand of such an Islamism will be Sunni. Shia Sunni chasm will widen.

(f) Resultantly, religious extremism will grow which in turn will fuel radicalization and Jehadism.

(g) At the wider international level Arab countries of the region may constitute themselves into a bloc against the western world.

(h) Energy will become more expensive.

India will need to keep an eagle’s eye on the developing scenarios in the Arab world. While its own energy security will perhaps remain the prime concern, it will also need to insulate itself against the influences of a possibly growing Islamic resurgence in West Asia and North Africa....

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'Burnt-out' case exposes US-Afghan rift.... The cat-and-mouse games between Karzai and the US.

'Burnt-out' case exposes US-Afghan rift.... The cat-and-mouse games between Karzai and the USA....

By M K Bhadrakumar

The trail of the Kabul Bank scandal that was originally triggered by the so-called Afghan Threat Finance Cell, a little-known unit of the United States Embassy in Kabul, has reached a hotel room in Virginia in the suburbs of Washington.

Afghanistan's central bank governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat, a former official in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and an adviser to the World Bank, fled Kabul in panic even as the Afghan government was about to question him in connection with the scandal.

Fitrat, who enjoys permanent residency status in the US, announced his resignation while ensconced in the Virginia hotel and within two hours he was on air, interviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty flashing his side of the story across the Hindu Kush mountain tops and valleys. His story, essentially, is that he is a whistle blower on the bank scandal rather than a fraudster and that he fears for his life because of testimony he gave to the Afghan parliament some two months ago in which he implicated by name certain influential people in the Kabul power structure.

Fitrat produced a list of what he said was nearly US$800 million in fraudulent loans taken out by the lender's politically connected management and shareholders.

The Afghan government has issued an arrest warrant for Fitrat and sent it to the US Embassy in Kabul. There is no extradition treaty between the US and Afghanistan and it is going to be an Afghan pipedream if anyone in the Kabul government really fancies that the US would hand him over. He was one of its (and the IMF's) key point persons in controlling the Afghan banking sector.

The Afghan government has literally warned the US Embassy in Kabul, which under outgoing ambassador Karl Eikenberry has been at loggerheads with the Afghan leadership for the past two years.

In Afghan government perceptions, Fitrat was the actual brain behind the initiative of the US Embassy's Afghan Threat Finance Cell last year to expose the Kabul Bank. Unsurprisingly, just about all sides - the Afghan government, the US government and the accused in the Kabul Bank scandal - want physical possession of Fitrat. He has become a precious entity and he himself considers he is safe only on the US soil.

The US mentors apparently advised Fitrat to flee Kabul lest he ended up in Afghan custody in a Kabul jail and was compelled to spill the beans about America's role in the Kabul Bank expose.

The heart of the matter is that this is not a mere bank scam. The accused include powerful figures in the Afghan power structure. The US's principal targets are without doubt Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Vice President Mohammed Fahim, whose brother and nephew respectively are alleged to be involved in the scam.

The US has been gunning for Fahim for some time on the estimation that as long as the strongman from Panjshir continues to back Karzai the attempts to unseat the Afghan president, or to arrest his growing defiance of American diktat, will not work.

Besides, Washington has been propping up two other "Panjshiris" - Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister, and Amrullah Saleh, former intelligence chief, both of whom Karzai sacked - but Fahim calls the shots ultimately as he inherited the Tajik militia that used to be led by Ahmad Shah Massoud (whose brother Wali Massoud also happens to be linked to the Kabul Bank scandal).

One solid achievement the US has made in the bargain is to splinter the Panjshiri camp, which previously had close links with Iran and Russia.

The bank scam as such is not essentially dissimilar to practices common to many countries in the world, including such semi-developed countries as Turkey, the United Arab Emirates or Brazil, with shareholders of private banks misappropriating the banks' capital for business purposes. Why the US is making such a song and dance about the issue is the big question. To quote Martine van Bijlert, a commentator on Afghan affairs:
The Kabul Bank investigations provide insight in the main sectors that Afghanistan's business networks are invested in and how they intersect. These sectors include fuel (import, storage and transport - partly for the normal consumer market, but to a large and increasing extent to service the large US/NATO contracts, among others through the expanding Northern Distribution Network); mining (not much money is being made yet, but contracts are competed over); banking (every self-respecting businessman would like a bank of his own); real estate (mainly in Dubai, but also in Afghanistan); and construction materials and consumer goods (import, distribution, manufacturing) - although the latter did not surface here so much ... Powerful business groups tend to have, or seek, a foothold in most, if not all, of these sectors. The ongoing case against the Kabul Bank is the slow and public unpeeling of one of Afghanistan's politically-connected business networks.
There is nothing extraordinary here in terms of the political economies of most developing countries. However, a peculiarity of the Afghan scam is that the Kabul Bank holds the deposits of thousands of Afghan soldiers and policemen and the bank's collapse could lead to great disaffection within the security apparatus and common people, which could turn to be awkward for Karzai politically.

Second, Kabul Bank handles almost 80% of the Afghan government's salary disbursement to state employees and the IMF promptly stepped in last year even as the scandal broke, to dictate that further aid for Afghanistan would be put on hold until the matter was sorted out to its satisfaction, which, in turn, is threatening Karzai's government with a "cash crunch" at a very sensitive time politically.

The US simultaneously aimed to get the Afghan parliament look into the Kabul Bank scam so as to get the MPs to train the guns on Karzai. This parallel template merits some explanation. The point is, thanks to the irregularities in last year's parliamentary elections and the unstable conditions in the southern regions, a disproportionately higher number of non-Pashtuns got elected to the present parliament and Abdullah (who enjoys US backing) controls a big faction. That is to say, Karzai virtually faces an "unfriendly" parliament, which happens to be heavily under the influence of the American Embassy in Kabul.

Karzai's answer has been to institute a tribunal to settle the disputed election results and this has now led to the "unseating" of some six dozen MPs. The tribunal announced its verdict over the weekend. Obviously, when Fitrat took the Kabul Bank scam to the parliament two months ago, and took the extraordinary step of mentioning on record the names of such powerful people associated with the Kabul power structure, he was only acting on the advice of American mentors who were confident of pushing the envelope.

As an ethnic Afghan - a Tajik from the remote Badakshan province - Fitrat certainly would know he was punching far above his weight when he took on the powers that be in Kabul.

Now, with the tribunal verdict on the unseating of the Afghan MPs and the prospect of a radical change in the alchemy of the Afghan parliament looming large - most likely, resulting in a "swing" in Karzai's favor - the American game is almost certainly up. And the US Embassy in Kabul did the right thing to instruct Fitrat to return to the pavilion in Washington. He has become what Graham Greene would call a "burnt-out case".

What do all these shenanigans by the US add up to? One, it underscores that the US is not getting anywhere near to good results by arm-twisting Karzai to concede favorable terms of a strategic partnership agreement on the establishment of American military bases in Afghanistan. The ambivalence in US President Barack Obama's "drawdown" speech 10 days ago shows that the US is very much keeping open the plans for the future of much of the 68,000 troops still remaining in Afghanistan beyond the pullout in 2014.

Walter Pincus, who reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for Washington Post, wrote on Monday:
The United States may be planning to reduce its troop levels in Afghanistan over the next three years, but new construction contracts at Bagram Air Field serve as a reminder that current plans call for a significant continuing American military presence there.

Bagram, an old Russian air facility, now houses some 30,000 US Army, Air Force and NATO personnel. The base has always been seen as the hub of the current and future American military presence in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, the US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $14.2 million contract to a Turkish company to construct an eight-building barracks complex for troops. The facility is expected to house more than 1,200 personnel, and it's not scheduled to be completed until the fall of 2013.

Other Bagram construction projects have either just been completed, or are still being lined up. In March, construction was completed on an $18 million two-bay hangar for C-130 transport planes at Bagram, almost two years after it was begun. The hangar is approximately 60,000 square feet. Last month, meantime, a pre-solicitation notice went out for a new "Entry Control Point" at Bagram that is expected to cost more than $5 million and take a year to finish, which would put completion into late 2012.
This is merely about Bagram. According to the Russian newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti, the US is planning to have four other huge military bases, aside Bagram near Kabul, on a long-term basis - Shindand in the west on the border with Iran, Jalalabad in the east and Kandahar in south (both on the border with Pakistan) and Mazar-i-Sharif (under construction at present) on the border region with Central Asia.

The influential Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported last week that Tajikistan had offered to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization its airfield in Aini, which, ironically, India had constructed and hoped to retain as its base in Central Asia close to the border with China. Well-known Russian expert Alexander Knyazev was quoted by the daily as saying:
The Americans will retain garrisons in only a few key locations in the southern part of Afghanistan and will withdraw to the north of Afghanistan and to the Central Asian countries, namely, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They are already building a major military base in the northern part of Afghanistan (Mazar-i-Sharif) and trying to mould favorable opinion ... By securing key positions in Central Asia, Americans will address their task which they consider to be of paramount importance: they will be in a position to act against the interests of China, Russia and Iran.
Knyazev's expression "trying to mould favorable opinion" in northern Afghanistan is very significant. This is where Fahim and the Panjshiris come in. Fahim is proving to be a stumbling block for the Americans in two respects. First, his open support for Karzai frustrates the US attempt to destabilize the Afghan president and make him politically vulnerable. Karzai has brilliantly forged an alliance with the two most important Tajik figures in the north - Fahim and Burhanuddin Rabbani (former president who heads the Afghan High Council for Peace and an important interlocutor with Pakistan).

The Karzai-Fahim-Rabbani axis virtually closes the gateway for the US to the northern region. The US game plan is to somehow strike a deal with the Taliban on the basis of the southern Afghanistan regions being "ceded" to them and as quid pro quo to the Taliban accepting the long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.

It is a different matter that such a de facto partition of Afghanistan is the one development that Pakistan dreads most as it stokes the fires of Pashtun nationalism and will strike at the very heart of Pakistan's national unity. (Which explains the US strategy to keep Pakistan out of the loop and instead preferring direct talks with the Taliban leadership.)

Equally, Karzai and his allies also oppose any de facto division of Afghanistan. The US factors in that Karzai has rapidly diversified his external relations and takes an active interest in regional affairs, which has enabled him over time to secure support from Russia, China and Iran - and from Islamabad (to an extent), the complexities of Afghan-Pakistan relations notwithstanding. Karzai is able to tap into the profound disquiet in these regional countries over the prospect of long-term US military presence in the region.

What makes the Kabul Bank affair a matter of utmost importance to the US is that it sees the scam as a handle to weaken Fahim, who, incidentally, was a top leader of the erstwhile Northern Alliance, which was supported by Russia, Iran, India and Tajikistan.

The cat-and-mouse game between Karzai and the US has finally burst into the open with Fitrat's escape to Washington. Karzai has already alleged that the core issue in the Kabul Bank scam is that Afghanistan lacked the necessary banking experience to oversee the institution and allowed itself to be guided by "foreign advisers". Clearly, Fitrat, having been the central bank governor, had a good view of what was going on in the Kabul Bank until the scam sailed into view, piloted by the US Embassy in Kabul.

In sum, the Afghan government has drawn a red line by sending Fitrat's arrest warrant to the US Embassy in Kabul. The message is quite blunt: "Do not interfere in our internal affairs, if you know what is good for you." Washington will be well-advised to take the message seriously when the Afghan officials openly have warned, "He [Fitrat] will be brought here [Kabul] to face the judiciary. We will follow him."

A low-key phase in American activities on the Afghan political chessboard will certainly help to calm the tempers. It should be crystal clear by now that the Afghan leadership is in sync with the popular opinion in the country in its deep resentment of the US occupation of their country.

Karzai's hands are tied. He is perhaps willing to tolerate the US military presence, provided the American and NATO troops are prepared to operate under Afghan laws. But that is out of the question for Washington and Brussels - or any Western capital - and there are no precedents.

Equally, the IMF pressure tactic is only going to boomerang - unless Obama's ulterior motive is to comprehensively destabilize the Afghan situation before walking away from it so as to leave a great deal of debris for the regional powers to clean up. Just what is it that the IMF and the US are hoping to achieve by creating a "cash crunch" for the Afghan government at the present juncture? Again, if the intention is to compel Karzai to crawl on his knees and beg forgiveness, it betrays a horrible lack of understanding of the Afghan character.

Finally, if the IMF-US game plan is to somehow get Karzai removed from power and to have him replaced by a surrogate ruler with some previous World Bank experience, that is not going to work - even if he is an ethnic Pashtun. The paradox is that there is yet another party today who is involved in the question of who rules Afghanistan beyond 2014 - the Taliban.

The IMF and the US should see the writing on the wall when half a dozen suicide bombers walk into the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and NATO aircraft and troops have to be brought in to counter their invasion.

What's really at stake in Libya, a huge compound for NATO/Africom....

What's really at stake in Libya, a huge compound for NATO/Africom....
By Pepe Escobar

Way beyond the impenetrable fog of war, the ongoing tragedy in Libya is morphing into a war of acronyms that graphically depicts the tortuous "birth pangs" of a possibly new world order.

On one side there's NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and AL (the Arab League; on the other side, the African Union (AU) and the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Alternatively, this may be seen as the Atlanticist West and its counter-revolutionary Arab allies, against Africa and the emerging global economic powers.

Lies, lies and more lies
Much rumbling has emanated from the US Congress on Libya - centered on technicalities around the War Powers Act. Essentially, US lawmakers are so far refusing to authorize what walks like a war and talks like a war (and, according to the White House, isn't a war). There will be no more funds for increased US involvement in this NATO adventure; but funds will keep flowing anyway.

As the semantic contortions involved in the Libya tragedy have already gone way beyond newspeak, this means in practice US drones will keep joining NATO fighter jets in bombing civilians in Tripoli.

Unlike the irrepressible Vijay Prashad from Trinity College in Connecticut, few in the West may have noticed what Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has had to say about all this. In a June 23 op-ed for the Financial Times titled "How China Plans to Reinforce the Global Recovery", Wen states that China is ready to exercise its political muscle in MENA (Middle East/Northern Africa) via the BRICS.

Beijing is not exactly happy that it has been elbowed out of its sizable energy investments in Libya - over 30,000 workers evacuated in a matter of only two days; it wants to make sure it remains a major player whatever happens in Libya.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, has already stressed the "physical destruction of [Muammar] Gaddafi and members of his family raise serious doubts". Gaddafi's daughter, Aisha, is suing NATO in Brussels for the killing of her daughter, Mastoura, her brother and Gaddafi's two other grandchildren.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty International, has reported after spending three months in Libya that there's absolutely no evidence Libyan troops on Viagra engaged in mass rape of women (that is a fact as far as the International Criminal Court is concerned).

Amnesty also found no evidence of mercenaries from Central and West Africa fighting the "rebels". According to Rovera, "those shown to journalists as foreign mercenaries were later quietly released ... Most were sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya without documents."

Some though were lynched and even executed. Cyrenaica has historically been prejudiced against black Africans.

Civilians have been bombed by both the Libyan army and by NATO. Yet there's no evidence the Libyan Air Force bombed "rebel" towns wholesale; and no proof of mass killing of civilians on the scale of Syria or Yemen. In a nutshell; the Gaddafi regime may hold a record of brutal repression against any sort of opposition. But it has not committed genocide. That buries the humanitarian hawks' rationale for war six feet under.

Hypocrisy rules. The International Criminal Court accuses Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam - the one who used to be a darling of the London School of Economics - and intelligence czar Abdallah al-Senoussi of "crimes against humanity" while the ghastly dictatorship in Burma/Myanmar and the al-Khalifas in Bahrain walk away.

When in doubt, balkanize
One must be privy to the cavernous NATO halls in Mons, near Brussels, to gauge how much this swarm of military bureaucrats is impermeable to reality. NATO still believes that it "won" the war against Slobodan Milosevic by bombing Serbia for 78 days in 1999. What in fact "won" that war was Milosevic losing political support from Russia.

After more than 100 days of bombing Libya, with 12,000 sorties and 2,500 targets, NATO continues to spin that it is "winning". Yes, just like it is "winning" in Afghanistan.

Newspeak rules - in the context of a relentless disinformation war. NATO refuses to admit straight away it is engaged in humanitarian liberation of Libya via regime change - which by the way is not authorized by UN resolution 1973.

The US for its part cut off Libyan TV from the ArabSat satellite - of which Libya is a shareholder. The new Libyan representative to the United Nations was refused a US visa. This means only the dodgy motley crew of "rebels" is allowed a forum in global English-language media.

Even with much-lauded "precision bombing" NATO loses at least one missile in 10. This accounts for the increasing rate of "collateral damage". Targets are not only military; they are increasingly economic, such as the Libyan Mint, which prints dinars.

There is no national uprising against the regime. Tripolitania - Western Libya - has rallied behind Gaddafi; after all he is regarded as defending the country against a neo-colonial foreign attack.

As for those in Benghazi who believe opportunist neo-Napoleonic Nicolas Sarkozy loves them so much he wants to "liberate" them the Rafale way, they are regarded as patsies - if not traitors.

Northern African al-Qaeda jihadis for their part are having a ball manipulating NATO to reach their ends - performing the odd lynching or amputation in selected "liberated" environment.

NATO's mix of arrogance and incompetence is inevitably leading towards a balkanization of Libya - a scenario Asia Times Online has already predicted. Considering almost two million machine-guns have already been distributed among the population, and assuming NATO will end up daring to put boots on the ground - the only way to win a decisive "victory" - one may imagine the absolutely dire consequences in terms of very bloody urban combat.

A new NATO protectorate
Libya is already a graphic case of post-modern neo-colonial plunder.

NATO "winning" means in practice Cyrenaica as an independent republic - although the "rebels" would rather restore the monarchy (the candidate can barely conceal his impatience in London). That also happens to be what Saudi Arabia and Qatar - major backers of regime change - want.

This "independent" eastern Libya would-be emirate is already recognized by a few countries, Sarkozy's France included. No wonder; it is already configured as a NATO protectorate. The ultra-dodgy Transitional Council cannot even let its members - opportunist defectors, US Central Intelligence Agency assets, jihadi-linked clerics - be known.

Moreover, billions of dollars of Libyan assets have already been - illegally - seized by the US and the European Union. And part of the national oil production is being commercialized by Qatar.

This mongrel NATO war now has absolutely nothing to do with R2P (Responsibility to Protect) - the new gospel of humanitarian hawks that has turned international law on its head. Civilians are not being protected but bombed in Tripoli. There's a refugee crisis - a direct consequence of this civil war. Against repeated pleading by Turkey and the AU, the humanitarian hawks didn't even bother to organize a humanitarian corridor towards Tunisia and Egypt.

The only feasible way out is a ceasefire - with NATO out of the picture. The monitoring on the ground would fall to UN blue helmets - preferably composed by Africans. The West has absolutely no credibility to act as a mediator; Africans would be the first to oppose it. So what's left would be the Arab League and the AU.

The Arab League is pro-Benghazi. In fact a fake Arab League vote (only nine out of 22 countries, six of them part of the Gulf Counter-Revolution Club, also known as GCC), manipulated by Saudi Arabia, allowed the Arab endorsement of what became UN resolution 1973; in fact this was a trade-off for the House of Saud having its hands free to repress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, as Asia Times Online has reported (see
Exposed: The US/Saudi deal, Asia Times Online, April 2).

The AU has been repeatedly scorned by the Anglo-French-American regime change consortium - even after it got a commitment from Gaddafi to enter negotiations. The AU is meeting again this Thursday in Equatorial Guinea. The AU Libya panel's chair - the President of Mauritania, Mohamed Abdel Aziz - has already said on the record that Gaddafi "can no longer lead Libya", which is a considerable step beyond for the AU.

But that does not mean that the AU - unlike NATO and the "rebels" - wants regime change right here, right now. Gaddafi relinquishing power will have to be a natural outcome of detailed negotiations. In a nutshell; the AU has a road map towards a solution; NATO has bombs. And the BRICS, especially via China, Russia and South Africa, privilege the AU strategy.

Expect the US/NATO consortium to fight to the death. For obvious reasons - all linked to the Pentagon's eternal, irremovable full-spectrum dominance doctrine plus a crucial subplot, NATO's new strategic concept adopted in Lisbon in November 2010 (see
Welcome to NATOstan Asia Times Online, November 20, 2010).

NATO's definition of "winning" implies Benghazi as the new Camp Bondsteel - the largest US military base in Europe, which happens to double as an "independent" state under the name of Kosovo. Cyrenaica is the new Kosovo. Balkanization rules.

This is a sort of dream scenario for the compound NATO/Africom. Africom gets its much-wanted African base (the current headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany) after participating in its first African war. NATO extends its crucial agenda of ruling over the Mediterranean as a NATO lake. After Northern Africa there will be only two Mediterranean non-players to "take out": Syria and Lebanon. The name of this game is not Libya; it's Long Wars....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nuclear Powers to Consider Nuke-Free Zone in Middle East...

Nuclear Powers to Consider Nuke-Free Zone in Middle East...,8599,1925255,00.html

The world’s five recognized nuclear powers are set to talk this week about prospects for establishing the Middle East as a nuclear weapon-free zone, Interfax reported on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 17).

Envoys from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — the five nations acknowledged as nuclear weapon states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — are scheduled to convene in Paris for talks on a range of potential confidence-building measures that could pave the way for future nuclear disarmament.

“One of the topics for discussion is what should be done to fully implement the resolutions of the Review Conference for the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons to create a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

At the 2010 five-year review conference of the NPT accord, treaty signatories committed to holding a regional conference in 2012 “on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction” (see GSN, June 3).

Ryabkov said the five nuclear powers — who also hold the five permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council — have gathered together before to discuss nuclear weapon issues.

“I cannot say that this whole topic is problem-free,” the Russian diplomat said. “At this meeting we will discuss how to find ways of reconciling the positions on the existing nuances”....

The foundation of Iran's nuclear program can be traced to extensive Chinese and Russian cooperation in the 1990s, according to a former U.S. intelligence official who specialized on Tehran's program.

"Russian and Chinese cooperation in the 1990s with Iran created the foundation of the Iranian nuclear program today," said Susan Voss, a former nuclear engineering analyst with Los Alamos National Laboratory who has worked closely with the U.S. intelligence community.

Many analysts in recent years have focused on how Iran obtained the centrifuge technology used at the Natanz nuclear plant and declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2002. That design, known as a P1 centrifuge, came from the illicit smuggling network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

But much of Iran's program, including the design of its uranium hexaflouride facility and the reactor used in its Arak heavy water facility to produce plutonium, can be traced to cooperation in the 1990s with China and Russia.

Ms. Voss said Chinese cooperation began in 1987 and continued for about 10 years. It provided Iran with a uranium mining capability by providing specialists as well as the design for its uranium hexaflouride plant.

In the case of Russia, many of Iran's engineers were trained at Russian nuclear labs in the 1990s as well, she said.

An element of Russian cooperation with Iran was disclosed first in 2009 by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) when the private group wrote a technical paper describing how the Iranian Arak facility contained an element of its structure that appeared to be a copy of the Soviet-era fuel rod system used in a heavy water reactor to make plutonium.

"ISIS put out a document where they pulled together everything that shows the Arak facility must have been built with Russian support," Ms. Voss said.

However, she also pointed out that officially the Russian government at the time denied providing that support to Iran, leading her to conclude that the cooperation was carried out covertly.

David Albright, a former weapons inspector and the president ISIS, said the Russian cooperation likely went beyond the heavy water reactor at Arak.

"We know of at least one former nuclear weapons expert in Russia who helped Iran develop a triggering mechanism to set off high explosives in a nuclear weapon," he said.

Ms. Voss says the Iranians turned to Russia and China for help with their nuclear program after the United States and France curtailed nuclear cooperation with Iran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Nonetheless, Ms. Voss says U.S. nuclear cooperation with Iran before 1979 was important.

"We would like to say we are innocent, but we are not that innocent," she said. "Many of the Iranian nuclear engineers were trained in the United States prior to the Shah's ouster. Then the training went to China and Russia."

By the end of the Clinton administration, much of the above-board nuclear cooperation provided by Russia and China to Iran had stopped. But some of it continues to this day with Russian assistance for the Bushehr light water nuclear reactor.

"It is not as though we did not give Russia and China a hall pass to support the peaceful power program in Iran," said Henry Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Education Policy Center.

"We thought we stemmed the transfers that mattered and the Chinese transfers would not result in a major risk. We were wrong and we looked the other way. In this context, the A.Q. Khan transfers were icing on this proliferation cake."