Saturday, January 30, 2010

What the future may hold for IRAN...

To have an idea about what the future may look like — as seen from Washington, Delhi and Tel Aviv — it seems we have to see through the prism of the Indian establishment, Israeli hardliners and American neocons who wield significant influence on their governments.

Their worldviews are structured around their geopolitical ambitions that they make no effort to conceal. The Indian establishment dreams of being the hegemon of South Asia and the adherents of Zionism of the Middle East. As for the neocons, the world is their oyster, or so they insist...

This may seem ambitious enough, but there’s more — the regional hegemons, India and Israel, have an extended South Asia and Middle East in mind. As Israel Shahak, a highly regarded Israeli scholar and human rights activist, has pointed out, the subject of Israeli domination and influence is “the entire Middle East from Morocco to Pakistan”. Indian scholars and strategists from Sardar K.M. Panikar to Gen Deepak Kapoor consider the Indian Ocean their own (hence a blue-water navy), along with the region from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait to be within the Indian sphere of influence....

While the Indian establishment and Zionists are almost synonymous with their respective governments, the neocons are not that powerful in the Obama administration. But surprisingly, their imperial goals still remain a part of American foreign policy. The best that the Obama government has been able to do is to walk briskly on both sides of the street. This is understandable. Impelled by the peculiar dynamics of a superpower, no American administration can roll back the imperial impulse that always finds a place in the worldview of a big power. Even George Washington had referred to the United States as a ‘rising empire’ in March 1783.

While US-Israeli and Indo-Israeli partnerships have existed for a long time, the Indo-US partnership came into fruition only last year and is likely to be more important than the other two. As William Burns, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, said recently in a policy speech: “Few relationships will matter more in the course of human events in the 21st century than the partnership between India and the United States.”

One may wonder about the future repercussions of the present course of human events and the impact of Indo-US ties, but it can be taken for granted that old and new partnerships will, before long, coalesce into one triangular alliance in pursuit of their common goals in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. For all we know this may have happened already.

Now, where do we figure on the vast canvas of the allied powers? Well, we happen to occupy a critical spot on it; where their interests converge. These interests are well known but need to be enumerated here to complete the picture.


  1. Their first common interest is to denuclearise Pakistan.
  2. Second is to eliminate militants.
  3. Third is access to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Pakistan, in which the United States has a special interest as a major player in the New Great Game.
  4. Fourth is of special interest to India — persuading or coercing Pakistan to accept Kashmir’s accession to India or at least of the area under Indian occupation.
  5. Then there is an intriguing fifth common interest also — the creation of an independent state of Balochistan, an idea that has been in gestation since before the creation of Pakistan.

In May 1945, the post-hostilities planning staff of the British war cabinet had recommended stationing “military strategic reserve” to protect sea communications in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea as they were of “great strategic value”. It was argued that: “Central Headquarters India has suggested Balochistan as an alternative to India proper, on the grounds that it may be relatively easy to exclude this territory from the Dominion of India.”

Some two years later, on Aug 12, 1947, the Khan of Kalat proclaimed the independence of the state of Kalat, comprising the entire Baloch part of Balochistan. The demand for separation and independence has since been a recurrent theme in the politics of Balochistan and has been reiterated by the present Khan of Kalat. Incidentally, he has been living in London for many years now.

The Indian interest in Balochistan was made public when Indira Gandhi, in her victory speech after the fall of East Pakistan in 1971, assured Baloch “brothers” that India had not forgotten them. Now, 38 years later, there are good reasons to believe that the Indian establishment has indeed not forgotten them. The US interest in Balochistan is reflected in various speculations about the future geographical contours of Pakistan, complete with maps, in the US media. Balochistan, thus, remains an important piece on the chessboard of the New Great Game.

There are three primary reasons why the idea of an independent state of Balochistan appeals to some strategists in the US and elsewhere.

First, it will be far easier for multinationals to exploit the fabulously rich resources of a weak and poor state of ethnic Baloch people — the population is less than five million and the per capita income under half a dollar a day.

Second, it is suitably located for naval and other military bases to complete the chain of existing US bases that stretch back to Afghanistan and Central Asia. This will provide a protected outlet for an oil pipeline from Central Asia via Afghanistan. It will also bypass an already hostile Iran and a potentially hostile and otherwise volatile Pakistan. The bases could also be used to launch an overland assault on Iran’s south-eastern coast, opposite Oman, to consolidate control of the Strait of Hormuz, the Achilles’ heel of the world economy.

Lastly, as a less lethal option, an independent state of Balochistan can be used as a launching pad for a greater Balochistan movement, not only to keep Iran in check but also to make it vulnerable to ethnic fragmentation. Thus, Balochistan as a separate entity offers many temptations to allied powers.

This is what the future holds when viewed from the ever sharpening Indo-US-Israeli focus on our land. And an impending mortal combat, mandated by fate and geography can only be resisted and survived if we stand united under a dedicated leadership. It is as simple and, let’s concede, as problematic as that...

YANKEE response....

I have never said that the US is "about to destroy Iran." I have said that the US can easily destroy Iran. That is true and Israel's forces would be useless in such an effort without FULL US cooperation, planning and outright instigation....

Some of you continue to argue for the "right" of Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Justice and legalisms have nothing to do with strategic calculation. What is at issue here is whether or not the countries that now posses the strategic advantage are willing to accept a different balance of power, first in the Middle East and then in the world. It is now possible for all to see (including those of you who foolishly argue for Iran's nuclear rights) that Iran is prevaricating in its statements as to the "peaceful" nature of its program. I won't bother to review the details. You would not accept the implications of the indicators so why should I bother? So far, the Iranians have played their little game of deception well, impressed as usual with their own cleverness. What the indicators point to is an Iranian program that is intended to produce a ballistic missile based nuclear capability capable of holding first Middle Eastern cities at risk and later cities farther away, perhaps even cities in Alberta eventually. Whether or not such a capability would ever be used, its mere possession will radically alter the balance of power. Some of you clearly relish the thought.

The statements that Iran could destroy Kuwait and Saudi Arabia's oil ports is fantasy resembling the schoolyard outbursts of children that "my daddy is bigger than your daddy." American forces held at risk in Iraq? There you have a better case, but now there is a viable line of communications through western Iraq.

Hormuz? I participated in previous Hormuz crises. It is true that the Iranians could temporarily obstruct passage through the strait but they could not hold it closed long. The oil price "spike" would not last long either.

The real question in the Iran nuclear dilemma is whether or not the present powers will accept a re-alignment of forces as serious as that which would be caused by a nuclear Iran....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Attack on the 'Shark' shakes Iran

Attack on the 'Shark' shakes Iran

By Mahan Abedin

As the Islamic Republic continues to grapple with a profound political crisis, the focus of internal wrangling is steadily shifting to the eye of the storm. There is a widespread belief that former Iranian president and a long-time pillar of the establishment, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is at the core of the internal squabbles that are threatening to tear apart the legacy of the Islamic revolution of 1979. Recent weeks have witnessed unprecedented verbal assaults on Rafsanjani, spearheaded by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a former head of the judiciary and current influential member of the powerful Guardians' Council.

These unprecedented verbal assaults - which question Rafsanjani's ambiguous stance on the political crisis - would have been unthinkable prior to the controversial June 2009 presidential poll. The collapse of factional politics in the Islamic Republic has
not only made it possible to sideline Rafsanjani, but has even raised the prospect of removing him altogether from the political scene. The impending downfall of Rafsanjani will be the third and potentially most important purge in the history of the Islamic revolution.

Akbar Shah

For most of the past 30 years and until very recently, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had been a pillar of the Iranian revolutionary establishment. With a record of political activism stretching back nearly six decades, Rafsanjani's revolutionary credentials are on a par with Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic revolution.

Rafsanjani's opponents depict him as an ultra-opportunist with little political conviction. In the light of Rafsanjani's long political record and his profound impact on the development of the Islamic Republic, these accusations are not entirely fair or accurate. Prior to the victory of the revolution in February 1979, Rafsanjani was a devoted disciple of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and was wholeheartedly committed to the project of establishing an Islamic state in Iran.

His involvement went so far as playing a pivotal role in the assassination of former Iranian prime minister Hassan Ali Mansour in January 1965. He was arrested and imprisoned by the shah's secret service SAVAK (National Intelligence and Security Organization) on at least three occasions from the early 1960s to the late 1970s.

For his part, Rafsanjani sees himself as a great reformer on a par with Iran's legendary modernist 19th century prime minister, Mirza Taqi Khan Amir-Nezam (aka Amir Kabir). Amir Kabir served as premier in the years 1848 to 1852, during the reign of Naser-al-Din Shah Qajar, who is widely regarded as the first "modern" Iranian monarch.

Rafsanjani's conscious affiliation with aspects of Iran's long monarchical history (which is anathema to Iranian Islamic revolutionaries) led some to label him "Akbar Shah". This title was not only an effusive reference to Rafsanjani's penchant for Persian history, but more importantly it was an allusion to his political style and the fact that by the end of the 1980s he had accumulated all the power and prestige of an absolute Iranian monarch.

Rafsanjani's meteoric political rise in the 1980s - when he was speaker of the Majlis (parliament) - lay in his profound understanding of the chaotic and fragmented politics of the Islamic Republic and his uncanny ability to exploit factional politics to his own advantage. For his extraordinary political skills, his critics and admirers alike labeled him the "shark", thus buttressing his Machiavellian reputation. Rafsanjani's complex and deceptive political style led him to adopt moderate and radical ideological positions, depending on the mood of the day. For this flawless display of expediency, Western governments and the media were by the early 1980s referring to him as a "pragmatist", an altogether not inaccurate description.

A natural oligarch, by the late 1980s Rafsanjani had masterminded an extraordinary accumulation of power and wealth inside his family and among his closest advisers and followers. Following the demise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in June 1989, Rafsanjani moved swiftly to consolidate his position. He masterminded the downfall of former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and led efforts to abolish the premiership post altogether in August 1989, thus increasing the power of the presidency.

Having been elected president in July 1989, this suited Rafsanjani who then collaborated with the arch conservatives and the Islamic right more broadly to sideline the Islamic left. This culminated in the widespread purge of leftist candidates for the April 1992 Majlis elections, which paved the way for the ascendance of the Islamic right. The removal of Mousavi in August 1989 and the parliamentary purge of April 1992 had widespread political and ideological repercussions and contributed directly to the events of June 2009.

Decline of an oligarch

There is a story within establishment circles in Iran that while on his death bed and during his last moments, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran - held the hands of both Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei to forewarn them that the revolution would "endure" as long as the two men stayed "together".

This is probably a myth, but like all myths it has served as a kind of truism, acting as a warning sign to the devotees of the Islamic revolution. Moreover, it served as a unifying call during the early 1990s when the Islamic Republic was struggling to adjust to radically different conditions following the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988 and the demise of the regime's founder-leader the following year.

The myth was enthusiastically taken up by Rafsanjani and his followers - who by the early 1990s had come to be known as the "kargozaran" (technocrats) - who naturally exaggerated Rafsanjani's role in facilitating Khamenei's ascent to the leadership position following Khomeini's demise.

The notion of an unbreakable bond between Rafsanjani and Khamenei was encapsulated by the popular slogan of the day "Khamenei Zendeh Baad Hashemi Payandeh Baad" (roughly translating into "long live Khamenei and Hashemi [Rafsanjani]"). To Rafsanjani's followers, the bond between Khamenei and Rafsanjani symbolized a consensual separation between ideology and government in the Islamic Republic.

To the so-called technocrats, Khamenei in his capacity as the valiye faghih (ruler-scholar) represented the regime's ideology, whereas Rafsanjani as president headed a putatively non-ideological government. To put it in 15th-century Florentine political-religious terms, Khamenei was a latter-day Girolamo Savonarola to Rafsanjani's Niccolo Machiavelli.

From the very outset this division was wholly unacceptable to grassroots supporters of the Islamic regime, who naturally gravitated towards Khamenei. They correctly saw the technocrats' strategy as one designed to gradually reduce the role of velayat-e-faqih (rule of the jurisconsult), which is the ideological cornerstone of Iran's unique system of Islamic government, into a ceremonial one.

To grassroots supporters of the Islamic Republic, Rafsanjani and his so-called technocrats had embarked on a pseudo-secularization process whose desired outcome was the "normalization" of the Islamic Republic along prevailing Western economic and political discourses.

The massive resistance by the revolution's grassroots to Rafsanjani's political ambitions was exacerbated by his government's poor economic and social performance. By 1993, the government had borrowed tens of billions of dollars from foreign lenders (under the guise of reconstruction following the end of the Iran-Iraq War); inflation was in double digits; and major Iranian cities were rocked by unrest, most noticeably Mashad in May 1992.

Within four years Rafsanjani's government had reversed much of the gains of Mousavi's government in the 1980s. Governmental corruption - which had been drastically reduced in the 1980s - had once again reared its ugly head in the form of half-hearted privatization schemes, which did much to distort the Iranian economy.

By the time of the June 1993 presidential election, the once-powerful Akbar Shah was already in decline. Even though he won a second term, his power and prestige steadily eroded in the period 1993-1997. In the great struggle between ideology and expediency, the former had clearly prevailed, as evidenced by the strengthened position of Ayatollah Khamenei.

The downfall

The 1997 presidential election ushered into power the reformist Seyed Mohammad Khatami. Khatami's stunning electoral victory once again shifted the ideological and political battle in the Islamic Republic to a contest between the Islamic left and the Islamic right.

But there was a crucial difference this time around insofar as sections of the old Islamic left had now "reformed" and were presenting new political-ideological discourses. While there was great variety in these discourses, the dominant trend was set on reconciling the Islamic revolution with normative Western political theory.

In short, the political and social program of former president Khatami and his followers was a prescriptive agenda whose ultimate outcome would inevitably be the embrace of Western-style liberal democracy. To hardcore supporters of the Islamic regime, Khatami's stunning electoral victory presented a mortal threat insofar as it propelled the core structural tensions between the regime's "republican" and "Islamic" dimensions onto a higher plane. Unlike in the 1980s, the reformed nature of the Islamic left raised the specter of the revolution's "democratic" aspirations fatally undercutting its "Islamic" identity.

While during the period 1997-2005 the bulk of the Islamic regime was engaged in containing the more radical features of the reformist program, Rafsanjani was able to maintain his status as a key pillar of the establishment by doing what he did best - playing the factions against each other and appropriating the new political spaces that consequently emerged.

This despite his proven unpopularity, evidenced by his inability to win a seat during the February 2000 parliamentary elections. Rafsanjani had initially entered the race to secure the position of house speaker (which he had held throughout the 1980s) but in the end he couldn't even secure a seat representing the Tehran district.

The overthrow of the reformists in the 2005 presidential election held the prospect of complete dominance by the Islamic right. But just like Khatami's stunning electoral victory eight years earlier, the right's victory came with a twist. The faction that had prevailed in the presidential poll came from the radical fringes of the Islamic right. It had little or no roots in the 1979 revolution and had formed much of its political consciousness either on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq War or the street politics of the 1980s. The most formidable leader of this faction was Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Being a politician of near-flawless foresight, Rafsanjani had seen the writing on the walls. If Ahmadinejad shared one thing with the authentic Islamic left, it was a deep hatred of the "shark". Moreover, Ahmadinejad's stunning success lay not only in his ability to maneuver the radical right to pole position, but also in his appropriation of the Islamic left's rhetoric on social justice and clean government. In this respect he presented a double threat to Rafsanjani.

It was no surprise then that Rafsanjani should do his utmost to bring down Ahmadinejad and clip the wings of the right-wing factions that had either facilitated or acquiesced to Ahmadinejad's rise. It is widely believed that Rafsanjani and his ultra-wealthy family had largely funded Mir Hossein Mousavi's expensive electoral campaign. But in Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani had met his political match. The radical right was set on bringing down the factional edifice on which the Islamic Republic's political society is built. Rafsanjani's intervention merely played into the hands of his deadliest enemies.

The unprecedented demonstrations and riots that followed June's presidential poll - which saw Ahmadinejad re-elected - were an anticipated reaction to the political engineering of the radical right. The scale may have caught some people by surprise, but the disturbances were anticipated by the country's security and intelligence services. The controversial endorsement of Ahmadinejad by Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei in his Friday prayers sermon and speech of June 19, 2009, is best understood as an attempt to lay down the foundations of a post-factional political order.

While the leader sent a set of strategic messages to a wide range of domestic and international actors and stakeholders, his primary audience was the regime's grassroots base. Absent the normal factional equilibrium, the leader's guidance and intervention was now the key to holding the regime and the revolution together. Sensing potentially mortal threats ahead, Khamenei delivered the speech of his life.

Nearly a month later, on July 17, Rafsanjani stood at the same podium at Tehran University to stake out his position on the gravest political crisis to have gripped the regime for the past 30 years. In hindsight, it was all an elaborate trap by his enemies. The very fact that he was allowed to deliver a sermon and speech at such a symbolic venue - given that the regime was well aware of his position - should have alerted this most instinctive of politicians to the plans of his enemies.

In bygone years Rafsanjani would have made an intervention in the midst of a political crisis to address and exploit factional divisions. But the old oligarch had clearly not read the writing on the wall. The factional fabric of the Islamic Republic had collapsed and his enemies on the left and right were now winking at each other across the new political wilderness.

Instead of addressing bickering revolutionary loyalists, Rafsanjani was now talking directly to the revolution's untiring enemies, led by royalists, remnants of militant secular groups removed from the political scene in the early 1980s, disaffected members of the middle classes and their offspring and Western intelligence services, all out to exact an historic revenge on the Islamic Revolution. The shark was fatally cornered.

In what was a rambling, vague and confusing speech, Rafsanjani publicly - albeit tacitly - renounced what remained of the "historic" bond with Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. He may have realized his fatal mistakes as he haplessly tried to calm down a crowd chanting overtly subversive slogans against the revolution. The slogan of "death to China" must have been particularly galling, for in the early 1990s Rafsanjani and his followers had proposed a Chinese model of economic transformation in the Islamic Republic.

The third purge

"Rafsanjani must be executed for McFarlane," [1] read the slogans on the Tehran University campus (where Friday prayers are staged) in late 1986 as the Shark's central role in the notorious Irangate scandal was exposed. To his enemies, Rafsanjani's political demise is nearly a quarter century late.

The breakdown of Rafsanjani's relationship with Khamenei - which stretches back more than five decades - is a transformative moment in the history of the Islamic revolution and is likely to be a harbinger of profound changes to come. More immediately, the very public breakdown has emboldened Rafsanjani's enemies to attack him directly and consistently, something that was taboo not very long ago.

While the old oligarch - he is 75 - still clings to his official positions as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Discernment Council, the most informed sources in Tehran expect him to be removed from the scene altogether. The impending purge of Rafsanjani may seem unthinkable to many, but it is likely nonetheless.

This purge - when it comes - will be the third of its kind in the Islamic Republic. The first was the impeachment of the Islamic Republic's first president, Abol-Hassan Banisadr, in June 1981 and the second was the removal of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri as Ayatollah Khomeini's heir in early 1989.

In both cases the purges were largely peaceful. In the first case Banisadr was removed so that the regime could purge the so-called "Islamic Liberals" or "American Muslims" as the hardliners called them from the inner sanctums of the Islamic Republic. In the second case Montazeri was purged because it was widely felt that he lacked the political and leadership skills to guide the Islamic revolution.

The purge of Hashemi Rafsanjani may not prove as dramatic or symbolic, but its effects will be equally - if not more - profound. At the very least, the Islamic regime would have sent a message to the outside world that "normalization" along prescriptive Western standards is now out of the question. The Islamic Republic will stand or fall on the strength of its ideology and the pursuit of its rightful destiny.

As for Rafsanjani himself, he may be haunted by the fate of his hero Amir Kabir, who was murdered by the shah's agents in January 1852, merely a few months after being stripped of the premiership. While the physical elimination of such a towering figure is extremely unlikely, it cannot be ruled out altogether. In the light of the unprecedented crisis - with political tensions reaching dangerously high levels - there may be shadowy circles who believe that carefully targeted political violence may act as a stabilizer.

1. A reference to the Iran-Contra affair, a secret arrangement in the 1980s to provide funds to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels from profits gained by selling arms to Iran. Under Robert McFarlane (1983-85) and John Poindexter (1985-86) the US's National Security Council raised private and foreign funds for the Contras.

Mahan Abedin is a senior researcher in terrorism studies and a consultant to independent media in Iran.

Shredding the Anti-Iran Propaganda

Conference on Afghanistan: how much to buy off the Taliban?

On January 28, London will play host to a conference on Afghanistan, where representatives will try to organize an approach and funding for ensuring security in the Islamic Republic, integrating it into global civilized life, and integrating the Taliban into peaceful life in that country.

These goals are incredibly complicated and equally difficult to achieve. Afghanistan's security cannot be guaranteed without the Taliban's participation (the bulk of the political movement are ethnic Pushtuns, who make up 45% of the Afghan population), but it would be easier to start a new Afghan war than to integrate the Taliban into peaceful life in Afghanistan under the current U.S. strategy and the Hamid Karzai government.

So many unpleasant events took place in the run-up to the conference that it is now easy to predict its outcome. First it was announced that the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan would be postponed from May till September. After President Karzai's fraudulent elections last year, the parliamentary elections would be the final blow to what's left of his authority, which is limited to Kabul anyway. As a result, the United Nations froze its more than $50 million worth of aid to Kabul to carry out the elections.

Moreover, the day before the conference the New York Times published a cable by Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, who warned his superiors that Afghan President Hamid Karzai "is not an adequate strategic partner."

Mr. Eikenberry repeatedly cautioned that deploying sizable American reinforcements would only deepen the dependence of the Afghan government on the United States. The British press also published a regular report from U.S. military intelligence on the Taliban's growing horizontal and vertical influence.

Finally, Afghanistan's donors rejected the plan for combating corruption that President Karzai set forth only a week ago. An American expert on Afghanistan said that Mr. Karzai's cabinet is now even more corrupt than before the elections, which is why the Afghan parliament refused to endorse Mr. Karzai's cabinet (11 out of 17 ministers' positions are still vacant). Now the Afghan president will have to set forth a five-year plan for reorganizing and reintegrating Afghanistan at the forthcoming conference. Ouch...

Incidentally, the most realistic and specific proposal at the forum came from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, when Moscow offered to restore all the industrial and economic facilities that it had built in Afghanistan long ago. The West would have to pay for this effort, since these facilities were destroyed by the weapons it supplied to Afghanistan, in particular, to the Taliban.

In general, the outcome of such conferences is easy to predict. They start with banquets (Prince Charles hosted the banquet leading up to this conference on January 27), are followed by speeches and communiques, and eventually put off the problem until a new crisis.

The conference will be attended by 77 governments, including all 43 members of the Afghan military expedition and all of Afghanistan's neighbors. It would seem that the choice of venue should facilitate success. After all, London's Lancaster House (where the Foreign Office now holds receptions and international conferences) has witnessed many settlements, primarily the agreements granting independence to Nigeria, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and Kenya.

Participants in the conference could learn from the British. They waged three wars in Afghanistan from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, defeated the Afghans in the latter two wars, but then realized that defeat did not mean they could control these tribes. As a result, they left Afghanistan, which became independent in 1919.

Some participants are bound to attempt to bring up this British experience at the conference, at which there has already been a proposal to remove the names of a number of prominent Afghan politicians, who were either previously in the Taliban or actively opposed the regime, from the UN blacklist. It is clear that the goal of this proposal is to encourage them to take part in the settlement talks and thus bring other Taliban leaders into the reconciliation process. The UN first blacklisted these politicians for their alleged links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban immediately after 9/11, in New York in 2001. They were declared outside the law and their foreign bank accounts frozen.

Needless to say, nobody is going to remove al-Qaeda's die-hard terrorists from list, but its revision would be beneficial - pardon for the mistakes of the past is an invitation to talks and an incentive for others.

This would be good if all those "pardoned" have not already been cooperating with the Kabul regime for many years. Former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Mutavakil has lived in Kabul for four years now. Former Deputy Planning Minister Musa Hotak has been an MP and chairman of the Security Committee since 2007. Former Minister of Border Guards Abdul Hakim left the Taliban three years ago and is now the governor of the Uruzgan Province.

As for the Taliban's reintegration into Afghan life, it amounts to funds for retraining the converts and providing them with housing and jobs. This is a euphemism for buying off the Taliban. When it comes to money, the East is no longer a "tricky matter" but instead a mercantile one. It is easier to buy loyalty in the East than to win it, but for how long?

Moreover, the price tag for the loyalty of the former Taliban is a meager $500 million. This money will go to an integration fund. One of the world's biggest charities, British Oxfam, has calculated that one American soldier in Afghanistan costs $1 million per year. During the entire seven years of Afghanistan's occupation, the country has received a mere $93 per capita for its economic development.

Does this mean that money is the solution and Mr. Karzai the main headache? But few will dare say: "Remove Karzai and Afghanistan will quickly recover." And who would succeed him now? British Secretary of State David Miliband has said that the alternative to this "very, very difficult project" - Mr. Karzai and his cabinet -- is even worse. Speaking strictly, nobody has seriously looked for an alternative, but Mr Miliband's words recall Franklin Roosevelt's blunt words about one Nicaraguan dictator: "Somoza may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch."

In 2009, the world strategic community was mostly concerned with the ‘Af-Pak’ hot spot. In 2010, the trend is most unlikely to change, although new flashpoints like Yemen, Somalia and North Africa are likely to emerge in the geopolitical horizon. But one very challenging aspect to the theoretical circles shall be the contemplation on the repercussions of the Af-Pak conflict on the Central Asian Republics (CAR). A couple of plausible reasons, among other things, may be posited for this future scenario.

First, a slow and silent revolution which pertains to Islamic religious upthrust, is being staged in some nation-states of Central Asia: especially, in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Second, and more important, is the opening up of the countries of the region, apart from Turkmenistan to the influx of American logistics for the war against terror in Af-Pak.

To make matters clear, it must be stated that the International Crisis Group, in its update briefing issued on 15 December 2009, reported on the steady growth of Islamic proselytizers inside the prison-cells of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The data from the prisons of other states was insufficient to draw any logical inference, though the number of jailed Islamists was higher in those nations. Moreover, the said report also talks about the strong influence that the Islamists have over the prison-inmates, even petty criminals coming under their sway.

Against this backdrop, USA is embarking on a new rail and road network through Central Asia and Russia in order to reach the zone of conflict in Af-Pak. Till date; America used the routes emanating from the Pakistani port of Karachi and thereby supplied support materials to its troops in Afghanistan. The beefed up insurgency in Pakistan under the aegis of Al Qaeda and its local franchisee Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is definitely the major factor to have pushed the U.S. to search for alternative and rather peaceful avenues.

The fresh transit routes are collectively called by the U.S. Central Command as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). It has three components: the northern, the southern and the Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan pathway. The northern part of the NDN, starting from the Latvian port of Riga connects Afghanistan via Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. On the other hand, the southern stream of NDN, originating at the Georgian port of Poti completely bypasses Russia and reaches Afghanistan through the terrains of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; through the Caspian Sea.

Thus it is probably evident that the Central Asian states are being drawn into the war against terror through their acquiescence in providing access to ‘non-lethal goods’ to reach the war-torn Afghanistan. By the middle of 2009, leaving apart Turkmenistan, the other four Central Asian states went into agreements with U.S.A. in order to be a part of NDN.

Presently, Islam is not the state religion in the CAR and the internal political structures are secular and sovereign. During the pre-1991 Soviet period, religion was at the backburner; being totally separated from politics. Even after the demise of the ‘Communist Umbrella’, religion was not allowed to take over the polity. Still, there are certain inherent institutional bottlenecks in these countries which do not augur well.

And nonetheless, there may be negative spin-offs from the crackdown that the governments of these nation-states employ to thwart any rise of fundamentalism. Even, peaceful preaching is reproached and proselytizers are incarcerated. On top of this; rampant corruption, poor governance and a dilapidated jail system in the CAR portend aggrandizement of Islamic Extremism.

In this regard, three main Islamist groups having a considerable base need to be mentioned. They are, in order of importance; the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ). Amongst these, the HuT seems to be the deadliest, at least in a long term scenario, though they advocate peaceful means of attaining an Islamic State.

The IMU commenced its activities in Uzbekistan but now has relocated to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. It suffered a jolt when its leader Tokhir Yuldashev was eliminated by a U.S. drone attack in August 2009. Presently, they are fighting alongside the TTP, against the Pakistani military at FATA. It is reported that its new leadership is desirous of taking the fight back to the CAR and overthrow the democratic regimes there.

In these circumstances, it may be a distinct possibility that the Al Qaeda and its local arms try to disrupt the CAR, more so because of the NDN. The fertile ground to launch their ideology and war may be provided by the mass mobilization achieved by HuT; consequent alienation of those ‘aligned masses’ from the mainstream due to repressive policies of the respective regimes of the CAR and the underpinning of violence provided by militant groups like IMU.

A stable CAR is not only a pre-requisite for the American led NATO forces, but an imperative for the security and stability of South Asia and Middle East. Keeping in view the past history of the CAR, it seems difficult for the extremists to make inroads, though occasional terror-strikes may be in the offing. And the frequency of such attacks may inflate in the near future.

In fact, the Taliban has arrived in close proximity to the border areas of the CAR as they have surged in the Kunduz province of Afghanistan (to the south of the Tajikistan border). They were also sighted near the borders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in 2009.

Can there be any Indian role envisaged in this context?

India surely can and strategically should, get involved in the building of infrastructure in the CAR, especially collaborate with U.S. in developing the road and rail network of Central Asia. It has already entrenched itself in Afghanistan and further involvement in the CAR would benefit it in the long run. The Indian ride shall not be smooth as Pakistan’s hypothesis of an ‘Indian encirclement’ will be a stronger case then and to what extent U.S.A. would allow Indian incursions remains a matter of speculation.

Nevertheless, if geopolitical considerations are shrugged off and geo-economics is given due weightage, then Greater Central Asia and South Asia as well as the world economy would stand to gain from such a collaborative venture.

The situation in Af-Pak is perilous and no wise brain will want the terrorism to spill-over to the neighboring areas. But to contain the war within a strict geographical territory would require many ‘wise heads’. An extended ‘arc of conflict’ encompassing the CAR would be an enactment of the proverbial ‘domino effect’ and can spell doom for the region.

Thus Richard Holbrooke has rightly pointed out in his briefing at the Brookings Institute on 7 Jan 2010: “Without exception, every country in the region agrees that what’s happening in Afghanistan and in the border regions is of direct vital strategic interest to them as well, and I need to underscore that.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pentagon's Circles within circles around the Taliban

Pentagon's Circles within circles around the Taliban

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s attention is likely to be divided as hosts long-awaited international deliberations in London on the war in Afghanistan on Thursday. To be or not to be in the British capital was the question as Brown rushed to Belfast on Monday to "talk through the night" to save the Ulster power-sharing process from collapse.

In a manner of speaking, power sharing also forms the agenda of the London conference, attended by some 60 countries. Cynics label the meeting a public relations stunt by Brown at a time when two-thirds of Britons oppose the Afghan war.

However, the conference serves a purpose. An idea that seemed heretic until recently has tiptoed to the center of the conflict-resolution agenda in Afghanistan - devolving on reconciliation with the Taliban. The United Nations put its imprimatur on the idea on Sunday, when its special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, suggested that at least some of the Taliban senior leaders should be removed from the UN's list of terrorists drawn up in 2001.

"If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority," Eide said. "I think the time has come to do it."

The UN black list contains 144 names, including Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Under UN Resolution 1267, all governments are obliged to freeze the bank accounts of people on the list and prevent them from traveling. The George W Bush administration forced the decision on the world community.

After eight years of war and loss of thousands of lives, Washington has changed course. As Robert Gates, the US secretary of defense said last week: "The Taliban ... are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan at this point."

In an extraordinary interview timed for the London Conference, the commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said: "As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting."

"After eight years of war, it's clear that domestically many [Western] political leaders are having to answer questions, this [war] has gone on a long time and it's no better than it was in 2004, so why are we maintaining it, will it get better?" he told the Financial Times on Monday.

Echoing Eide, McChrystal underscored that "the possibility for everybody to look at [is] what's the right combination of participation in the government [in Kabul]". It is important that all parts of the population have an absolute stake in the government, he said. "I think any Afghan can play a role ... It's the return of al-Qaeda we don't want."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai would use the London platform to "announce his intent to implement a reintegration policy [towards the Taliban] and then move forward to implementation, and I'm hopeful and very optimistic that the international community will completely back that," McChrystal predicted.

From various accounts, the Karzai plan pits the main protagonists in the insurgency - the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, former mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the so-called Haqqani network - within five concentric circles. The first circle includes Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Hekmatyar; the second circle slots some 15-20 insurgent groups; the third comprises 60-70 individuals who include provincial commanders; the fourth brings together some 700 individuals; and the fifth circle brackets around 20,000 to 25,000 "foot soldiers".

The protagonists in the first and the second circles will be engaged in a political and strategic agenda of "reconciliation" at national level, whereas those in the outer circles could be "integrated" through provincial-level initiatives. The Karzai government will spearhead the implementation of the plan.

At a trilateral summit meeting with his Turkish and Pakistani counterparts in Istanbul on Monday, Karzai formally discussed the plan with Pakistan President Asif Zardari and his accompanying Inter-Services Intelligence chief. The Turks are working behind the scenes to bring about a better understanding between Kabul and Islamabad. Karzai revealed in Istanbul that he would ask the London conference to support his move to remove Taliban names from the UN black list.

Karzai and Washington find themselves on the same page. Simply put, Washington counts on Karzai to bell the cat. Karzai counts on Washington to acquiesce with his leadership. The first point on their common agenda is envisages that now that the US thinks differently about the Taliban, the international community might as well do so.

Secondly, The US is caught in a bind. In order for reconciliation with the Taliban to proceed, the militants must be removed from the UN black list. To this end the Security Council - Russia and China in particular - must be brought on board. Karzai will seek a mandate in London to approach the Security Council.

Third on their agenda, the Security Council must also formally endorse Karzai's reconciliation plan once it gets adopted as the international community’s collective wish. The US alone cannot bankroll the "rehabilitation" or "integration" of thousands of Taliban cadres and their families; it costs a lot of money and the international community should share the burden. After all, this is about global security.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Britain will be the US's key partners for holding reconciliation talks with the Taliban. Separately, Washington has said it hopes to negotiate a "status of forces agreement" with Kabul regarding the US military presence in Afghanistan.

In sum, the London conference is getting set to witness a display of "smart power". If it works, a substantial drawdown of US combat troops becomes possible in time for President Barack Obama's re-election bid. But the big question is whether or not it will work.

Leaving aside the Taliban, who may well have minds of their own, the countries that could act as spoilers are mainly the regional powers - Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia and China. These potential spoilers may not be able to be subdued into a single "grand bargain", so individual agreements may become necessary.

India, which gives primacy to its so-called "strategic partnership" with the US, is the least troublesome. It favors the American military presence in the region and wants NATO to fight on. But Delhi will work robustly to ensure that Kabul remains India-friendly.

Pakistan is in a category by itself insofar as it not only seeks a strategic partnership with the US but one that is at a par with the US-Indian nexus. Besides, its special interests need to be safeguarded in Afghanistan. Pakistan has excluded India from regional formats working on Afghanistan.

Islamabad is in a privileged position as it holds the option to bring the "irreconcilable" Quetta shura (the top Taliban council) to the negotiating table, or, alternatively, claim helplessness. How it chooses to play depends largely on the US's ability to maintain a balanced relationship with India and Pakistan. Pakistan rejects any US-Indian strategic tie-up in the Indian Ocean. In short, Washington faces a tough call to get Pakistan to cooperate optimally while stringing India along.

Iran falls in a different category insofar as while Tehran has expectations regarding a normal relationship with the US, it also looks for recognition as a regional power. Tehran seeks a broad-based government in Kabul that ensures the welfare of the Shi'ite communities and it expects assurances regarding Iran's own security. But Tehran does not confront the US in Afghanistan, although it is boycotting the London conference on account of frosty relations with Britain.

Most certainly, misgivings remain regarding any medium-term US military presence. China and Russia visualize Afghanistan's stabilization in terms of the country getting rid of foreign occupation, regaining its sovereignty and becoming a genuinely neutral country.

The fact remains that the US, British and Saudi intelligence agencies have in the past used the Islamist forces in Afghanistan for geopolitical ends. Significantly, Moscow held a special meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization regarding Afghanistan on Monday in the run up to the London conference.

However, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. The US is promoting India-Pakistan rapprochement, Delhi is willing to move in tandem with Washington's wishes and some anticipate a thaw in India-Pakistan ties. The US has also reduced the shrillness of its rhetoric against Iran.

Russian-American relations are at a sensitive juncture with the two countries inching toward a new arms control agreement. True, Beijing has reason to feel upset over recent US moves on arms sales to Taiwan, Google’s decision pull out of China and Obama's decision to meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. But China also has high stakes in regional stability in Central Asia and South Asia.

Meanwhile, apart from hosting the Afghan and Pakistani presidents in Istanbul on Monday, Turks gathered together Iran, Russia and China, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A sprinkling of NATO and European Union officials was thrown into that mix, along with an aide to the US special representative for AfPak, Richard Holbrooke.

Originally, Turkey toyed with the idea of hosting an Organization of Islamic Conference meeting on Afghanistan. But something seems to have gone wrong in that enterprise. Turkey probably ended up doing slightly better by facilitating a last-minute opportunity to ``find a single voice’’ at the London conference. President Abdullah Gul is traveling to Delhi on February 7.

Clearly, the focus of the London conference has shifted from the original focus on the Afghanization of the war. NATO's troop surge has become a sideshow. French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday ruled out any deployment of additional combat troops. That eases pressure on Germany too. The Karzai plan for reconciliation with the Taliban has instead become the centerpiece.

However, just like in Bonn eight years ago, the London conference is an exclusive gathering of "victors", while the vanquished Taliban remain excluded. The only difference is that the victors who gather on Thursday have been badly mauled in the past eight years and are terribly fatigued and almost bled white. They are determined to search out the vanquished and to talk real peace.

Karzai may outline a five-year reconciliation plan. Evidently, the London conference will only set the ball rolling in an engrossing game that promises to stretch to the final lap of Obama's second term, should he get that far. Yardsticks of success and failure do not apply to a cliffhanger.

Russia, Turkey and the Great Game: Changing teams

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s visit to Turkish last month shows that Turkey and Russia are rapidly developing close economic and political ties...

For all intents and purposes, Turkey has given up on the European Union, recognising it as a bastion of Islamophobia and captive to US diktat. As Switzerland bans minarets and France moves to outlaw the niqab, the popular Islamist government in Istanbul moves in the opposite direction -- supporting the freedom to wear headscarfs, boldly criticising Israel and building bridges with Syria. This is nothing less than a fundamental realignment of Turkish politics towards Turkey’s natural allies -- the Arabs ... and the Russians.

This new alignment with Russia began in 2001 when Turkish and Russian foreign ministers signed the Eurasia Cooperation Action Plan. It went into high gear in February 2009, when Turkish President Abdullah Gul made a state visit to Russia, including a visit to the Russian Federation’s thriving and energy-rich Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan, populated by a majority of Muslim Turks, with pipelines, nuclear energy and trade the focus of attention.

In the past, Russia had poor relations with Turkey, which since its founding as a republic in 1922 was firmly in the Western camp and seen by Moscow as a springboard for infiltration into the Caucasus and its Turkic southern republics. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Yeltsin’s Russia acquiesced to US hegemony in the region, and as part of this opening to the West, Turkish schools, construction firms and traders came in great numbers to the ex-Soviet “stans” (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). 9/11 convinced Russian president Vladimir Putin to go so far as welcoming US military bases in the most strategic “stans”. The old Great Game appeared to be over, lost resoundingly by Russia.

But as the world tired of the US-sponsored “war on terrorism”, it seemed the Great Game was not over after all. A NATO member, Turkey was soon joined by Bulgaria and Romania, making the Black Sea a de facto NATO lake, alarming a now resurgent Russia.

Ukraine’s Western-backed “Orange Revolution” in 2004 further tilted the balance away from Russia, with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko defiantly vowing to join NATO and kick the Russian fleet out of Crimea. He even armed Georgia in its war with Russia in 2008.

However, not only Russia was fed up with the new pax americana. Over 90 per cent of Turks had an unfavourable view of the US by 2007. It is no surprise that Turkey began to back away from unconditional support of NATO and the US, notably, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, by its refusal in 2008 to allow US warships through the Bosphorus Strait to support Georgia, and by its outspoken criticism of Israel following the invasion of Gaza that year.

In contrast to the US-sponsored colour revolutions in the ex-socialist bloc, Turkey’s “Green Revolution” brought the religious-oriented Justice and Development Party to power in 2002. Its political direction has been in search of balance in the region and peaceful relations with its neighbours, including Armenia and the Kurds. In 2004 Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a joint declaration of cooperation in Ankara, updated in February 2009 by Gul and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. Gul declared, “Russia and Turkey are neighbouring countries that are developing their relations on the basis of mutual confidence. I hope this visit will in turn give a new character to our relations.”

Key to this is Turkey’s proposal for the establishment of a Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform. Following Gul’s visit, Turkish media even described Turkish-Russian relations as a “strategic partnership”, which no doubt set off alarm bells in Washington.

None of this would be taking place without solid economic interests. Turkish-Russian economic ties have greatly expanded over the past decade, with trade reaching $33 billion in 2008, much if it gas and oil, making Russia Turkey’s number one partner. They may soon use the Turkish lira and the Russian ruble in foreign trade.

This is the context of Medvedev’s visit 13 January to Ankara, which focussed primarily on energy cooperation. Russia’s AtomStroiExport had won the tender for the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear plant last year, and Medvedev was eager to get final approval on Turkish cooperation in Gazprom’s South Stream gas pipeline to Europe. Turkey will soon get up to 80 per cent of its gas from Russia, but this dependency is no longer viewed as a liability in light of the two countries’ new strategic relations.

Just what will happen to the West’s rival Nabucco pipeline, also intended to transit Turkey, is now a moot point. Nabucco hopes to bring gas from Iran and Azerbaijan to Europe through Turkey and Georgia. Given the standoff between the West and Iran and the instability of Georgia, this alternative to Russia’s plans looks increasingly unattractive. Azerbaijan, shrewdly, has already signed up with South Stream.

Kommersant quoted Gazprom officials as saying that Turkey could soon join Italy and Germany as Russia’s “strategic partner”. Italy’s ENI is co-funding the South Stream project. The other arm of Gazprom’s pincer move around Ukraine is Nord Stream, and Germany late last year gave its final approval for Nord Stream. A Polish minister compared the Russia-Germany Nord Stream project to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, because the pipeline allows Russia to deliver gas to Western Europe and “turn off the taps” to Ukraine in case it stops paying or starts stealing gas as happened several times under the Orange revolutionaries.

Turkey is very much a key player in this new Great Game, only it appears to have changed sides. The Russian and Turkish prime ministers voiced the hope that their trade would triple by 2015, and announced plans to for a visa-free regime by May this year. “In the end, without doubt, [a visa-free regime] will lead to activating cooperation between our countries,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

The presidential elections now in progress in Ukraine could take some of the wind out of the sails of South Stream. Its rationale could be brought into question if the new Ukrainian president succeeds in convincing Moscow that s/he will make sure no further hanky-panky takes place. Ukraine, in dire economic straits, needs the transit fees, which would disappear if current plans go ahead. But the damage the Orange revolutionaries did to Ukraine’s economy and relations with Russia is already a fait accompli. Says Alexander Rahr at the German Council on Foreign Relations, “Under every leadership, Ukraine will try to make use of its geographical position and the Russians realised this some time ago. This is why they desperately need a way to circumvent Ukraine.”

Even if Ukraine, too, changes teams and rejects NATO expansion plans, it will still have to thrash out a new role, most likely minus its gas transit commissions. Contender Viktor Yanukovich has signalled he would sign up to an economic cooperation agreement with Russia and smooth over existing political problems like the question of the Russian fleet and possibly the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Turkey could well follow suit. “If any Western country is going to recognise the independence of Abkhazia, it will be Turkey because of a large Abkhazian diaspora there,” says Rahr.

There is no reason why Ukraine couldn’t join the budding Russian-Turkish alliance, founded on regional stability and peace, unlike the current NATO-led one of confrontation and enmity. This would leave only the mad Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili quixotically fighting his windmills, dictator of a rump state -- the very opposite of his intended role as NATO’s valiant knight leading its march eastward. Even inveterate Turkish foe Armenia seems eager to join the new line-up, as last year’s exchange of ambassadors demonstrated.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Obama is reverting to the George W Bush-era doctrine

US policies in practice will always remain complex mixtures of benevolent liberalism, transactional calculation, and strategic realism, with one or more of these facets dominating the others depending on the administration in office....?

Obama is reverting to the George W Bush-era doctrine

United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not new to the field of diplomacy in the South Asian region. The "Gates Mission" in 1990 to defuse a cascading wave of India-Pakistan tensions is the stuff of legends. Historians are still in two minds whether Gates deserves to be credited for having conceivably averted the world's first nuclear war.

In comparison, Gates' mission to New Delhi and Islamabad last week wasn't breathtaking but it stood out as a pivotal moment. He was choreographing the US's global strategy.

Gates charms Indians ...

Delhi faces an existential dilemma: it needs to determine how far it is prepared to go with Uncle Sam down the path into the garden where it has never been before. Gates made it clear the enterprise could be rewarding. He said, "India can be an anchor for regional and global security ... this will be a defining partnership for the 21st century." In the Barack Obama presidency, India has never heard such heady thoughts.

There were three vectors to Gates' visit - Afghanistan, India-Pakistan relations and the US-India security partnership. Gates upheld India's legitimate interests in Afghanistan. He praised the Indian role and in turn received an Indian offer on an enhanced role strictly within the parameters of the overall US/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) strategy - "frankly, the kind of support and extraordinary support that India is providing in Afghanistan now is really ideal".

India will not complicate the US's diplomacy in Islamabad by seeking any role in the build-up of the Afghan armed forces or police. Beneath that threshold, Delhi will play a role in the "Afghanization" process. Nor is Delhi inclined to raise dust about US plans regarding the "reintegration and reconciliation" of the Taliban. The Indian position was dogmatic but nuances have crept in. This is partly tactical, as it is clear Indian opposition will not stall the process of integrating the Taliban into Afghan political life.
But Washington assured Delhi that the established Afghan government would spearhead the peace process and the United Nations would endorse and promote it. The bottom line for Delhi is that the US should not cut and run from the Hindu Kush. As long as the US remains the supervisor-cum-custodian of the peace process with the Taliban, Delhi feels that a takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban leader Mullah Omar won't be in the cards. Again, the US no longer buys the Pakistani thesis about "Pashtun alienation". Delhi considers that any broad-based government in Kabul that reflects Afghanistan's plural society will be a bulwark against the return to Taliban rule.

In sum, Delhi has opted to hitch its wagon to Washington's strategy. Delhi's choice is limited. Pakistan has done everything possible to keep India out of any regional frameworks, such as Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan, Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan or the Organization of Islamic Conference initiative. Other like-minded countries that abhor religious militancy such as Russia, Uzbekistan and Iran have their own agenda born out of national interests.

... by piling on Pakistan

Delhi's most important consideration is that Washington has at long last accepted the Indian interpretation that the forces of al-CIA-da and the Taliban as well as the Pakistan-based terrorist organizations operating against India are birds of the same feather.... , I.E. all CIA.

What pleases Delhi no end is that Gates underlined it forcefully during the Islamabad leg of his tour. He said:
Al-CIAda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network - this is a syndicate of terrorists that work together. And when one succeeds they all benefit, and they share ideas, they share planning. They don't operationally coordinate their activities, as best as I can tell. But they are in very close contact. They take inspiration from one another, they take ideas from one another....CIA.
Delhi's comfort level with the Obama administration has been rapidly rising since Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US last November. Following up on Washington's repeated assurances that it had no intention to "mediate" India-Pakistan differences, Gates went one step further and took note that if there was another terrorist attack on India by Pakistan-based groups, it was entirely conceivable that India might not exercise restraint, as in the past, and may retaliate. "But no country, including the United States, is going to stand idly by if it's being attacked by somebody," he point-blank told a Pakistani interviewer.

Gates also was dismissive of Pakistani criticism regarding US arms sales to India. In essence, Washington has quietly reconfigured its AfPak strategy. Gates repeatedly bracketed Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the US. Delhi's earlier apprehensions that the US sought a pretext to talk about the Kashmir issue have given way. Whereas Delhi had sought exclusion from the AfPak strategy while Pakistan insisted on India's inclusion, a reversal of roles is happening.

Gates' hidden agenda

Why is the US accommodating India to this extent? Clearly, the US has hardly any non-NATO allies - other than Georgia, perhaps - that endorse its Afghan war effort so enthusiastically as India does. Japan has just rolled back logistic support. Indeed, the Indian role also serves as a pressure point on Pakistan.

However, beyond Pakistan and Afghan-related concerns, Gates went to Delhi with a hefty agenda with regard to military sales and security cooperation with India. He attached strings to the transfer of "dual-use" US technology to India. He linked it to Delhi signing the Logistics Support Agreement and the Communications, Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement, which are pending. Gates said the Indian prime minister told him that Delhi needed to be convinced that the agreements brought India substantial advantage.

Gates' message was simple: India must decide quickly whether it is willing to move forward as a fully fledged ally of the US. He underlined the two countries' "common interest in security of the Indian Ocean and security of the global commons, and the global commons meaning the air, sea, space, and if you're talking about the Internet, the ether."

Arguably, China - and the US missile defense system - couldn't have been far from his mind. Though he pro forma said he "didn't talk about China at length" with Indian officials, he added, "There was a discussion about China's military modernization program and what it meant and what the intentions of that military buildup were." Significantly, in the same breath, Gates drew a parallel between the US policy to engage China in a strategic dialogue and the strategic arms talks with the former Soviet Union.

To be sure, China is back with a bang in the US strategic calculus. That was also the thrust of Gates' mission. The Obama administration is reverting to the George W Bush-era doctrine regarding the potentials of an unbound India as a junior partner in the US's geostrategy. By accommodating India's interests in Afghanistan and by expressing support and understanding for India's security concerns vis-a-vis Pakistan, the US is "freeing" India to play a bigger role.

The US is losing ground to China in the Asia-Pacific. What the Americans call Southwest Asia (which includes the Indian Ocean) becomes the US's "Maginot Line". It must be held if the US is to stay embedded in the Asian region at a time when it is showing unmistakable signs of decline. Gates sought to assess what role India could play in the US's tug-of-war with Beijing.

Suspicion of China runs deep in India, as also does resentment over China's perceived "assertiveness". But a parallel normalization track also runs, which the pro-US lobby in Delhi has not been able to derail. No matter what Gates said, Delhi will have no choice but to keep its fingers crossed as to the fate of the US's AfPak strategy; the best-laid plans have gone awry in the tangled Hindu Kush mountains.

As a leading Pakistani editor mildly put it, "The Pakistani military has no cogent reason to change its strategic paradigm." Gates was still in the region when news broke that Obama had suffered a setback in the election in Massachusetts and it may be that the US is dealing from a weak hand.

Contradictions, lies and deceipt of Robert Gates

US secretary of defense Robert Gates has come and gone, after making the noises so pet with American officials nowadays about Pakistan. But hadn’t we heard of this American prattle even when they were fighting a proxy war against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan? Didn’t they declare us even then the frontline state of their war, which we actually had become foolishly, thanks to a military dictator, General Zia ul Haq, who threw this unfortunate nation into that foray to be clobbered and bled just to earn international legitimacy for his own illegitimate usurpation of power? Weren’t we then too charmed by Washington with hymns of strategic partnerships and long-term relationships? Weren’t we then too pledged $4.2 billion in US military and economic aid?

What came of all that once the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan? Well, we don’t want to recall that sorrowful history, lest we embitter the sweet taste of Islamabad’s hierarchy, rollicking in such a binge of exultation and celebration as if they have pulled off a feat that no Halaku Khan of this earth could. Otherwise, the way we are being dealt by protagonists of this America’s so-called war on terror befits not a partner or an ally but only an exalted valet. And for the humiliating conditions on which the Kerry-Lugar Law has sanctioned US aid for Pakistan, not even a third-rate leadership would touch it, even if all charity. But let it pass. If our leadership feels so happy about all this, why to spoil its feel-good mood. After all, over the time this wretched nation has swallowed many an ignoble dignity inflicted on it by Americans for its leaderships’ pleasure. This poisoned chalice too it will gulp up for its present leadership to be happy.

Presently, it is secretary Gates’ discourse that we want to talk about. So nice of him to confess after the Soviet withdrawal the United States committed in the region a strategic mistake “driven by some well-intentioned but short-sighted US legislative and policy decisions”. But his confession is a stark understatement. For, as far as Pakistan is concerned, this wasn’t a US strategic mistake, not even a blunder. It was a callous and deliberate betrayal of a US-declared frontline state, which was clamped down with every nuclear-related sanction and every kind of embargo known to the American statute book and also robbed of its hard-earned money it had paid out from its own pocket for the F-16 planes never delivered to it for sanctions.

But, then, Gates’ own discourse was full of contradictions. While he harangued Pakistan that Taliban were all chips of the same block and couldn’t be compartmentalized into good and bad guys, his own people in Afghanistan are going by this categorization. What they call moderate Taliban, they admit trying wooing over. Not only are they talking to them. At their behest, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also unveiled a plan to buy off wavering Taliban with money and jobs. So what he wants Pakistan not to do, his people are themselves doing exactly this in Afghanistan. Isn’t it an outright hypocrisy, and also mean doublespeak and double standards?

Then, all fraught is his assertion that no matter wherever al-CIA-da raises its head, the epicenter of this monstrosity is the border land between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which if translated into plain language only means Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency. This plainly is a misleading and specious statement. The 9/11 was not planned in North Waziristan, not even in Afghanistan. It was planned in the German city of Hamburg and was executed by Saudi, Egyptian and other Arab students, who had studied in Western universities and trained in America’s aviation academies....and CIA for an inside job par excellence....

Even the Nigerian underwear bomber who attempted a foiled blasting of an American airliner may have stayed in Yemen learning Arabic, but he believably got radicalized in London where he was long studying engineering. North Waziristan he had never visited. But such uncomfortable things never torment an American conscience as doesn’t the clarifications Gates touted with a straight about the presence in Pakistan of the thuggish American private security outfit of Blackwater. His clarifications were more a confirmation than a denial. This outfit of mercenary killers may not be on his Pentagon’s or State Department’s payrolls. But it is the CIA which enrolls and pays them. And Blackwater is heavily represented in about 100,000 hired killers CIA has on its payrolls in Afghanistan alone. The number may not be lesser in Pakistan where CIA has had a free run for years.

But if the Americans have to be duplicitous, cunning and deceivers to us, do our own people have to be so to their own compatriots? For months, interior minister Rehman Malik has been lying to this nation that Blackwater exists not in this country. Even accosting his challengers he has been to prove him wrong and he will resign. Now he must. Gates with his evasive but confirmatory versions has proved him to be a liar and a big cheat deceiving his own people.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

USA, Global fatigue and trust deficit


WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The 9.2 magnitude earthquake that triggered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami claimed some 230,000 lives in 13 countries. But the Port-au-Prince 7.0 quake may exceed that toll in one small country. Haiti's capital will have to be rebuilt from the ground up, like German and Japanese cities after World War II. For a city of 3 million that was designed to handle a mere 50,000, there was little modern infrastructure to begin with. But it will still cost billions.

Fighting two trillion-dollar wars abroad while millions are jobless at home doesn't make much sense to well over half the American people. How many favor something closer to home has not been polled....

There is a growing chorus of geopolitical deep thinkers and intellectuals who favor a strategic retreat from the imperial posture of the Cold War, where we are now fighting terrorist cells on a planetary scale, and a reassessment of priorities. One of the Democratic Party's champion fundraisers, speaking privately, said, "At times I feel that we're exhausted, sitting on the sidewalk, applauding the inevitable as Team China marches by."

We are now saddled with a dysfunctional system of government that raises the key question for the 21st century: Have we allowed ourselves to become ungovernable with a Congress that seems prone to micromanage everything into unworkable policies, courtesy of a system that has moved from no child left behind to no lobbyist left behind.

No fewer than 108 congressional committees and subcommittees claim oversight on the Homeland Security Department, up from 88 in 2004. Countless reports have recommended a single point of congressional contact for DHS. But DHS is still required to produce more than 500 annual reports in addition to more than 6,000 individual requests for information per year. Scores of DHS employees are employed full time catering to Congress. The British, German and French governments would have ground to a halt under a similar deluge of parliamentary requests.

If we're going to be successful in Afghanistan, a long-term commitment of five to 10 years is an essential prerequisite. Pakistan does not believe today's America will sustain such an undertaking, notwithstanding repeated pledges about the long haul commitment from national security adviser James L. Jones, frequent travelers to Pakistan Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and CENTCOM Commander Gen. David J. Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and this week from Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

From his 27 years in the CIA where he is still the only one to rise from level-entry recruit to director, Gates remembers vividly the era of close cooperation with Pakistan when he was deputy director of the CIA. It was that partnership, which included Saudi Intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, that forced the Soviets to withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 and heralded the downfall of the Soviet empire nine months later. It also led Osama bin Laden to believe that his Arab mujahedin recruits toppled one evil empire and that he had a shot at toppling the remaining one -- imperial America.

Gates disagreed strenuously with the subsequent shabby treatment of our Pakistani ally, including painful economic and military sanctions, as punishment for their secret nuclear weapons program. A whole generation of Pakistani officers was banned from U.S. military facilities and staff colleges. This triggered a long-lasting anti-U.S. culture in the Pakistani military. The trust deficit is still huge. And the lessons of America's defeat in Vietnam 35 years ago lurk just below the surface; it was the U.S. Congress that pulled the plug.

China is only too happy to hold America's coat as it sinks deeper into expensive geopolitical commitments while Chinese leaders win friends and influence people in Asia, Africa, Latin America and a large part of North America (Mexico and Canada). China is also building an ultramodern infrastructure of roads, railroads and airports that is in sharp contrast to America's long-neglected public services, water supplies, power grid, road and rail networks, and air traffic control.

In Afghanistan, a Chinese company is investing $3 billion in Logar province near Kabul to mine 240 million tons of copper ore, worth $88 billion. One must assume they are not worried by the Taliban. The insurgents confide in their Pakistani friends they will need the income when they get back in the saddle. China has 11 nuclear power plants and is planning to add 24. The last U.S. reactor went online in 1997. Only 27 percent of 253 ordered in the 1950s are in operation.

More than 100,000 Chinese students are now studying in the United States. There was a time when most of them would have tried to stay; now they see more exciting horizons in China. Thousands of U.S. schools stopped teaching foreign languages since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a government-funded survey. But there is one significant exception: Chinese. Beijing is sending language instructors abroad and pays for their room and board, presumably also to proselytize for the new superpower.

The electoral cataclysm in Massachusetts, where Democrats lost a seat they held for 47 years, is a major game changer in Congress, but abroad, it's yet another demonstration of fickle unpredictability.

Foreign policymakers see that President Obama's magisterial, turning-a-new-leaf policy for, among other achievements, a Palestinian state in the Middle East was a bridge to nowhere. Israel's Netanyahu put his foot down.

If a Middle East solution continues to elude Obama, as it surely will, what leads him to believe that he can be successful in Afghanistan? Ranking Pakistanis privately say they don't believe he can.

Since October 2009 some 30,000 Pakistani troops have been battling Pakistani Taliban guerrillas in South Waziristan, one of the seven tribal areas along the Afghan border. Heavy snow has now forced a halt in operations. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told Gates it would take another six to 12 months to complete. Not good enough for Gates -- and Obama's national security team.

Because that still leaves North Waziristan as a safe haven for Afghan Taliban operating against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. These are the insurgents originally trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to take over Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. Off the record, knowledgeable Pakistanis can see them back in power, posing as moderates, after NATO and U.S. governments tire of fighting an invisible enemy....