Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Velayat in the Strait of Hormuz is no ordinary war-games….

The world seems to be united to teach Iran a lesson it cannot afford to forget. Everyone, nearly everyone, has designs to strip Iran of its oil wealth to pressure it into submission on its nuclear program. But surprisingly, the isolated Iran is defiant and kicking. As Europe is working on a ban on importing oil from Iran and an amendment to the 2012 U.S. defense authorization bill seeks to close down transactions with Iran's Central Bank, there are other related developments taking place. China's leading refiner, Sinopec, halved its January purchases of Iranian crude on a dispute over credit terms, while Saudi supplies surged by a third. 

Everything is taking place to achieve the fundamental objective of the anti-Iran world: to narrow the circle of Iran's customers to China and a few others, giving them the ability to extract discounts and thus starving the Islamic Republic of revenue. But these are not the unilateral developments. While Iran is panic-stricken, it has created panic of the matching proportion for the world by officially commencing its 10-days war-games exercises, named as Velayat-e-90, in the Strait of Hormuz. 

The exercises could bring Iranian ships into proximity with United States Navy vessels in the area. "Velayat" is a Persian word for "supremacy" and it is currently used as a title of deference for the Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The war games cover a 2,000km stretch of sea off the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden, near the entrance to the Red Sea. It will be Iran's latest show of strength in the face of mounting international criticism over its controversial nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at developing atomic weapons. This is a very significant development which means that, if pushed to the wall through international sanctions, Iran can block this most strategic waterway depriving the world of the precious commodity of oil passing through the Strait.

Located between Oman and Iran, the Strait of Hormuz connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of 15.5 million barrels in 2009, down from a peak of 17 million bbl/d in 2008. Flows through the Strait in 2009 are roughly 33 percent of all seaborne traded oil (40 percent in 2008), or 17 percent of oil traded worldwide. On average, 13 crude oil tankers per day passed eastbound through the Strait in 2009 (compared with an average of 18 in 2007-2008), with a corresponding amount of empty tankers entering westbound to pick up new cargos. More than 75 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations. At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone. The Strait is deep and wide enough to handle the world's largest crude oil tankers, with about two-thirds of oil shipments carried by tankers in excess of 150,000 deadweight tons.

Closure of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran will jolt the oil world as it would require the use of longer alternate routes at increased transportation costs. Alternate routes include the 745 mile long Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, across Saudi Arabia from Abqaiq to the Red Sea. The East-West Pipeline has a nameplate capacity of 4.8 million bbl/d. The Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids pipeline, which runs parallel to the Petroline to the Red Sea, has a 290,000-bbl/d capacity.

A new bypass is currently being constructed across the United Arab Emirates. The 1.5 million bbl/d Habshan-Fujairah pipeline will cross the emirate of Abu Dhabi and end at the port of Fujairah just south of the Strait. Other alternate routes could include the deactivated 1.65-million bbl/d Iraqi Pipeline across Saudi Arabia (IPSA), and the deactivated 0.5 million-bbl/d Tapline to Lebanon. Additional oil could also be pumped north via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea, but volumes have been limited by the closure of the Strategic pipeline linking north and south Iraq.

According to a recent article carried by Foreign Policy, oil sanctions are a bad idea if they work, and a bad idea if they fail. If they work, American allies will be punished and some economically vulnerable countries, such as Greece, will suffer a cutoff of oil just at the time they can least afford it.Or, if they "succeed" more dramatically, and Iran's exports are really interrupted, oil prices will soar, plunging the world back into renewed recession. Tehran can also respond by sabotaging oil facilities in its Gulf neighbors and fomenting trouble via its proxies in Iraq's oil hub of Basra. An isolated Iran can afford to play such a dangerous game with the global economy.

But most likely, oil sanctions would fail, and a great deal of diplomatic capital will have been expended to no avail. Japan and South Korea, for instance, both rely on Iran for 10 percent of their crude imports, and waived oil sanctions. Turkey renewed its long-standing crude contract last Wednesday. And despite its incompetent response so far, Iran should be able to find ways round tightened oil sanctions -- barter trade, for example, or smuggling via Iraq and Pakistan -- with the assistance of ingenious sanctions-busters lured by lucrative deals. What it loses in discounts to China is largely made up by the higher prices these geopolitical tensions bring. The United States' last secret weapon -- embargoing gasoline shipments to Iran -- inspired Tehran to make its long-overdue subsidy reform and step up domestic refining capacity. In a way, the U.S. Congress did Iran a favor.

This imminent clash between Iran and international titans, apparently, makes no sense. The ultimate beneficiaries of the sanctions would not be US or Europe; it would surprisingly be the America’s rivals: China and Russia. Iran, a country with 2 percent of US GDP and 1.5 percent of its military budget, will prefer to tilt towards China even if it had to offer discounts on its oil sales. Meanwhile, Russia's Urals grade is, unusually, fetching higher prices than better-quality Brent oil as European refiners scramble for alternatives to Iran. And the Kremlin is glad to see the neutering of its greatest potential rival in the EU gas market.

Will the United States shoot itself in the foot through these sanctions? This question is not difficult to answer and immediate answer is in affirmative. The biggest lesson of history is that nations don’t learn any lesson. The cost of sanctions to the U.S. economy of expensive oil, was in the neighborhood of half a trillion dollars, caused by decades of sanctions on investment in Iran, Iraq, and Libya. The cost of the proposed sanctions is never mentioned.

But the sanctions and the escalating costs of transportation of oil due to Hormuz blockade by Iran would draw the US into another misadventure. This could destabilize the region further and transform it into breeding ground for US-hatred, extremism and terrorism. The Velayat in the Strait of Hormuz is no ordinary war-games and must be taken seriously.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

IAEA report on Iran nukes: Is Obama really going to walk into another trap?

Iran has no dirty bomb right now but poses the threat, nonetheless. This is the essence of the most critical report of the nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency. It says Iran might be working on developing nuclear weapons. ­Its findings were widely-expected and have come days after Israel bluntly declared that military action against Iran was getting closer. There are rising fears that the report could be a pretext for an attack. In fact, the UN nuclear watchdog has found no smoking gun, but has succeeded, nonetheless, in hyping up fears that Iran is continuing its research on nuclear weapons. The report does not expressly say that Iran is building a nuclear weapon; it does however, say that Iran is collecting all the information it would need to do so.

The basis for IAEA claims is Iranian computer models of nuclear warheads which the watchdog views as a possible indication that Iran is planning to build an atomic bomb. Among other evidence there is a satellite image of a steel container that might be used to secretly test the high explosives needed to trigger a nuclear weapon. Veracity of this report is not dependable given the fact that IAEA does not have any intelligence capabilities. It seems to be relying on reports that may have been fed by other sources having direct stakes in Iran’s nuclear program. Many people suspect that these reports may be coming from the US and Israel who doctored false evidence to build up a case to invade Iraq in 2003.

The UN’s atomic watchdog report can serve one of the two purposes for the US and Israel; the report could be used as a justification to start a war with Iran which will have catastrophic repercussion or the report can be used as political leverage to try and isolate Iran, and possibly to put a dent in its flourishing economic relations with China. Having learned from the outcome of Iraq invasion, no one in the international community would endorse a drastic unilateral action by Israel because that could set the region on fire.

The way media is working overtime to spread terrifying stories suggests that the war may be imminent. According to an article titled, Poisoning the air, published by The Guardian months before Iraq invasion, one of the oldest tricks in a run-up to a war is to spread terrifying stories of the things that the enemy may be about to do. Government officials plant these tales, journalists water them and the public, for the most part, swallow them. This sounds very prophetic bu the question is; will Obama really want to go to war with Iran at this point in time and repeat the blunders committed by Bush administration?

Given the present state of US economy, the saner elements within the administration would definitely oppose another misadventure even if their stand leads to divisions within Obama’s ranks. But according to a recent analysis in Foreign Policy magazine, if the President believes there is no other alternative to stopping Iran from gaining the ability to produce highly enriched uranium and thus manufacture nuclear weapons, he will seriously consider military action and it is hardly a certainty he won't take it. From a domestic political perspective, right now Obama's strong suit is his national security performance. For the first time in years, he has taken the issue away from the Republicans. Right now they simply cannot attack him as being weak or assert they understand defense better. That is why they are so silent on the issue.

According to this analysis, Obama has only four real areas of vulnerability on this front. First, if he pushes too hard for defense budget cuts before the election, the Republicans will go after him. He won't. He will seek cuts but will be comparatively cautious. Next, if there were a terrorist attack of some sort and the administration seemed unprepared or responded weakly, that would create a problem. But that is a perennial wild card. Third, if he distances himself from Israel, the Republicans will seek to capitalize on the sense some supporters of that country have that Obama is not a committed friend. There is already plenty of activity in that area ... and the Israelis are eager to take advantage of their perceived election year leverage. And finally, if Iran were to detonate a nuclear bomb, Obama would be blamed and fiercely attacked for a policy of engagement that ultimately proved to be toothless. 

Given the arguments for and against Iran misadventure, will Obama really choose to go to another war at a time very close to election year? This is a question which is agitating many minds. The people are looking at the unfolding events with their fingers crossed. The Iran invasion will certainly change the international political landscape, imperil the region, push oil prices up and devastate global as well as the US economy. Iran, aware of these repercussions, seems to be making all possible efforts to draw the US into an attack with aims to bleed US economy. Bush walked into Afghanistan and Iraq trap and the principal victim of the attacks was US economy. Iran, already almost isolated internationally, has nothing to lose. But the stakes of the US and the rest of the world are very high. After an attack, Iran will be a problem bigger than the terrorists and highly impossible to handle in the event of a war.

Will Obama walk into another trap laid for the US, now by Iran or give diplomacy a chance? Only the time will tell.

Related story:

Diplomacy is the least damaging option with Iran (Financial Times)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Afghanistan: America running out of options ….

Hussain Saqib

Washington, after a sustained campaign of Pakistan-bashing has started sweet-talking again. But this should surprise no one, not the Pakistanis, who have become accustomed to this very familiar pattern of US behavior in Pak-US relations, particularly in relation to Afghanistan. Sweet-talk, coerce and sweet-talk again. The end-game has put Washington in such a complex situation that it has to employ all possible tactics to salvage from this ill-conceived misadventure. A decade after Washington’s invasion, occupation, and needless war in Afghanistan, events signifying sweet-talk-coerce-and-sweet-talk-again pattern have started unfolding at an amazingly quicker pace.

There was an attack on Kabul’s most guarded enclave called the Ring of Steel, housing US embassy and other offices. Then there was an unfortunate murder of the born-again prophet of peace, Professor Rabbani.  The US administration launched a sustained campaign of accusations against Pakistan for its alleged involvement in September 13 attack on American embassy in Kabul, and Karzai government pointed finger at Pakistan for its alleged role in Rabbani’s murder. Both the US and its puppet-regime in Kabul were acting in unison.

There was, therefore no surprise when US Secretary of State retracted and admitted in Islamabad that the US had no evidence to prove its allegations. Karzai did not lag behind and admitted that some sections of his administration were rather quick to blame Pakistan for Rabbani’s murder.  He even went as far as to say that if fighting started between India and Pakistan and Pakistan and the US, his country would stand by Pakistan.

How could one explain this sudden change of heart?

The United States is well aware that is now trying to make the maximum out of a lost battle. It wants an honorable exit and its continued presence in the region. The Afghanistan endgame, for the US, is actually outright defeat as it has not been able to achieve a single objective of its needless campaign despite losing lives, face and a staggering sum of $ one trillion in direct war costs. At this point, the Obama Administration is anxious to convert the military stalemate into a form of permanent truce, if only the Taliban were willing to accept what amounts to a power sharing deal that would allow Washington to claim the semblance of success after a decade of war.

According to an article in Foreign Policy Journal, President Obama seeks to retain a large post-”withdrawal” military presence throughout the country mainly for these reasons:

  1. To protect its client regime in Kabul led by Karzai, as well as Washington’s other political and commercial interests in the country, and to maintain a menacing military presence on Iran’s eastern border, especially if U.S. troops cannot now remain in Iraq.
  2. To retain territory in Central Asia for U.S. and NATO military forces positioned close to what Washington perceives to be its two main (though never publicly identified) enemies — China and Russia — at a time when the American government is increasing its political pressure on both countries. Obama is intent upon transforming NATO from a regional into a global adjunct to Washington’s quest for retaining and extending world hegemony. NATO’s recent victory in Libya is a big advance for U.S. ambitions in Africa, even if the bulk of commercial spoils go to France and England. A permanent NATO presence in Central Asia is a logical next step. In essence, Washington’s geopolitical focus is expanding from the Middle East to Central Asia and Africa in the quest for resources, military expansion and unassailable hegemony, especially from the political and economic challenge of rising nations of the global south, led China.
  3. There is another incentive for the U.S. to continue fighting in Afghanistan — to eventually convey the impression of victory, an absolute domestic political necessity.
  4. The most compelling reason for the Afghan war is geopolitical— finally obtaining a secure military foothold for the U.S. and its NATO accessory in the Central Asian backyards of China and Russia. In addition, a presence in Afghanistan places the U.S. in close military proximity to two volatile nuclear powers backed by the U.S. but not completely under its control by any means (Pakistan, India). Also, this fortuitous geography is flanking the extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth of the Caspian Basin and energy-endowed former Soviet Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

This panic on the part of American strategists on the 10th anniversary of what can be mildly termed as a misadventure is due to the fact that the US even after a decade of its stay in Afghanistan has not a slightest clue to the country it had dreamed to conquer. It has not been able to sell this misadventure even to those it had sought to liberate from the Taliban. A new survey by the International Council on Security and Development showed that 92% of 1,000 Afghan men polled had never even heard of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — the U.S. pretext for the invasion — and did not know why foreign troops were in the country. It had no idea that one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world — a society of 30 million people where the literacy rate is 28% and life expectancy is just 44 years — would fiercely fight to retain national sovereignty.

The Bush Administration, which launched the Afghan war a few weeks after 9/11, evidently ignored the fact that the people of Afghanistan ousted every occupying army from that of Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn to the British Empire and the USSR. It has now dawned on Washington that its $1.4 trillion annual military and national security expenditures are a major factor behind its monumental national debt and the cutbacks in social services for the people, but aside from White House rhetoric about reducing redundant Pentagon expenditures, overall war/security budgets are expected to increase over the next several years.

The recent visit of Secretary Clinton to Islamabad and her sudden change of tone, and heart, was no surprise to anyone. It clearly suggests that, for its economic compulsions, the US wants to get out of the Afghanistan mess it has created itself, as soon as possible. It wants to do so without compromising on its broader objectives and its interests in the region. It seeks to broker a peace deal with the Taliban factions through Pakistan and is pressuring Pakistan to push Haqqanis, the most powerful of Taliban, to the negotiating table. It thought Pakistan could arm-twist Haqqanis into submission through a military operation in North Waziristan.

Pakistan maintained its firm stand and on its refusal, the US now wants Pakistan to facilitate reconciliation with Taliban to enable the US to leave Afghanistan with some grace, if not a loser. It was Pakistan which facilitated direct US-Taliban contact in one of the Gulf states earlier this year. That meeting apparently ended as a total fiasco forcing the US to use Pakistan again. But talking with militant groups has been a long-standing effort by the United States as it prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and Clinton herself said there had been U.S. overtures to the Haqqanis. Now she wants Pakistan's help.

The US thinks that Pakistan, for a variety of reasons, has the “capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze ... terrorists, including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage on the peace process”. This reflects the reality that the United States is desperate and is running out of options in Afghanistan.

This explains the clear pattern of sweet-talk, coerce and sweet-talk again. The barrage of allegations by senior US officials and Karzai administration were clearly a part of coercive tactics to force Pakistan to fall in line. The futility of these tactics has now made them pursue the alternative course of sweet-talking Pakistan into doing the US bidding. This sudden change of heart is, therefore, not so sudden. It is what is required for facilitating Obama administration to put up a face good enough to go for reelection. And it can put up a threatening face again if the circumstances so required.

Related article:
The five per cent serpent  (The Express Tribune)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Anti-US alliance of the Cold War: What else is common between India and Afghanistan?

If history is any guide, India has an extra-ordinary preference for puppet governments in Afghanistan. Both India and Afghanistan were active allies of USSR against the US during the Cold War. Now when the reins of power are again in the hands of another unpopular and foreign-supported regime in Kabul, India is active again to gain some sort of foothold in Kabul. In fact, both India and Pakistan are trying to outsmart each other for a major chunk of influence in post-US Afghanistan. Pakistan has a national security objective in having a decisive say in Kabul; Afghanistan is its immediate neighbor, its backyard. India is trying to overtake Pakistan for Kabul race precisely for the same reason; Afghanistan is Pakistan’s immediate neighbor. India has its strategic interests in Kabul because while in Kabul, it can encircle Pakistan and imperil its Western borders in order to keep it in line and establish its hegemony in the region. It has already opened a number of border posts, called consulates, along Pak-Afghanistan border which are busy pumping money to intensify Pakistan insurgency and label Pakistan as sponsor of Afghanistan unrest.

India has a bigger dream to realize through its presence in Kabul. It wants to keep China at leash by keeping it away from this confluence of cross-roads leading to Central Asia. It has made heavy investments in building infrastructure in this war-ravaged country.  On this point, the US and India have converging interests. If the US, therefore, has to make a choice between India and Pakistan for a suitable heir to Kabul throne, it would more probably pick India.

The realist politics are driven by nothing but the selfish national interests and thus, have very interesting political dynamics. India was an anti-US ally of Soviet Russia in the Cold War era. It was a bitter critic of the US supporting Afghanistan insurgency when Communist forces occupied Afghanistan. The then government of Afghanistan, largely unpopular, was in Soviet camp. India and the then-Afghanistan were allies. It is for this reason that in that popular revolt against Soviet Russia, India was opposed to the Mujahideen who were funded and equipped by the CIA.

Look at the irony of history. Pakistan was a committed US ally in the war against Soviet Russia. Without Pakistan’s support, Mujahideen could not drive Russian forces leading to disintegration of Soviet Union, a goal the US wanted to achieve at all costs. Pakistan has always remained on the right side of the US during the cold war and paid dearly for that. With the changing scenario, it now finds itself in the woods after having earned American fury despite fighting US “war on terror” for 10 years. The loss of human lives alone of Pakistanis, branded as collateral damage, is 4000 military men and 35000 civilians. Such are the ways of international politics. India, despite having remained aloof, and largely unhurt, in the war or terror, is now preparing to take the reins of power after the endgame in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s present government is a replica of the pro-Russia regime of 1970s and 1980s; unpopular, unrepresentative and supported by the occupation armies. For these reasons, it needed the political support of USSR and India then and of the US and India now. The best way to sustain this support is to accuse Pakistan for anything and everything happening in the country.

It will be very interesting to look at the Indian interests in Afghanistan as perceived by Indian analysts. According to an article in Foreign Policy, India is a significant player in Afghanistan. It has the world's fifth-largest aid program there, having committed $1.5 billion in developmental assistance. It has played a key role in reconstruction and has developed training programs for Afghan civil servants and police. India has made these investments in the country because its policymakers are keen on ensuring that a radical Islamist regime does not return to the country, that Pakistan not wields a disproportionate influence on any future government, and that Afghanistan might serve as a bridgehead for India's economic ties to the Central Asian states.

India can do anything to ensure that a representative government does not return to Afghanistan, if it gives some space to Pakistan to wield some interest in Afghanistan.  According to the article, India fears that a reconstituted Taliban regime would allow a host of anti-Indian terrorist groups, most notably Lashkar-e-Taiba, to find sanctuaries and training grounds in Afghanistan. Some astute New Delhi-based analysts also worry that a resurgent Taliban may actually help broker a peace agreement between the Pakistani regime and Pakistani domestic terrorist groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. That, they argue, could redirect the collective wrath of various jihadi organizations from internecine conflict and focus it on India, and more specifically Indian-controlled Kashmir. Finally, they are concerned that a Taliban-dominated regime would forge links with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other jihadi groups in Central Asia, thereby adversely affecting India's quest for access to energy resources and markets in the region. Yet New Delhi also sees the writing on the wall but it will not easily walk away from Afghanistan.

India is counting on its historic ties to the Northern Alliance, which is a representative body of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities and which India opposed in Afghanistan Jihad of 1980s.

According to TIME, with the U.S. looking for an exit, India is trying to figure out what its role in Afghanistan's uncertain future will be. U.S. counterinsurgency strategy aims to "clear, hold, build and transfer" a stable Afghanistan back to its people. The Indian government hopes to aid the "build and transfer" part of that effort by helping to develop Afghanistan's infrastructure and institutions.

Whatever New Delhi does, it can expect truculent opposition from archrival Pakistan, which has long tried to influence what happens in Afghanistan, primarily to ensure that the country's power players are friendly to Islamabad. Its suspicion of India's regional intentions is plainly revealed in several cables released by WikiLeaks. Pakistan's press routinely accuses India of sending in spies in the guise of doctors and engineers, and Islamabad claims that India's four consulates are bases for espionage and for funneling aid to separatist rebels in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Pervez Musharraf, a former Pakistani President, is convinced New Delhi is responsible for providing insurgents with weapons. "The Afghans have nothing," he told Time, "so it must be the Indians."

While discussing India’s Stake in Afghanistan, The Journal of International Security Affairs writes in post 9/11 Afghanistan, India’s interests have centered on three broad objectives: security concerns, economic interests and regional aspirations. India has revived its historical, traditional, socio-cultural and civilizational linkages with the objective of a long-term stabilization of Afghanistan. As part of this effort, India has supported the nascent democratic regime, seeing in it the best hope for preventing the return of the Taliban. India is also looking beyond Afghanistan’s borders, working to revive Afghanistan’s role as a “land bridge” connecting South Asia with Central Asia and providing access to strategic energy resources. Along these lines, India has actively promoted greater trade and economic integration of Afghanistan with South Asia through the regional mechanism of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

With the establishment of an interim government in Afghanistan under President Hamid Karzai in 2001, India announced that it would provide $100 million in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. Since then, India has followed a policy of high-level engagement—characterized by a range of political, humanitarian, cultural, economic and infrastructure projects. India today ranks overall as Afghanistan’s sixth-largest bilateral donor country, having invested heavily in a range of key sectors of the Afghan economy and pledged to do so to the tune of $1.3 billion more in the years ahead.

There is indeed a critical security concern to India’s involvement in Afghanistan, however—specifically, the possibility of terror emanating from the extremely volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan border and spilling over into India. A strong, stable and democratic Afghanistan would reduce the dangers of extremist violence and terrorism destabilizing the region. Since 9/11, New Delhi’s policy has broadly been in congruence with the U.S. objectives of decimating the Taliban and al-Qaeda and instituting a democratic regime in Kabul.

Today, however, a resurgent Taliban and mounting instability have worsened the outlook for Afghanistan. In the coming days, India’s “aid only” policy is bound to face new challenges—and adapt to them. While Delhi resists putting “boots on ground,” it will need to widen its web of engagement in the rapidly-shrinking political space in Afghanistan. India must revive its traditional Pushtun linkages and at the same time re-engage other ethnic groups as it attempts to strike a balance between continuing support for the Karzai government and increasing its engagement with other factions. By doing so, India will position itself to influence Afghanistan’s evolving political sphere, and serve as a serious interlocutor in the intra-Afghan and inter-regional reconciliation process now underway.

India has no cultural ties with Afghanistan as being claimed by the Indian analysts. Afghanistan, a country of Muslims has ethnic ties and cultural similarities with its immediate neighbors. India is trying hard to ensure continuation of minority-dominated puppet government in Kabul, like it did in 1970s and 1980s, as any popular government chosen by majority Pashtuns will not let India achieve a foothold with the sole objective of using Afghanistan as bridge for its strategic objectives, regional ambitions and its access to resource-rich Central Asia.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pakistan-bashing is not without a reason....

The current wave of Pakistan-bashing is not without a reason. There are plans to discredit Pakistan and create enabling environments for India to take over Afghanistan after the US departure. Pakistan has been used beyond its capacity and its services are no more required by the US. 

The infamous September 13 attack on the Ring of Steel in Kabul is no different from the previous attacks but, understandably, it has brought tremors in international relations. As anticipated by some cynics, the alliance of 10 years forged to fight terrorism is falling apart, with allies talking tough to each other, pointing fingers and frothing at the mouth.  They are practically at each other’s throats. This attack and its after-shocks in the form of bad-mouthing by the allies, has brought home a very clear message to the world; many thousand lives were lost for nothing and precious years feeding whole one generation on terror-fear have been wasted. And one trillion dollars of US taxpayers’ hard-income have gone down the drain. Today the Taliban, which the world wanted destroyed, are more formidable than 2011. They will gain further strength from the present stand-off between the US and Pakistan. Al Qaeda sitting on the fence is jubilant as it never expected to realize the desired results so easily. The US obliged al Qaeda by blindly walking into mouse trap called Afghanistan.

The attack which was carried out with operational excellence paralyzing US security apparatus in Afghanistan for 20 hours carries two distinct stamps; it was a Taliban job executed by a few fighters and it could not have been carried out so brilliantly without inside help from the US Embassy. Instead of admitting security and intelligence failure, the US has needlessly started looking for a scapegoat. A senior U.S. official -- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- has publicly fingered the Haqqani network as a tool of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. What's surprising is that this is particularly newsworthy: ISI's contacts with the Haqqanis, like so many other intelligence outfits, have been an open secret for years. What's different, of course, is that the latest Haqqani attack was not on American forces deployed in Afghanistan but on the U.S. embassy in Kabul -- and that the U.S. government possesses unambiguous evidence of official Pakistani complicity in last week's assault.

But the ISI has always been in the limelight or was being seen in bad light by the media. For every act of secession or violence in remote Indian States called Seven Sisters or the Red Corridor or Jammu & Kashmir, finger was invariably pointed in ISI direction. There was a time of sustained campaign against ISI that it was felt that ISI could even be behind earthquakes, epidemics, poverty, caste system injustices and even broken marriages in India. If ISI is helping Afghans fight USSR, it was an excellent force, if it was working to protect Pakistan and its security interests; it is branded as a rogue agency.

The current campaign against ISI has nothing to do with its alleged role in Taliban attack on Kabul and even the US knows that. It is basically a war between ISI and RAW of India for their respective country’s post-US influence in Afghanistan in which the US is siding with RAW when it no longer needs ISI in its WoT. Such wars between the two agencies are not a new phenomenon.

According to Council on Foreign Relations, RAW set up two covert groups of its own in mid-80s, Counter Intelligence Team-X (CIT-X) and Counter Intelligence Team-J (CIT-J), the first targeting Pakistan in general and the second directed at Khalistani groups. The two groups were responsible for carrying out terrorist operations inside Pakistan . Indian journalist and associate editor of Frontline magazine, Praveen Swami, writes that a "low-grade but steady campaign of bombings in major Pakistani cities, notably Karachi and Lahore" was carried out.

According to Council on Foreign Relations, RAW is also accused of supporting Sindhi nationalists demanding a separate state, as well as Siraikis calling for a partition of Pakistan's Punjab to create a separate Siraiki state. India denies these charges. However, experts point out that India has supported insurgents in Pakistan's Balochistan, as well as anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan. But some experts say India no longer does this. Pakistan is suspicious of India's influence in Afghanistan, which it views as a threat to its own interests in the region. Experts say although it is very likely that India has active intelligence gathering in Afghanistan, it is difficult to say whether it is also involved in covert operations.

As against allegations that ISI has contacts with Haqqani Network fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan, RAW has contacts with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighting Pakistani state in Swat, South Waziristan and elsewhere in the tribal region. RAW is many steps ahead of ISI in this respect. It is fanning and fuelling insurgency in Balochistan and FATA and is funding and actually equipping TTP and Baloch insurgents. Some target-killers arrested in recent Karachi unrest confessed to have received training from RAW. No wonder, some call Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as Tehreek-e-RAWliban Pakistan.

Some pundits are worried that Haqqani network, based in North Waziristan, has never attacked an official target in Pakistan - further evidence of its collusive relationship with that country's security services. When their struggle is focused on fighting foreign occupation forces and their collaborators including India, why should these pundits insist the network attack Pakistan which has no role in Kabul? By this flawed logic, TTP fighting Pakistan and having killed 35000 civilians and 3000 security personnel provide evidence of its collusive relationship with RAW and CIA. And mind you, this fight is taking place right inside Pakistan. By all definitions, TTP and Baloch insurgency is proxy war being fought by RAW inside Pakistan. Major objectives of this proxy war are keeping Pakistan away from Afghanistan to give India decisive role in Kabul, keeping China away from Gwadar-China energy corridor and depriving Pakistan from natural resources of Afghanistan.

After the decision of drawdown from Afghanistan, the U.S. calculus has changed. It will now no longer need Pakistan. It will certainly need India to inherit Afghanistan from the NATO forces to keep India-supported ethnic minority in power. This explains why a sustained campaign was launched some months ago to defame and discredit Pakistan’s security establishment which, in their eyes, is major hurdle against India’s foothold in Kabul.  

According to Foreign Policy, Pakistan is no ally when it comes to the endgame in Afghanistan -- and that plays the role of spoiler in America's relationship with the most potentially important rising power of the 21st: century: India. These developments raise the ugly but necessary question of what a completely different - and adversarial -- U.S. approach to Pakistan would look like, one that dispenses of the underlying logic that the countries are allies at all.

The approach bares the US designs of delivering Kabul to India. The divorce papers are ready, which apparently were written quite a long ago. According to the aforementioned article published by Foreign Policy, such an approach would
  1.  Require the United States not to leave Afghanistan to Pakistan's designs but to keep a significant deployment of U.S. troops in place to deter and defeat Islamabad's efforts to renew the sphere of influence it enjoyed there when its Taliban allies were in power.
  2. Call for the CIA to cease cooperating with ISI, which it continues to rely on for access to the region, on the grounds that our fundamental goals are incompatible.
  3. Suggest doubling down on US relationship with India, including supporting a greater Indian strategic, political, and economic presence in Afghanistan which Americans think, would be welcomed by most Afghans as a stabilizing force in a troubled country.
  4. Require the US to convince Beijing not to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of American patronage towards Pakistan; China would need to pursue approaches that complement American’s rather than continuing to provide unqualified support to its “revisionist, increasingly radicalized ally”.
This approach would also require American leaders to take a hard look at their own history in the region. The United States walked away from Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and spent the 1990s sanctioning Pakistan, helping to spawn the anti-Americanism that pervades the officer corps and broader public today.

The article wonders if the Americans are prepared to walk away and sanction Pakistan again, and if they do, are they prepared to deal with the consequences? Or have the current terms of the relationship so manifestly failed that they have no choice?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Global peace demands Balkanization of India …


India is the only major country of the world facing a fiercest insurgency of such a scale that nearly half of the country has plunged into instability imperiling the security of the remaining half. As a matter of fact, destabilized India poses grave risks to the peace and security of not only the region, the world at large will be exposed to destabilization. The sheer size of the country, its nuclear arsenal and its uncontrolled ambition to reign in the world makes it even a bigger monster than Al Qaeda and other such entities.

Presently, seven states of North East India, known as Seven Sisters, and an equal number of states from North East to South West of the country, known as Red Corridor, are up in arms against the Union of India. In the North Western State of Jammu and Kashmir, the independence movement is in full swing considerably eroding the writ of the government. The independence movements and insurgency in India have created security problems, not only for India itself, but the entire region of South Asia. In order to divert public and the world attention from internal security issues, India has kept itself engaged in reckless arms race and raised the bogey of external threat, most notably from Pakistan and China, both nuclear states.

Encircling Pakistan is a broader and medium-term strategic objective of India’s security establishment. The long-term objective is to disintegrate Pakistan and annex it in the Indian Union in line with India’s another strategic objective to reformulate Akhand Bharat. This is being achieved through efforts for extending its influence to Pakistan’s neighboring countries of Iran and Afghanistan. Opening of needless consulates along Pakistan-Afghanistan border to fund, fan and fuel Taliban and Baloch insurgency in order to destabilize its archrival is a part of the bigger game plan. Similarly, building of Chabahar port west of Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar is an attempt to encircle Pakistan and deny China an energy corridor. Its extension of its sphere of influence to Indian Ocean and realigning itself with the states against China to serve American interests on the issue of South China Sea brings into conflict of a bigger proportion. In order to stop India from treading this dangerous trajectory, its internal insurgency needs to be brought under control.

There are serious tensions between Seven Sisters namely; Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland and the Indian government. The movements are generally homegrown and are separatist movements in character. Assam has been the hotbed of militancy for a number of years due to its porous borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan. The insurgency status in Assam is classified as very active. Insurgent groups in Manipur may be broadly classified into hill-based and valley based. While the former demand for tribal state to preserve their tribal cultures from outside influence, the latter based their demands for independence from historical perspective claiming that Manipur a princely state with its geographical area extending to as far as the Kabaw valley of modern Myanmar during the British colonialism and was never a part of India and continues to remain so. The situation is no different in other states.

The Red Corridor is a term used to describe an impoverished region in the east of India that experiences considerable Naxalite communist insurgency. These are also areas that suffer from the greatest illiteracy, poverty and overpopulation in modern India, and span parts of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal states. Naxalites have been declared as a terrorist organization under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of India (1967). According to Govt. of India, as of July 2011, 83 districts (figure includes proposed addition of 20 districts) across nine states are affected by Left Wing Extremism down from 180 districts in 2009.

The insurgency in Kashmir has existed in various forms since the controversial accession of State to Indian Union. Thousands of lives have been lost since 1989 due to the intensification of both the insurgency and the state brutalities to curb it. According to official figures released in Jammu and Kashmir assembly (Indian controlled), there were 3,400 disappearance cases and the conflict has left more than 47,000 people dead as of July 2009.A widespread armed insurgency started in Kashmir with the disputed 1987 election with some elements from the State's assembly forming militant wings which acted as a catalyst for the emergence of armed insurgency in the region. This region has been a source of tension and reason for three wars between India and Pakistan and, after both the states have become nuclear-armed states, it can become a flashpoint of nuclear showdown.

India's Northeast consisting of the Seven Sisters is one of South Asia's hottest trouble spots, not simply because the region has as many as 30 armed insurgent organizations operating and fighting the Indian state, but because trans-border linkages that these groups have, and strategic alliances among them, have acted as force multipliers and have made the conflict dynamics all the more intricate. With demands of these insurgent groups ranging from secession to autonomy and the right to self-determination, and a plethora of ethnic groups clamoring for special rights and the protection of their distinct identity, the region is bound to be a turbulent one.

Moreover, the location of the eight northeastern Indian States itself is part of the reason why it has always been a hotbed of militancy with trans-border ramifications. This region of 263,000 square kilometers shares highly porous and sensitive frontiers with China in the North, Myanmar in the East, Bangladesh in the South West and Bhutan to the North West. The region's strategic location is underlined by the fact that it shares a 4,500 km-long international border with its four South Asian neighbors, but is connected to the Indian mainland by a tenuous 22 km-long land corridor passing through Siliguri in the eastern State of West Bengal, appropriately described as the ‘Chicken's Neck.'

The situation in the Red Corridor is no less grave. The first 25 years of the Naxalite insurgency were characterized by the communist principles on which the movement was founded. Fighting for land reform, the rebels gained support from the impoverished rural populations of eastern and central India. The Maoist rebellion quickly adopted violence and terror as the core instruments of its struggle against the Indian authority. Primary targets included railway tracks, post offices, and other state infrastructure, demonstrating the Maoists’ commitment to undermining a central government that they believed exploited low castes and rural populations. As states and the central government employed uncoordinated and underfunded responses to the Naxalites, the threat expanded beyond West Bengal and its neighboring states.

In 2004, the two predominant rebel groups, the Maoist Communist Center (MCC) and the People’s War Group (PWG), merged together. The resulting Communist Party of India (Maoist) emerged as a solidified base of power for the Naxalites, with a stated goal of overthrowing the Indian government. It has developed in its modern form as a rebellion that comprises up to 40,000 permanent armed cadres and 100,000 additional militia members.

The nascent stages of the movement reflected the stark contrast between urbanized areas of India and the primarily rural, underdeveloped regions of Naxalite influence. With the Maoist rebels firmly entrenched in geographically remote areas, Indian government resources remained dedicated to urban security and development concerns. As India looks increasingly to its east for vital resources, the conflict continues to expand beyond the principles of its origin. With a growing population and new development initiatives that require additional coal-powered electricity sources, India’s urban centers have come into direct contact with the states most affected by the Naxalite uprising: West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Containing 85 percent of India’s coal reserves, these states have presented insurgents with an opportunity both to strike at the heart of national interests and to seek economic profit of their own.

This brief description of Indian insurgency shows that India has serious problems with all its neighboring states who India wants to bully into submission in order to quell the insurgency. Its problems having potential of triggering regional wars of nuclear proportions are with Pakistan and China.

In the interest of global peace, it is essential to break India into smaller states to thwart the risk of global anarchy and regional wars. The long-standing demand of Jammu and Kashmir for independence, already accepted by the world community should be translated into reality. The states of the Red Corridor may be given autonomy and the Seven Sisters should be accepted as ethnic and cultural entity for statehood. If India gets rid of these warring states, it can progress as a vibrant country, it neighbors will have a measure of safety and security and the world at large will be immune to any disorder which is staring it in the face at the moment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Haqqani Network, Pakistan connection and shattered dreams of Afghanistan peace…..

Those who had any illusion of peace in NATO-occupied Afghanistan are in for a big disappointment. Successful attacks in Kabul in the last nine months are a sufficient testimony to the fact that NATO forces are losing ground in Afghanistan. Along the ground, they are losing patience and sanity. The latest turban-bomb attack to kill Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban peace ambassador shows that as long as Karzai and company (read: Uncle Sam) holds the reins of power in Kabul, peace can never return to this hapless country. The assassination of the representative of non-Pashtun minority but a key Afghan political figure Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the commission meant to negotiate with the Taliban, the High Peace Council (HPC), signals the massive challenges ahead in efforts to end the war. This indicates one thing in clear terms; the peace initiative to be successful has to come from the ethnic majority in Afghanistan.

As expected, the blame for this murder has been laid at the doorstep of Haqqani Network. And to justify NATO forces’ inability to maintain order in Afghanistan, the Network is being shown as a Pakistan-supported formidable force. Before analyzing the situation and drawing conclusion if the Network indeed has its home-base in Pakistan, let us look at the timeline of recent attacks in Afghanistan:

Sept 20 - A Taliban representative meeting with Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, detonates a bomb hidden under a turban and kills him at his Kabul home.
Sept 13 - Insurgents holed up on five different floors of a partially constructed building shower Kabul's diplomatic enclave with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire for 20 hours, while three suicide bombers -- one prevented -- strike police compounds elsewhere in the city. Five Afghan police and 11 civilians, including children, are killed. The U.S. blamed the attack, the most coordinated militant assault on Kabul since the war began in 2001 on the Taliban-linked Haqqani network based on Pakistan's northwest border with Afghanistan.
Aug 19 - Taliban attackers lay siege to a British cultural centre, killing at least nine people during an hours-long assault on the 92nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from British rule. A suicide bomber in car blew himself up in front of the gate of the British Council before dawn, and another car packed with explosives detonated moments later while four attackers, three of them men clad in burqa cloak worn by Afghan women, stormed the compound.
June 28 - At least 10 Afghan civilians are killed when suicide bombers and heavily armed Taliban insurgents attacked the Intercontinental hotel, Afghan officials said.
May 21 - A suicide bomber kills six people and wounds 23 when he strikes the cafeteria of a military hospital in a heavily guarded area.
Jan 28 - A suicide attack on a supermarket in the embassy district kills at least nine people, including a prominent Afghan doctor, his rights activist wife and four of their children.

The series of attacks deep inside Kabul speaks clearly that it was more for failure of NATO forces than anything else that the attacks were successfully planned and executed. Pakistan could be a convenient scapegoat but realistic view of the events would reveal that the accusations are only meant to cover the ineffective intelligence network and inefficient response system. This also indicates that majority of Afghan citizens have sympathies with the attackers which totally blinded the intelligence assets of Afghanistan and NATO. Daily Express Tribune, in an article titled, America’s SPECTRE syndrome in Afghanistan has very brilliantly analyzed why Pakistan has nothing to do with these attacks and why North Waziristan Agency cannot be home-base for the attackers. According to this analysis, the Afghanistan problem is not just about the Haqqani Network. Afghanistan has multiple problems, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Haqqanis. Even if the Haqqani Network were entirely taken out, Afghanistan would remain largely the same. In fact, if the only stumbling block between an Afghanistan gone bad and an idyllic Afghanistan were the Network, Afghanistan would have been a piece of cake, not the wicked problem it has become.

According to the article, the attacks clearly show that the line of communication of the insurgents cannot stretch back to North Waziristan. All these attacks have happened deep inside the Afghan territory and indicate the steady loss of control of territory by the Afghan government and the foreign troops. If, for the sake of the argument it is conceded that the Taliban line of communication does extend back to North Waziristan, then the ability of the fighters to go deep in and mount attacks makes an utter mockery of the military and intelligence capabilities of the US and its allies despite the tremendous resources at their disposal.

Is this network operating to further the aims of al Qaeda? The evidence suggests that it has nothing to do with this outfit as it does not target Pakistan, its citizens and its security apparatus. It has confined its operations in Afghanistan and against the occupation forces. A recent interview of Siraj Haqqani with Reuters suggest that they rejected previous attempts at talks by the US and the Afghan government because those overtures were aimed at “creating divisions” among the Taliban. It is therefore misleading to suggest that the Haqqanis operate outside the overall strategic objectives of the Taliban.

Mullah Omar’s Eid-ul-Fitr message, more reconciliatory than the one delivered previous year, speaks about some change in their stance. This message deals with three basic points: the Afghanistan-specific focus of the Taliban; their readiness to negotiate meaningfully, and a warning to the neighbors to desist from interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Another important motif running through that message was Taliban’s inclusive approach to governance. This also shows that Taliban have come to accept that they cannot rule Afghanistan to the exclusion of other entities.

But the world has to make a clear distinction between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP and its affiliates.

In view of the fact that Haqqani Network may not be the sole reason of humiliating defeat of the mightiest armies, it is beyond comprehension that USA is pressuring Pakistan into launching an attack on the so-called sanctuaries of the Network in NWA. This is particularly disturbing in view of the circumstantial evidence (ability of the Network to operate deep into Afghan capital) that the sanctuaries may have been relocated to somewhere in Afghanistan. Is this pressure a sincere effort to salvage Afghanistan situation for the US? For the sake of argument, if we concede that the Network is indeed hiding in NWA and Pakistan Army’s operation will weaken their ability to attack US interests in Afghanistan, will this give some sort of face saving to the retreating NATO forces? What should be the priority of Pakistan’s security establishment? To attack and eliminate the elements of TTP and al Qaeda attacking Pakistan or further thin out its resources to fight those who are a threat to NATO forces? This is where interests of Pakistan and USA do not converge and they will have to find a middle ground to come to an understanding. The circumstances point to the fact that the problem exists within Afghanistan and should be sorted out by NATO and Afghan National Army.

The only way-forward to peace in Afghanistan is purely home-grown initiative keeping in view the demographic realities. Any proposal based on any other consideration will complicate the matters further and push Afghanistan into a never-ending chaos and anarchy.