Saturday, February 2, 2013

Handing over Gwadar Port to China is now too little too late….

If we infer from empirical evidence that Gwadar Deep-sea port on Makran Coast is first of the three major factors of Balochistan insurgency, it will not be an exaggeration. The other two factors are natural gas and oil reservoirs in Balochistan which are “weapons of mass destruction” attracting attention of the West and the USA; and of course Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. The Gwadar Port has both commercial and strategic significance. It commercial significance hurts economic interests of Pakistan’s so-called friends in the Umma and its strategic importance hurts India and the US. The port was built by China and is undoubtedly a precious gem in the String of Pearls. It gives China a shortest possible route for its import of oil from the Gulf and it gives China and Pakistan a strategic advantage over Indian-built Chabahar port West of Gwadar in Iran.

India and the USA along with UAE had openly opposed the construction of the port through funding and fueling armed resistance in Balochistan. Major outcome of this insurgency is inability of Pakistani government to build enabling infrastructure of rail and roads through Balochistan thus making the port dysfunctional. The operator of the port, Port of Singapore Authority had no long-term stakes in the infrastructure; therefore, it remained dormant while the port was dysfunctional.  During this period, the insurgency remained under check except for media war fought by separatists highlighting the issue of their foot soldiers’ having disappeared.

However, the situation is changing and there is a gross danger of wide-spread insurgency and renewed wave of fighting because of a recent decision of Pakistani government to say goodbye to Port of Singapore Authority and hand over operation of Gwadar deep-sea port to a Chinese corporation. It does not augur well for Pakistan, at least in the near term. This will usher the country in general and the province of Balochistan in particular, into a renewed spate of fierce fighting, killings, terrorist attacks and enhanced level of insurgent and separatist operations. Those opposing this port will try once again to activate the insurgency and do whatever they can to fund and arm the insurgents to make it impossible for China to make the port functional and build the enabling infrastructure. This is what they have been doing ever since construction of the port started.

This decision will inject a certain amount of realpolitik sense to the rhetoric of higher-than-mountains and deeper-than-oceans Sino-Pakistan relations. The United States and Pakistan are not exactly on the best of terms, China is a rising power, they share a common interest in containing India which is in direct conflict with US interests in the region.  As a result, there has been the occasional press story about closer ties, which begets the inevitable U.S.-based blog posts about China expanding its "string of pearls" strategy of more deep-water ports in the Asia/Pacific region. There are some analysts who would want us to believe that this latest development would neither please China nor annoy the US. According to them, a rising China with global ambitions is unlikely to supplant the United States in Pakistan, according to Chinese experts on Pakistan, as well as Pakistani and American officials. And while Pakistan’s latest flirtations with Beijing have been received cordially, Pakistani officials have walked away from their junkets with far less in hand than they might have hoped. This is because “China’s core interests lie elsewhere — in its competition with the United States and in East Asia,. China has shown little interest in propping up the troubled Pakistani economy, consistently passing up opportunities to do so.”

According to a New York Times story, Chinese Firm will Run Strategic Pakistani Port, the fate of Gwadar, once billed as Pakistan’s answer to the bustling port city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been a focus of speculation about China’s military and economic ambitions in South Asia for the past decade. Some American strategists have described it as the westernmost link in the “string of pearls,” a line of China-friendly ports stretching from mainland China to the Persian Gulf, that could ultimately ease expansion by the Chinese Navy in the region. Gwadar is close to the Strait of Hormuz, an important oil-shipping lane. But other analysts note that Gwadar is many years from reaching its potential, and they suggest that fears of creeping Chinese influence might be overblown.

The New York Times is confident that despite Pakistan prostrating itself before China, Beijing has been extremely leery of getting too enmeshed in that country.  It has rejected repeated requests for military basing, and only now has a commercial Chinese company agreed to manage a port that appears to be the Pakistani exemplar of "white elephant. 

The handing over of port operations to Port of Singapore Authority was flawed in the first place. This port should have been operated by China from day one. The decision at this stage is too late too little to say the least. But it will have perilous fallout for the province of Balochistan, for the country and the security establishment. The Court and the media, in the meantime, will have a field day for the reasons best known to everyone.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Afghanistan will continue to be epicenter of regional instability even after 2014 ….


Those who have pinned hopes for peace and stability in South Asian region on withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan in 2014 are in for a rude shock and disappointment. The region has all the potential plunge into more instability after competing interests of Pakistan, Iran, India and China come into play and each stakeholder tries, through its proxies, to have its pound of flesh. If history is any guide, Afghanistan is destined to live in war and bloodshed or, to the horror of the world, be captured and ruled by the Taliban. The Taliban proudly claim to have resisted, fought and forced the draw-down and, thus, are the bona fide contender for the throne of Kabul. If we build a future scenario on the basis of aftermath of withdrawal of Soviet forces in February, 1989, the picture that would emerge is not in the interest of any of the power brokers. The worst victims of the death and mayhem will be Afghanistan itself followed by Pakistan. Pakistan is primary target of terrorists of all hues but after the draw-down, the world at large will experience a tidal flow of terrorist activities.

The US has considered in detail the possibility of handing over Afghanistan to Afghan National Security Forces. This would also be a recipe for disaster because credible sources have indicated near complete infiltration of the Taliban in Afghan National Army. Recent incidents of Green-on-Blue attacks have confirmed the worst fears of security analysts. Common Afghans are no less hostile to the coalition forces which has amply been demonstrated by successful attacks of the Taliban in the heart of most-guarded district of the Afghan capital. These attacks could not be successful without the aid of, and connivance with, the local Afghans. 

The coalition (read: the US) would, thus, be back to square one after withdrawal of its troops and would have wasted trillions of taxpayers’ dollars and precious human lives in Afghan misadventure. This does not include “collateral damage” in thousands killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan and destruction of physical infrastructure.

According to an analysis of a senior Pakistani diplomat, American policymakers need to face up to three harsh realities in Afghanistan. One, the US-NATO presence in Afghanistan is now opposed by the majority of Afghans. The circle of alienation has widened progressively. At first, the ousted Taliban were the aggrieved party; US-NATO tactical errors and expanded military presence in south and east Afghanistan extended the alienation to most Pakhtuns. The corruption of Karzai and his coterie deepened popular hostility. Two, for different reasons, both of Afghanistan’s critical neighbors —Pakistan and Iran — are now anxious to ensure the withdrawal of US-NATO troops and have no incentive at present to support Washington’s policy objectives to transition power to a ‘moderate’ Afghan government.

Americans have such a remarkable knack for turning friends into foes for no plausible reason. Iran cooperated initially in ousting the Taliban and installing the Tajik-dominated regime in Kabul. But its inclusion in George W. Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ and the subsequent escalation of US sanctions and military threats against Iran’s nuclear program have placed Tehran firmly among America’s detractors in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the US relationship with Pakistan has deteriorated to unprecedented depths. The aerial shooting spree which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border added ultimate injury to the insult of the major strategic reversals that Pakistan’s involvement in America’s ‘war on terror’ has entailed — a hostile Tajik-dominated regime in Kabul, a fight with Pakistan’s own Pakhtuns and militants, an open back door for India to do mischief in western Pakistan, the collapse of the Kashmiri freedom struggle, and the one-sided US ‘strategic partnership’ with India. To top it all, the US has accepted the Karzai-Tajik narrative that it is the ‘safe havens’ in Pakistan, rather than internal Afghan disaffection that is driving the insurgency against the foreign forces in Afghanistan. It is a most convenient excuse for failure, for US generals and politicians.

The third reality is the growing opposition to the Afghan war in America. If the US army had been a conscript force today, as in Vietnam, and those who were fighting and dying were not only the children of the poor but also the rich, the Afghan adventure would have been long over. In the US Congress, calls for withdrawal now emanate from both left and right. Some hard-liners say that the aim of defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has been achieved. Most are weary of expending more money and blood for objectives whose strategic value to the US is, at best, marginal.

With these realities, it is not difficult to anticipate that the Taliban can exploit the popular disaffection to bring about an internal collapse of the Kabul regime. Anticipating the growing compulsion for US withdrawal, and their inevitable victory, the Taliban will negotiate with the US on their own terms. With nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, the possibilities of Israel’s misadventure in Iran with US help have diminished but with sanctions still in place, the US is virtually all alone to deal with the mess it has created for itself in Afghanistan. Although its relations with Pakistan are improving after Salala incident, the trust deficit still continues to haunt the relationship. With growing anti-US sentiment in Pakistan, it would be impossible for any administration in Pakistan to go out of the way and bail out Americans from the Afghanistan conundrum.

The US has failed not only in achieving its objectives of Afghanistan misadventure; its complete withdrawal will unleash a series of terrorist attack outside the South Asian region where al Qaeda has extended its franchise. According to an analysis by The National Interest, developments elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa will compound the emergence of this new threat in South Asia. Although al Qaeda al Jihad is based on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, it influences threat groups in North Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula. Groups from outside the region, notably the Middle East, are likely to return to Afghanistan and play primary and peripheral training and operational roles.

According to this analysis, recent developments would catalyze the spread of terror activities Middle East and Africa and draw people in hordes to al Qaeda message. The Israeli attack in Gaza in November 2012 increased global Muslim resentment and anger against the West. Africa is developing as a new epicenter of terrorism. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) expanded from North Africa to the Sahel. AQIM shared its expertise with Boko Haram (BH) in Nigeria. In November 2012, Abu Bakr Shekau, its leader, expressed BH's solidarity with associates of al Qaeda al Jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, Somalia and Yemen. After Qaddafi's fall, North Mali has emerged as a training ground and a battlefield.

Therefore, the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan will usher the world at large and particularly the Muslim countries in Asia, Middle East and Africa to a new era of infighting, civil wars and terrorism. Functionally and regionally, developments in Afghanistan will be the most influential. The Salafi-Jihadists and a segment of Islamists consider Afghanistan “the mother of all battles.” If the jihadists reconstitute Afghanistan for a second time, it will affect not only Western security but also will impact Asia’s rise. Driven by success, returning fighters will reignite conflicts in Kashmir, Xinjiang, Uzbekistan, Mindanao, Arakan, Pattani, tribal Pakistan and other Muslim lands. With half of India already in the clutches of insurgency, the emerging scenario will only help strengthen instability of the South Asian region.

Monday, January 7, 2013

US military's boss needs Israel's blessings for his appointment....

The nominated boss of US military machines has to fight his way through Senate confirmation proceedings before he takes the driving seat to stop and think about US global wars. He is a staunch critic of Israel and some believe that if he had earned ire of Israel, he may have to work very hard to be appointed US Defense Secretary. Criticizing Israel is no less than an act of blasphemy and criticism by someone from the US can dash all his hopes to be someone important in the administration. Sen. Chuck Hegel from Nebraska and a decorated Vietnam veteran, recently nominated to take the reins of US war machine as Secretary Defense is expected to face tough resistance from pro-Israeli lobby in the Senate. His acts of commission include the unforgivable stand against Israel. His appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate where Republicans are keenly awaiting to quiz him on Israel and his other controversial views resented by Israel. They openly describe him to be the most antagonistic secretary of defense towards the state of Israel in our nation's history.
Does his nomination for the coveted slot give any indication of US ignoring the concerns of its ally, Israel? Can he survive the onslaught and be confirmed by pro-Israeli lobby in the Senate? Let us see.
According to The Telegraph, despite being a fellow Republican who sat in the Senate for the party from 1997 to 2009, Mr. Hagel holds markedly less hawkish views on foreign and military policy than many former colleagues. The 66-year-old Vietnam veteran endorsed Mr. Obama, a Democrat, in 2008, having criticized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and urging a less gung-ho approach to America's alliance with Israel. In a 2006 interview he said that the "political reality" of Washington was that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here", prompting allegations that his views verged on anti-Semitic. But he dismissed the criticism by aligning himself with US interests saying, "I'm not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator.” Mr. Hagel also voted against sanctions on Iran and urged Israel to engage in direct talks with Hamas, the militant Islamic group.
He is the one who, without mincing his words, clearly stated the motive for attacking Iraq in 2003. He said, “People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America's national interest. What the hell do you think they're talking about? We're not there for figs.”
Michael Moore, in his article addressed Mr Hagel saying, “thank you, Chuck Hagel. We may not agree on much, but we agree that politicians should tell the truth about war and peace and life and death. We're all in your debt for that -- especially since, when it comes to Iraq and oil, President Obama's first Republican Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, couldn't manage it.
Mr Hagel may or may not sail through hostile confirmation proceedings in the Senate, but his nomination indicates that Obama administration is not impressed with the policies of present Israeli administration. This could be due to many reasons, chiefly among them being Prime Minister Netanyahu's open preference for the Republicans in the US election two months ago. According to ALJAZEERA, one reason for Obama's apparent indifference may be that there is almost no possibility that Netanyahu will not be the next prime minister. The only question is whether Netanyahu's next government will be as far right (and pro-settlement expansion) as his current government or much farther to the right.
Israel’s stakes in who-occupies-White-House are very high. Every Israeli is aware that without the support of President Obama, Israel would be in desperate straits. The United States provides Israel with billions of dollars of aid a year, aid which is used to purchase the weapon systems that sustains Israel's "military edge" which enables it to both maintain the occupation and defend itself. That aid also provides Israel with the economic cushion it needs to preserve its immunity to the recession that has afflicted most of the world. It is the President of the United States who decides whether to stand (virtually alone) with Israel at the United Nations, using veto to block any resolution that Israel opposes. It is the President who has adopted Israel's position on Iranian nuclear development as his own, leading the effort to punish Iran with sanctions and reiterating Israeli threats that there will be war if Iran develops nuclear weapons (despite the fact that Israel is said to have some 200 warheads).
In short, Israel is almost entirely dependent on the President of the United States. As for Congress, it matters too but, on all foreign policy matters, it is the President who leads. That is how the United States Constitution works. It is the President who defends the national interest abroad. 
But there is an emerging consensus by analysts that US interests are being damaged by Israel's current course, because an Israeli government dominated by ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists impacts on US standing throughout the world. After all, the world (and not just the Muslim world) understands that Americans are Israel's enabler. By opposing Hagel and preventing his nomination, pro-Israeli lobby is trying to show to the administration that they are a force to reckon with. That is probably why it is time for President Obama to send a clear message to Israel by nominating former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. There is only one way to send a message to Israel that will be heard: It will be by nominating Hagel. 

Please also read:

Can Chuck Hagel survive the onslaught of pro-Israel lobby?