Sunday, 26 September 2010

Afghanistan's Pipeline Develpments, Minerals and Systemic Corruption

The problem with most journalism on Afghanistan is the way the severe problems facing it have been consistently separated in to neat packages: Afghanistan is not progressing towards being a liberal democracy and nationhood due to Corruption, or else the Role of Opium's, Women's Liberation ,the ongoing "War on Terror" and so on.

Yet increasingly the unifying factor that explains why the international military and aid "community" is there is "Development" and by that it is understood but never mentioned that this is tied together with the building of the TAPI pipeline. The geopolitical reality is seldom mentioned in the media in Europe or the USA.

Throughout August and September 2010, media channels and business journals elsewhere have regularly been reporting on the developments surrounding the TAPI pipeline, an essential part of NATO geostrategy in constructing a rival to the IPI pipeline, thus driving a wedge between Iran and nations such as China.

Those in denial about the centrality of the the TAPI Pipeline have continually argued that just because Turkmenistan has sought to get it built, that this does not mean it will go ahead and cannot be a central war aim. Something flatly contradicted by the evidence.

Just three days ago and shortly following Turkmenistan's decision to push the other countries that signed the pipeline construction deal in 2008 along with the Asian Development Bank ( the majority of the shares of which are controlled by Western nations like the US, Canada and Australia ), Oil And Gas Eurasia wrote,
Afghanistan will be able to protect the safety of the largest economic project in the region - the TAPI gas pipeline, which is meant to pump gas from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, Afghanistan Mining and Ores Minister Vakhidullah Shakhrani said during a news conference in Kabul Wednesday.

Shakhrani said that in areas where the pipeline would cross territory controlled by the Taliban, "The pipeline will be buried in the ground and local communities (tribes) will be paid to protect it", he said.

"This large project is very important to Afghanistan - we will be paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year for gas transit and this will open huge possibilities for creating new jobs, both when building the pipeline and after it is launched", the minister said.
Such facts allow understanding of the agenda underlying Arbabzadar's assertion that,
Last week's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan revealed a society in transition, displaying signs of genuine democratic progress as well its opposite: persistent sociopolitical stagnation. But progress and backlash against it have traditionally co-existed in Afghanistan.

True, but it has been believed that the key to reversing that, giving people a stake in identifying with Western hegemony in Afghanistan and Central Asia will be getting a flourishing economy and that the TAPI pipeline is essential in creating an energy corridor and generating millions in transit fees.

Yet as the scale of the corruption shows, the elites coalitioned by the US are all jockeying for the position and influence to grab control of that revenue. And there is no necessary reason why the "outs" will not turn to opium cultivation to maintain their interests and wealth.

When the progress of TAPI pipeline is mentioned, as it has been by Reuters numerous times, it only gets circulated in Asian media. Mention of it in the Guardian or other mainstream media is officially verboten. Indeed when the prime minister of Germany recently mentioned TAPI he was forced to resign.

Moreover when it is reported no connection is made between it and the continuation of the war in Afghanistan. Oddly enough, pipeline deniers seem to ignore the evidence coming from the Afghan government about the important of the TAPI pipeline,

*Pipeline, valued at $3.3 bln, to run through Taliban areas

*Minister says tight security will be in place

*Confident project will attract foreign investment

By Emma Graham-Harrison

KABUL, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Afghanistan will secure a planned international gas pipeline through the Taliban heartland by burying sections underground and paying local communities to guard it, the mining minister said on Wednesday.

Wahidullah Shahrani also said he was confident the project -- valued at $3.3 billion and which would run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India (TAPI) -- could secure international funding.
It already has official backing. The ADB is dominated by Western prospectors. Much of the "progressive propaganda" is about building confidence in the success of Afghanistan to this end. The word "stable and secure" mean secure enough for the pipeline which will run run through Helmand where 106 British troops died.

Naturally, the children, that is to say the electorate in the UK and USA or Germany or elsewhere in NATO nations , cannot be allowed to know this. The TAPI pipeline can only be an issue for investors in the business section. So the journalism has shifted along with official propaganda.

The Reuters despatch was buried in the business and energy new section. This important development is never allowed to intrude into the consciousness of the news reading public in the West. Not least because of the way liberal interventionist platitudes predominate over looking at geopolitical realities.
"This huge project is very important to Afganistan," Shahrani told a news conference in the capital, Kabul.

"We will be earning a transit fee of hundreds of millions of dollars each year, it will create tremendous job opportunities for the people of Afghanistan during and after the construction, and the major population centres along the pipeline will benefit from the gas supplies," he said.
Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ordered that the project be completed and operational by 2014, one of Shahrani's aides told Reuters, so the four countries are working at top speed to complete preliminaries before seeking investors.
The pressure is on also as democratic governments in the West want closure on Afghanistan and getting the TAPI pipeline going so that they can replace NATO troops in Helmand with Afghan troops, what is called "Afghanistanisation".

Reuters reported,
The pipeline route takes it through areas of extreme instability. In Afghanistan it would snake from western Herat, near the border with Iran, through the southern Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar.

The central government has only a tenuous grip on much of this territory, despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops meant to bolster security.

This flatly contradicts what Michael Williams reported last weekend in The Guardian about the mission of British troops in Helmand being a success in defeating most of the Taliban in the region.
But Shahrani said he was confident Afghanistan could secure the pipeline. Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are all hungry for more energy but are at times uneasy neighbours.

"The government will provide security along the line, which in most places will be 2 metres underground," Shahrani said.

Naturally, there is no mention of direct Western involvement in pushing for the TAPI pipeline. No mention of the fact Australia wants LNG from India as a geostrategic aim nor that the ADB is made up mostly from Western intererests and not from Asian nations.
The four countries, which are currently being advised by the Asian Development Bank, aim to set up a consortium of international investors. They are currently working with a transaction adviser, Shahrani's aide said.
There is no mention of who this "transaction adviser" actually is. Nor where he comes from. Arbabzadar thinks that such linkages between corrupt Afghan elites and US democracy promotion is merely "ironical". Perhaps that it is merely a logical consequence of policy is unthinkable
Observers have also noted the conspicuous presence of a new class of wealthy Afghans who owe their wealth to reconstruction and contracts with the US army. Members of this new business class have been observed trying to buy votes, either by paying henchmen to stuff ballot boxes or by entering into deals with community leaders.

It is highly ironic that the same class that is the greatest financial beneficiary of the US mission is also the one that is undermining democracy through corruption and in doing so, damaging the US's reputation in Afghanistan.

What an ironic world we live in.

On the Theme of Corruption

Shahrani himself represents the way that the TAPI pipeline is inextricably part of NATO's mission and the manner in which the connection between corrupt Afghan elites and the US and NATO cannot separated in the way often done. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan website states,
In early January 2010, Mr. Wahidullah Shahrani assumed the role of Minister of Mines, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Mr. Shahrani was a key interlocutor for the international financial institutions and bilateral donors. His notable achievements in economic and fiscal reform are recognized by the international community.

He was the Alternate Governor for the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, and the World Bank. He was also the focal point of Afghanistan with all the major International development Agencies such as USAID, DFID, CIDA, BMZ, SIDA etc.

Immediately prior to those roles, Mr. Shahrani served as the First Deputy Governor of the central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank) where he was responsible for monetary policy, banking supervision, market operations as well as Alternate Governor of Afghanistan at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The connection between the Afghan elites, the West and corruption has been anything other than "ironic". True, Shahrani was brought in to reduce corruption. Yet the colossal sell off of Afghanistan's hard mineral wealth to the West and China inevitably leads to pathological struggles for control.
Any major mining efforts would be coordinated through Afghanistan’s ministry of mines, which some US officials have described as incompetent: There are no major mines operating in Afghanistan today. It also has a reputation as one of the country’s most corrupt institutions.
As Al Jazeera reported in The Great Game is set to get a new twist in the race to tap the country's mineral wealth ( Gregg Carlstrom ) 15 June 2010
Wahidullah Shahrani, the current minister of mines, took office just five months ago. His predecessor, Mohammad Ibrahim Adel, was accused last year of accepting a $30 million bribe from a Chinese mining firm in exchange for a contract to develop the lucrative Aynak copper field.

Before that, in 2006, Adel was accused of accepting a bribe from Mahmoud Karzai, a brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, in exchange for control of a cement factory.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the mining ministry postponed awarding a major iron ore deposit in central Afghanistan. The report suggested that the bidding process had been marred by corruption.

The Pentagon’s announcement is likely to set off a scramble for Afghanistan’s minerals, particularly among its neighbors. China and India both have extensive economic ties with Afghanistan, and a huge need for raw minerals. But with no history of large-scale mining operations, poor security, and corrupt oversight, there are huge obstacles to the Afghan people seeing any benefit from their natural resources.

.....political scientists have long warned of the "resource curse": countries with extensive natural resources often develop far more slowly than those without.

"The particularly corrosive effect that the theft of these resources can have is to make politicians who were powerful and possibly corrupt even less accountable to the people," said Mike Davis, a London-based analyst with the activist group Global Witness. "It increases their capacity to do everything from rig elections to building up militias."

"It's really like pouring petrol on a fire that's already out of control," he said.
What this points to is that the Afghanistan War was flawed from the beginning, an attempt to promote "Democratic Geopolitics" where the geopolitics and the need for resources and greed have appeared to have proved the mantra of Liberal Humanitarianism to be a propaganda rationalisation.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Compare and Contrast: Views on Sandrin, Afghanistan 2010.

With the withdrawal of British troops from the Sangrin area of Helmand in Afghanistan, it is instructive to compare accounts. The Guardian had a piece by Michael Williams that put forth the view that British deployment there has resulted in the Taliban almost being defeated entirely.
Sangin should have been the easiest place in all of Afghanistan for the Taliban to hold. It is extremely isolated and its people are incredibly impoverished, poorly educated and dependent on the narcotics industry. They have historically fiercely opposed any foreign presence (including Afghans from other parts of the country). Instead, thanks largely to the efforts of British troops, it is very much in play – if the Afghan government wants to look after it.
Yet compare this to two other sources which said something rather different, only a month ago.

Afghanistan: In Search of the True Civilian Toll

Monday 09 August 2010 soon we entered Sangin district, I could feel that we had entered Taliban territory.

We were stopped frequently by the Taliban. I was expecting to be killed at any moment, but they just looked at our car and let us go.

When we got to the district center of Sangin, I saw Afghan Army bases. . . but just a kilometer outside the center we were once again in Taliban country. . .on one side you can see the black, red and green of the Afghan national flag, while just 300 meters away the white Taliban banner waves.

About three kilometers outside of Sangin district center I began to see NATO bases. We passed them, and entered Sarwan Kala, which is controlled by the Taliban.

“I am going with you!” said one of the villagers.

Abdul Karim took the wheel and seemed very competent. There were Taliban checkpoints every 100 meters or so, but he managed to talk us through them easily.

Finally we got to Rigi. The first thing we saw was a cemetery, called Faqir Baba. Residents told me they had buried 24 bodies from the strike there.

We found the compound that was hit. There was a gathering in front of it.

The compound was almost completely destroyed.

Mohammad Khan, a 15-year-old boy, told me the story.

"The Taliban attacked the American and Afghan forces and a short fight broke out between them. The people of Joshali decided to evacuate the village, so we came here to Rigi - women, children, old and young, all of us.

“They put the women and children in one big compound and the men stayed outside. It was around three in the afternoon that we saw helicopters in the air. The men fired on the helicopters from the ground with AK-47s. I ran towards the compound and told the children to go inside. Some obeyed me and some just stayed outside to see what was happening. Suddenly I heard a big boom and I was knocked down. There was dust everywhere. I could not hear anything. When the dust settled, I ran towards the compound. I saw human bodies scattered everywhere. I started looking for my mother, and finally found her, covered with blood and dust. I pulled her out of the ruins. I found three of my little brothers too, near my mother. They were all dead.”

Afghanistan Will Only Get Worse

September 14, 2010 ( New York Times )

the Western coalition is in a quagmire in the south and the Taliban are winning in the north, consolidating their grip in the east, and slowly encircling Kabul.

Having concentrated the bulk of its forces in the south, the coalition is not able to contain the Taliban in other parts of the country.

When I was traveling across Afghanistan in the spring, the Taliban’s momentum was already clear. And safety conditions continue to deteriorate. This summer, when I returned only a few months later, the situation was even worse.

The Taliban’s control of the south is apparent in the inability of U.S. troops to extend any control beyond their bases.

In the districts where the fighting is most intense, the population is primarily on the side of the insurgents.

80 percent of Afghanistan has no state structure left. This means that there is no credible Afghan partner for the United States to work with. And where the government has lost its grip and the American-led coalition is losing, the Taliban are filling the void.

A telling example is that international nongovernmental organizations are increasingly working directly with the Taliban. The NGOs negotiate directly with Taliban leaders to ensure access to the Afghan people and carry out their programs.

The coalition will not defeat this increasingly national insurgency.

British Withdrawal From Sangin in Helmand-Mission Incomplete.

Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.

There is no credulity so eager and blind as the credulity of covetness, which, in its universal extent, measures the moral misery and the intellectual destitution of mankind.
Joseph Conrad, Nostromo ( 1904 )

The withdrawal of British troops from Sangin area of Helmand Province in Afghanistan has been occasioned by the usual propaganda that somehow it was unquestionably all 'worth it', despite one-third of British troop deaths happening there in a decade long war in the space of the last year alone

As usual, there is almost no indication in the British media looking at what is crucially at stake.

Continually we have been told it is about a whole host of auxiliary aims that sound great on paper and yet do not add up to a convincing picture of why British soldiers are really fighting and dying in Afghanistan.

The War in Afghanistan is not centrally concerned with "The War on Terror". Al Qaida can operate as Jason Burke has suggested from anywhere in the world as a "network of networks". It has not since 2001 operated from Afghanistan.

The Taliban that NATO is fighting was never the same as the Taliban , all lumped together as "Jihadi Islamists" by messianic neoconservative propagandists for War whether New Labour's Denis MacShane or the Conservative Michael Gove and his "seamless totalitarian threat"

Even if NATO were to pull out, there is no necessary reason at all why the Taliban would suddenly sweep back into power. A civil war could ensue and the deaths of many Afghan civilians would ensue. But that is not actually the reason why the West in in Afghanistan now.

Michael Williams has maintained in The Guardian,
The presence of the British in Helmand has been a constant thorn in the side of the Taliban. The region is extremely important for the cultivation and production of narcotics and the overall weakness of our presence there encouraged the Taliban to continue their onslaught.
What White omits is that the region is extremely important as it lies across the route where the TAPI pipeline is scheduled to be built as and when the security situation is good enough for the project to commence. This is why Helmand has been a conflict hot spot. But this is not news.

The withdrawal of British troops in this part of Helmand was decided back in July in the light of the constant rise in British casualty rates inflicted by the Taliban and the fact that before this the US had to pour extra troops into the area to support the British.

It did not have the resources to hold on to this area without help and it is still unclear to the British public why this blood sacrifice was made:unless it is reported that the TAPI pipeline is set to run through Helmand and is a central part of US and NATO geostrategy.

The majority of shareholders in the Asian Development Bank that agreed to finance the TAPI pipeline project in 2008 are from the USA, Canada, Australia. Plus assorted European nations all doing their bit to advance their interests in energy diversification and promoting "Western" hegemony in Central Asia.

The centrality of the TAPI pipeline accounts for France's return to NATO in 2009 and the transformation of it into an organisation explicitly committed to energy security. There is little doubt that the war in Afghanistan has the completion of this project as a key objective.

Naturally, "public diplomacy" never stresses the TAPI pipeline as no Western nation wants to admit that the casualties, both of NATO troops and Afghans are all in the cause of a pipeline. But any look at the planned map of the TAPI pipeline shows it will go from Turmenistan through Helmand into Pakistan.

That way it curves around the mountains to the immediate east. The Taliban is obviously able to hide there and conduct raid from high positions which is why this energy corridor will have to be massively fortified and continually guarded for a number of years.

Just yesterday the final deals concerning the TAPI were signed by the mutual partners who will receive gas from it. News on the pipeline is copious in the business news. Few journalists seem willing or able to make the connections between it and the war.

As the Financial Express reported just today in Framework pact for TAPI pipeline inked

Heads of agreements for the proposed gas sales purchase agreement for the 1,680-km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) were signed by partner countries in Ashgbat on Monday. This follows two-day deliberations of TAPI’s steering committee meeting (SCM) in the Turkmenistan capital.
Those in denial about the TAPI pipeline continually obfuscate by arguing that the TAPI does not bring gas directly to the West: it does not. But geopolitically it fits in with the need to drive a wedge between Iran, China and Russia, as well as removing the domination Russia has on the flow of gas west.

Partly, the TAPI pipeline can be seen as a move to integrate Afghanistan into the regional economy and as enlightened self interest, since a "secure and stable Afghanistan" also means that Western companies will be able to start mining the hard mineral deposits discovered in 2007.

Indeed it is a fact that US oil conglomerates have been steadily improving their position in Turkmenistan but the TAPI remains a pipe dream due to the continued fighting in Afghanistan. The surge is designed to finalise security and allow these geopolitical and energy interests to be pursued.

Little that Michael Williams argues here is backed up by solid evidence: the opium crop cannot be destroyed in Afghanistan on a permanent basis as it is simply too profitable and Western consumer demand for heroin as insatiable as oil. Reduce the supply, and the price merely increases.

John Foster, a British Canadian energy economist formerly of BP and the World Bank, has written in detail on the TAPI pipeline, most recently in The Globe and Mail ( The Disconnect between Pipelines and Transparency September 3 2010 ) It is full of brilliant information and analysis free from the cant and humbug of "Liberal Interventionist" travellers.

Western politicians rarely talk openly about pipelines or trade routes. After visiting Afghanistan in May, German president Horst Köhler created a hullabaloo with a statement that linked German military deployment and trade routes. He resigned, and claimed later he was referring to sea routes, not Afghanistan.
Clearly, politicians have to be careful not to be "off message". The task of journalists should have been to clarify what has been at stake in Afghanistan. The evidence is there but so few have been prepared to ask themselves and others hard questions. There is much we still do not know. But there is no chance of getting to the truth unless people ask logical questions.

Curiously, Michael Williams's propaganda is contrasted to what some returning British military officers have been reported as saying in the Daily Telegraph,

Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, said British forces should be “very proud of the achievements they have made in one of the most challenging areas of Afghanistan”. But British military sources criticised the Americans, saying they were abandoning parts of Sangin where the locals had been won over. The move would also allow the Taliban to lay more explosive devices along Route 611, the main trade artery in Sangin. “It’s a hard pill to swallow that the Rifles put so much sweat and blood into establishing these patrol bases only for them to be dismantled by the Americans,” said a recently returned officer.

“They are trying a new approach but it was one tried by us in the past and led to troops being tied to just the outskirts of town and gave the Taliban the chance to plant IEDs virtually wherever they wanted.” Some of the forts would be handed over to Afghan forces, while others were likely to be taken over by the Taliban.

So impressed were the US with the sacrifice of 106 troops in one of the most difficult and violent parts of Afghanistan that as soon as they take over they abandon British strategy and Cameron opines that "they did not die in vain". Meaning, in accordance with doublethink, that they did.

Dirk Bruere has argued against this that,

If it's all about the TAPI pipeline why not just leave it to the most interested party in this matter - Pakistan? They had a pretty good grip on Taliban Afghanistan until the invasion.

But Pakistan is not the most interested party. It had been far more interested in the IPI pipeline, one proposed since the 1950s, as the main transit nation instead of Afghanistan, something that would give it a bargaining card with rival India next door.

The West's policy of substituting the TAPI pipeline for the IPI has been the central geopolitical goal towards which war and diplomacy has been focused in Central Asia in this New Great Game. By getting TAPI, the most interested partners Turkmenistan and the West can get India onside.

Moreover, Pakistan would be more closely integrated with Afghanistan and with Iran encircled and more greatly isolated it would mean Pakistan would have to sink its interests more firmly in with the West. The meaning of Cameron's criticism of Pakistan recently with regards "the war on terror" is "play the game".

What the West does not want is a fickle Pakistan. The illusion is that by building the TAPI pipeline that a lucrative energy corridor can be built, Russia downgraded as the main conduit for gas to the West from Turkmenistan ( hence Poland's staunch support in troops and rhetoric ) and China rivalled.

What concerns the West is that without TAPI, China would have a free hand to dominate Turkmenistan's oil and gas. Even worse, if the IPI pipeline which bypasses Afghanistan completely were built should NATO pull out, China and Russia could move closer in co-operating along with Iran.

Afghanistan is the missing piece in the geopolitical jigsaw in Central Asia and the TAPI pipeline and the $1 trillion of hard mineral resources discovered by US geologists in 2007 ( but conveniently reported in the New York Times recently to tempt regional powers to support NATO's mission ) is what's really at stake.

This is the reality whether people like it or not. Afghanistan is a colossal geopolitical gamble for Western hegemony in Central Asia. No other explanation fits with the evidence and the facts. And the truth is that NATO could be there for decades. The stakes are now too high. The children .i.e the electorate cannot be allowed to know that in the West.


Some Objections Answered

One respondent has argued,

TAPI isn't the real reason we (Britain) are still in Afghanistan. We wouldn't benefit from it. Why would we care if Turkmenistan can sell its gas for more, or if Pakistan can purchase it for less. We are there because of 9-11. Simples.

Then you don't understand geopolitics. There is no "real one reason" on its own. Given the TAPI was always going to be difficult to get after it was first mooted under different guises in the 1990s, 9/11 provided a challenge and opportunity.

9/11 was an initial reason why all kinds of objectives could be justified even partly in the minds of those who saw it as a "Liberal Intervention". It does not explain why NATO is still there or why so many nations like France are there.

It's because of the TAPI pipeliles connection to geopolitics. About containing Ian and not letting China gain the upper hand in Turkmenistan. This is what geopolitics is about as opposed to purely profiteering from a pipeline.

Nothing is simple in geopolitics. The aims have consistently shifted in Afghanistan. But the glaring omission of the TAPI, admitted even on CiF just once by a think tank supporter of the Afghanistan War Chris Luehnen, is striking given its centrality in NATO geopolitics.

More generally, NATO is concerning itself more and more with energy security, something that is inveigling the Western nations ever more in to pathological struggles over resources that could become lethal in the future.

If that's not something worth discussing, then I'm not sure what else is.

Another objection,

Does anyone really believe its humanly possible to impose order in Afghanistan? (sufficient order that its possible to construct and protect a transnational gas pipeline)

Yes, the Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indian governments which have agreed to the share of the gas, as reported through Reuters today and in the Financial Express, ( Framework pact for TAPI pipeline inked )

New Delhi: Heads of agreements for the proposed gas sales purchase agreement for the 1,680-km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) were signed by partner countries in Ashgbat on Monday. This follows two-day deliberations of TAPI’s steering committee meeting (SCM) in the Turkmenistan capital.

If they did not believe it was "humanly possible", they would not be lining up to put in place a framework for agreeing on gas purchase agreements. They would be wasting their time.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has mentioned in speeches that the TAPI pipeline is an important part of securing and stabilising Afghanistan.

We struggle to protect relatively localised bits of infrastructure in Afghanistan like hydroelectric dams. The gas pipeline was more realistic under Taliban control than with the current chaos.

Struggle they might. But the struggle is considered "worth it". Having already invested so much blood and treasure, NATO cannot simply walk away without it being known as a great loss, weakness and humiliation.

To that extent I agree partly with this,

The reason NATO is still there is simple - Pride. We have spilt all this blood and spent all this money and politicians are too embarrassed to admit they made a mistake.

Yes, but they want to guarantee their geopolitical interests before leaving if possible and the TAPI pipeline is part of that, though it is, in my opinion, an illusion.

But progressives are motivated by such illusions. They believe a War on Drugs can be won. They toy with absurd schemes to get opium farmers to exchange profitable opium for viticulture of growing juicy pomegranates.

If they cut their losses, they would have nothing to show, but also there would be a vacuum of power in Central Asia and Brzezinski argues that could be destabilising as Afghanistans varied ethic groups straddle frontiers into the neighbouring 'stans'.

Yet crucial is that foreign Great Powers vying for influence do not hold sway over the region at the expense of the West. Without Afghanistan being "secure and stable", the West cannot hope to control Central Asia, a major source of oil and gas.

Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.

Joseph Conrad Nostromo ( 1904 )

Peter Jackson argues,

.....the TAPI plan was much more feasible under a Taliban government, which is why the original deal for it was signed in 1995. The CentGas consortium that was to build and manage it began to crumble in 1998 when Unocal and Gazprom withdrew (leaving no US or Russian participation). A new deal was signed at the end of 2002 with the Karzai government.

How could it possibly be an advantage for the pipeline consortium to plan construction during a war rather than under the Taliban - a war which, on previous experience, would end up in a guerrilla battle in which a pipeline would be particularly vulnerable? See what happens in Iraq, or even in Nigeria, for examples of pipelines in war zones.

The Clinton administration with Bill Richardson at the hem of energy politics wanted to do a deal with the Taliban and as Jason Burke suggests in Al Qaeda The True Story of Radical Islam, it was Clinton's bombing of Sudan that led the Taliban to not stop having Al Qaida in that country.

After that, the Taliban were hardly reliable partners in the way it is hoped Karzai would be and 9/11 changed that into a "regime change" possibility. The fact it has not worked out that way is hardly a reason to dismiss the TAPI pipelines position as a central geopolitical and strategic aim.

Ariel Cohen of The Heritage Foundation is, along with Brzezinski, a mainstream voice in Washington who has helped to frame policy. The desire to block off Iran, diversify gas from Russia, link together the TAPI nations, and challenge Chinese dominance is all there in a paper written in 2008.

Cohen is not some fanatical voice in the wilderness. For 18 years he has been,

...working closely with Congressmen and Congressional staff members and cabinet-level Russian, Eurasian and Eastern and Central European decision makers....He has consulted for the U.S. Agency for International Development, The World Bank, the United States Government, the U.S. Senate, and Radio Liberty-Radio Free Europe. He lectured at the Central Intelligence Agency and appeared in CIA/Department of State-sponsored conferences.

He argues that the IPI pipeline is a threat to the US and calls for support for the TAPI pipeline, notwithstanding the difficulties in getting it built. The US should he insists amongst other objectives,

Support the TAPI gas pipeline to boost the energy security of India and Pakistan, reduce Russia's leverage over Europe, and strengthen the political independence of Turkmenistan. Washington should engage in intensive diplo­macy to encourage the Turkmen, Afghan, Paki­stani, and Indian governments to build this pipeline instead of the IPI.

Earlier he outlines why this TAPI pipeline is so important,

Some pipeline options would be less disruptive than the proposed Iran–Pakistan–India pipeline, such as the proposed TAPI pipeline. The United States has supported this export option—together with the proposed trans-Caspian pipeline—as a way to reduce Russia's leverage over Europe, strengthen the political independence of the former Soviet republics, and increase India's and Pakistan's energy security. TAPI would also help to stabilize Afghanistan by providing needed jobs to Afghans and promoting economic linkages in South and Central Asia.

Now for the last claim,

The idea of an energy-based Great Game being the reason for the UN's persistence in Afghanistan seems less likely, believe it or not, than a real reluctance to abandon the Afghani population to a re-imposition of Taliban rule.

That presupposes that its an "either-or dichotomy" between the Taliban and the rest. Is it that simple though ? Really ?

The UN certainly might have genuine humanitarian objectives. Yet whether they can co-exist with the contradictory policy of building pipelines and curtaining a pathological struggle for Afghanistan's TAPI transit fees and hard minerals is unlikely.

Even you yourself say that pipelines in Iraq cause all manner of security risks, violence and feuding.

In any case, the energy based Great Game is hardly separable from the belief that by building an energy corridor, boosting the economy without drugs and pacifying the nation with trade and commerce, that stability can be won like that. Liberal Interventionists suggest that's possible. I think it is not.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

"The Pope is The Enemy of Humanity"

Judging from Protest the Pope yesterday, there is much in what Michael Burleigh wrote in Sacred Causes with regards Richard Dawkins that he comes across a a 'hotter sort of seventeenth century English Protestant'. That was evident from much of Dawkin's rhetoric and when calling Pope Benedict XVI an "enemy of humanity"

Dawkins thundered like this back in March 2010 when calling for the Pope to be arrested and, even if this were not possible, that it would be useful as "consciousness raising".
Should the pope resign?" No. As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly - ideally - qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church. A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.
It is crude to suggest that the entire Catholic Church is institutionally given to child rape. Much of the loathing of maudlin kitsch can not be only the preserve of the Catholic Church in a consumerist age. Not all the Catholic Church is "evil" and "corrupt".

Indeed Geoffrey Robertson Q C started ranting about England being the land of the Levellers and who have always challenged Papal authority, there seemed at Protest the Pope to be a strong element of 'protestant' distaste at the nature of unjustified authority.

Robertson clearly must have known that the Levellers, as with all seventeenth century radicals whether Overton, Walwyn or Lilburne were trying to institute equality before the law as a Christian principle. Lilburne referred to 'the devil and the clergy and his agents' and the' black guard of Satan'.

The Protest to Pope ranters reaffirm what the Pope meant when he spoke of Britain as having "a history of anti-catholicism". Christopher Hitchens has termed himself a Protestant Atheist

Dawkins has the very protestant belief that by changing people's beliefs, that human behaviour can be changed and progress reaffirmed through destroying the Papacy as the worst embodiment of Christian dogma and faith.

His vision of the Roman Church crumbling to dust amidst the incense sounds akin to an apocalyptic vision in which deliverance from this Evil Yoke will free people from the burden of guilt and the centuries of oppression visited down upon those shackled to this decaying institution.

Yet the protesters do have a serious point beneath the rant. The Pope has not yet acted sufficiently with those accused of child abuse and it was a serious flaw that for years these priests were moved around from one parish to another. The accusations of a cover up will not go away.

It is not enough for the Church to talk about the vaguely metaphysical stain on The Church which is suffering the sins of those who committed crimes: the Church needs to hand over those who have committed these crimes to the civil courts.

It was also curious that the Pope referred to the child molestations as "unspeakable crimes". Well, precisely that has been the problem. Far from being unspeakable, the victims plight should not be unspeakable but redressed by these priests being put on trials.

As for the argument over Hitler and Nazism and Catholicism, that will be dealt with later. Clearly, the "aggressive atheism" mentioned by the Pope does not necessarily lead to Nazism, a political religion, any more than Catholicism is the logical pathway to Nazism.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Pipeline Deniers

One of the more curious aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the tendency of politicians and journalists, incapable or unwilling to do their jobs, to deny the fact that both have been fought as resource wars. In Iraq it has been taken for granted that it was an oil grab. Yet in Afghanistan liberal illusions are harder to shake.

The routine procedure is either to mechanically write off those who claim that the Afghanistan War is crucially concerned with the construction of a pipeline as "conspiracy theorists" without there being any conspiracy in reality to either affirm or to deny. That rationale behind the TAPI pipeline is simply an agenda that has not been publicised.

One pipeline denier states that the notion that the central objective is to get TAPI pipeline built is "all complete and utter rubbish" without providing any counter evidence to that given. Simply stating that because the pipeline has not been built it must be a fiction is Alice in Wonderland logic.

Obviously is has not been built yet precisely because NATO is still there trying to provide enough security on the ground for it to go ahead. The TAPI pipeline is funded by the Asian Development Bank which itself has been invested in heaviliy by US and British concerns and agreed to get it built in 2008.

It is not a "prospective project" : merely a delayed one and seen by Zbigniew Brzezinski as a key to the USA's geopolitical strategy for the region-for good or ill. He is Obama's foreign policy mentor and sees the control of Afghanistan as a key client for maintaining US hegemony over Central Asian oil and gas.

The case denying the TAPI pipeline's centrality follows as possible according to such routine objections,
1.If the building of this pipeline is so significant to US strategy in the region, the driving force behind US policy, can you tell me how much of this pipeline, that is intended to bring natural gas from from fields in south-east Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India, has been constructed? I mean there is absolutely nothing to stop work progressing in Turkmenistan is there?
No, there isn't as you correctly say. Which is precisely why Turkmenistan has already agreed in the last few days to try and start work as soon as possible. As The India Express reports,( Work on TAPI gas pipeline put on fast track September 11 2010 )
Turkmenistan has drafted an aggressive agenda to finalise the Gas Sale and Purchase Agreements by end-December so that technical and financial appraisals for the TAPI natural gas pipeline could start by next year.

This includes meetings of Turkmenistan president with heads of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on the margins of UN General Assembly's 65th session during September 19-23.
This is not mere "talk": it is an immediate statement of intent.
2. What advantage is it to the United States of America is a pipeline that transports natural gas to Pakistan and India?
Firstly, it diversifies the gas supply out of the hands of Russia, links together Turmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in a regional community of shared interest and thus blocks off Iran's rival PIP pipeline which would involve bypassing Afghanistan entirely.

Secondly, the TAPI pipeline is considered by think tank experts and diplomats in Washington and in NATO to provide a colossal source of revenue and that this, once the Taliban have been vanquished, provide the means to integrate people into accepting the benefits of Western hegemony in Afghanistan.

John Foster puts it like this,
Afghanistan occupies a strategic piece of real estate: It shares borders with Iran and Turkmenistan, two countries with immense petroleum reserves. George Krol, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told Congress last year that one U.S. priority in Central Asia is “to increase development and diversification of the region’s energy resources and supply routes.”

At the donors’ conference in Kabul in July, participants agreed to promote “integrated regional infrastructure projects.” Within the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, that includes plans for a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India (TAPI). This pipeline has been promoted by the U.S. since the mid-1990s.

Pipelines are more than commercial ventures. They are geopolitically important because they connect trading partners, and influence the regional balance of power.
The next part of the denial case runs like this,
3. What interest exists in this project in any US Company? The record shows that UNOCAL were only interested in building it with the possibility of operating it as a transport system - peanuts in other words. They certainly would not control the pipeline the only people who would, or could, control the pipleine would the nation putting product into it i.e. Turkmenistan.
It is not strictly about profiteering, the charge made by many on the left as some kind of "trump card". Geopolitical advantage is what's really at stake. TAPI is concerned from the US perspective with multiple objectives, a clear one is sidelining Iran and preventing the IPI excluding US and Western Interests.
4. The main beneficiary of this pipeline would be India, who needs the gas NOW. In order to obtain gas the Indian Government have been negotiating with the Iranians to provide an alternative route. This is the IPI pipeline which unlike TAPI .... is actually being built so far over 1000 kilometers of it have already been built.
This spectacularly misses the point that the exact reason for the surge was to secure Afganistan as soon as possible and for the release of information with regards Afghanistan's copious mineral wealth is designed to assuage India's temptation to pull out of the TAPI project or drag their heels on it.

The fact that the IPI pipeline is a serious rival to the TAPI project is precisely the reason why the US and NATO have been so desperate to finish off the Taliban and secure Helmand, at the expense of the lives of so many Canadian and British troops.

The pipeline deniers only trump card is the lame non-argument that because TAPI pipeline has not yet built and despite all the evidence that its backers, including the US and other Western states, that it cannot be a real design. On the basis that if TAPI pipeline project existed, our governments would tell us.

Obviously, having sold the war as a war against Jihadists, a "War on Terror", a War for Women's Liberation, a Humanitarian War or a Liberal Intervention, or as a War on Drugs, the idea it now only remains a war to get a pipeline built as central to the possible realisation of other objectives is now clearer.

The media in Pakistan and India continually mentions it in the news. Increasingly it has started to make it into the mainstream news in the West at least on the WWW. Yet it is hardly edifying for the public to be told that soldiers have died not to protect Britain but to get a pipeline constructed.
5. In December last year a pipeline carrying natural gas from Turkmenistan to Western China was opened. China has promised the Government of Turkmenistan assistance both financial and technical in building further transport pipelines inside Turkmenistan, and for further development of natural gas resources, China already has purchased the gas, an essential component of any gas field development.
Precisely. Hence the need to get the TAPI pipeline constructed. Otherwise the West will miss out or have to depend upon Russia.
6. TAPI is currently the orphan owned by the Asia Development Bank, while the Governments of the countries concerned may talk about the desirability of such a project, in actual fact it remains still-born. No US company has shown any interest in the project at all.
The Asian Development Bank is the project sponsor and is, in actual fact, an international development bank with members including the U.S., Canada and several other NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan without whom the pipeline would not have got the approval it did back in 2008.

But when in doubt , pipeline deniers will nit pick over terminology. Our pipeline denier claimed,
A correction for you - "The TAPI pipeline is funded by the Asian Development Bank" - No it is not - "Finance for the TAPI pipeline project will be arranged and handled through the Asia Development Bank" - There is a whale of a difference.
Actually, no there isn't. The capital comes through the Asian Development Bank which is an international development bank whose members comprise of the US, Canada and other NATO nations. . It cannot be so very difficult to understand, apart from the fact it is entitled an Asian Development Bank.

The latest bulletin from the Asian Development Bank is careful to mention the internationalist aspect of its transactions with regards Afghanistan and mentions CAREC
IADB Vice-President (Operations 2) Lawrence Greenwood said that boosting trade is an important element of private sector-led growth strategies in the region, requiring close cooperation among CAREC members toward reducing the cost of cross border transactions.

CAREC, comprising Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, PRC, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and six multilateral partners, including ADB, was established in 1997. Its work includes improving Central Asia's physical infrastructure, harmonizing customs and other trade facilitation procedures and promoting trade in power. ADB has served as its Secretariat since 2000.

One of its critical goals is to develop a seamless network of six transport corridors which will connect member countries to each other as well as providing links to the fast-growing economies of east and south Asia, and established markets in Europe.....
The ADB is crucially influenced by the USA which accounts for some 12.756 % of the total voting power along with other shareholders who are part of the willing investors, with the US remaining the sole largest investor with 552,210 shares in what is cunningly described as the "non-regional members".

US shares are the largest single proportion in the Asian Development Bank. The next one is Canada. With Japan having a large stake too.

US shares account for about a third of the total proportion which is then primarily made up of German, British, French and Canadian shares, these "non-regional members" making up a total of 34.960% of the voting power. Yet the "regional members" include powers such as Australia with 7.56 % and Japan with 19.612% of the voting power.

Add the proportion of shares of the 'pro-Western' powers within both the regional and non-regional shareholders together and clearly there is a preponderant dominance reflecting the degree of interest shown in putting troops on the ground in Afghanistan. The major players have the most shares.

That's naturally because they are the richest nations. Yet China has a rather small stake and Russia, of course, is not included. The fact is that such a bank would not have committed itself to TAPI unless they believed there was not a great deal of gain to be made. Whether Afghanistan can be stabilised or not remains to be seen. Yet the investors think it is possible.

The finance for TAPI primarily comes not from India ( 8.229 % ) , Pakistan ( 3.132% ) or Turkmenistan ( 0.77% ) but from Western concerns and capital with the endorsement of those powers who have committed most to securing Afghanistan militarily and have most at stake.

The stakes are not just reflected in the allocation of the shares but also in the fact that by opening up an energy corridor from Turkmenistan to India, these nations will retain a permanent stake in the future profits to be made in the region. It's business and geopolitics that determines the TAPI pipeline.

The statistics are here.

The "sceptic" may well reply,
Turkmenistan has sold gas to China and Iran. If Europe wants oil or gas from the Caspian they already have existing pipelines and pipelines under construction to carry it that by-pass Russia (I know this because I have worked on them).
That's irrelevant. Turkmenistan wants to sell gas to India too. It is a very large market and it ties in with NATO's geopolitical interests. No TAPI pipeline, no stake in future developments and the prospect of the rival IPI pipeline gaining prominence and thus the USA and NATO not having crucial leverage over Iran.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A Surge of Enthusiasm in Afghanistan

On corruption, the scale of it is business as usual as far as the USA is concerned. Colossal levels of corruption have been the cost of backing the KLA in Kosovo, now a new model narco-state. US foreign policy operates by backing ruthless proxies who then get rewarded for supporting the US.

As Chaterjee makes plain in The Guardian today,
Abdul Hasin, who was given $100m for a variety of projects which he has not repaid. Hasin happens to be the half-brother of the vice president of the country, Mohammed Qasim Fahim.

A little less than a year ago, I visited the heavily guarded headquarters of Abdul Hasin's business conglomerate – Zahid Walid – in the wealthy Kabul neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, not far from the even more heavily fortified US embassy.
Neither Hasin nor Fahim were wealthy when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, but as the de facto leader of the Northern Alliance, Fahim was perfectly placed to profit from the new opportunities created by the collapse of the Taliban.

Ramin Seddiqui, the managing director of the Zahid Walid's diesel import business, filled me in on how the business grew: first, a series of lucrative contracts to pour concrete for a Nato base, as well as portions of the US embassy being rebuilt in Kabul and the city's airport, which was in a state of disrepair.
Yet the level of corruption in Afghanistan is considered by Washington a price worth paying as it needs to bribe the warlords to be onside in order to be able to advance its interests, most obviously in finally getting the TAPI pipeline constructed in 2012. There is little doubt about that.

As John Foster wrote on September 3 2010,
Pipelines are more than commercial ventures. They are geopolitically important because they connect trading partners, and influence the regional balance of power. Turkmenistan’s natural gas can only get to market through pipelines. The Russians have a pipeline north to connect with a network serving Europe. The Chinese have a pipeline east, connecting with their network and going all the way to Shanghai.

The U.S. and European Union are moving to gain access or control. Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski called such geopolitical jockeying “the grand chessboard.”
The Pentagon recently announced hard mineral discoveries in Afghanistan worth nearly $1-trillion. A spokesman said, “This is that whole economic arm that we talk about but gets very little attention.”

The same that was true of Kosovo was true of Afghanistan: shoddy realpolitik cloaked with a humanitarian and ethical fig leaf. Just as Kosovo was crucially concerned with extending US hegemony into South East Europe, gaining stakes in Kosovo's minerals and guarding the AMBO pipeline, Afghanistan is about TAPI.

As well as those new resources discovered in Afghanistan providing an extra stimulus in "staying the course" as suddenly reported by the NYT on June 13 2010,
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.

American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.

Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources.

Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine.

The BBC also carried a report of the sudden discovery of these huge resources. Naturally, this was never tied to the issue of the official reason why NATO is in Afghanistan but only as news in so far as it offered a potential solution to the problem of Afghanistan's development. Even so, it was interesting.

Not least as it took the US media some three years to report the geologists discoveries collated back in 2007.
A joint team from the Pentagon, US Geological Service and USAID has calculated Afghanistan's mineral deposits are worth at least $900bn.

Geological surveys discovered large quantities of iron and copper as well as valuable deposits of lithium.

But questions are being asked about the timing of the release of information.

The details of a US Geological Service survey of the country were released in 2007. The US assessment of the worth of the deposits was completed in December last year.

The BBC's Jill McGivering says that at a time of growing despair about Afghanistan and its government, the portrayal of the country as a potential goldmine could help to bolster international resolve and paint the country as a prize worth fighting for.

Lithium is an increasingly vital resource, used in batteries for everything from mobile phones to laptops and key to the future of the electric car. Bolivia boasts the largest reserves.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, was quoted by news agency AP as saying: "The result of the survey ... has shown that Afghanistan has mineral resources worth $1 trillion.

"This is not an overall survey of all minerals in Afghanistan. Whatever has been found in this survey is worth $1tr."

The findings were made by the US Geological Survey under contract to the Afghan government, he said.

The New York Times cited an internal Pentagon memo which said Afghanistan could become "the Saudi Arabia of lithium".

There are already plans to exploit mineral wealth in Afghanistan with Chinese backing for a copper mine at Aynak in Logar province.

Don't Mention the TAPI Pipeline.

"Protecting pipelines is first and foremost a national responsibility. And it should stay like that. NATO is not in the business of protecting pipelines. But when there's a crisis, or if a certain nation asks for assistance, NATO could, I think, be instrumental in protecting pipelines on land".
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former NATO Secretary General, January 2009.

It might have been thought that the tenth anniversary of 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the subsequent decade of failed military intervention in Afghanistan would have led to a better perspective on the aims and objectives of the War in Afghanistan.

Yet ten years on most media still will not uncover the facts beneath the propaganda and explain to the public why NATO is in Afghanistan. Why British troops have died in such numbers in Helmand province. Why so many Afghans and increasingly Pakistanis have had to die.

Whilst drawing attention to the contradiction between most of Obama's stated intentions and the absence of any action in closing down Guantanamo Bay, stopping the practice of "extraordinary rendition", suspending habeus corpus in the case of "terrorist suspects", Michael Boyle in the Guardian provides no indication why.

The truth is that the "War on Terror" after 9/11 2001 was part of an attempt to exploit the attacks as a pretext to implement a foreign policy based on military intervention in lands whose occupation would lead to once and for all changes in the regime and guarantee US global hegemony.

Obama is the simply the inheritor of that foreign policy and in line with his foreign policy mentor Zbigniew Brzezinski regarded both the placement of the missile shield in Europe ( though not its complete cancellation as a project ) and the invasion of Iraq as mistakes.

Apart from that the goal of ensuring hegemony through control of oil and gas continues. Afghanistan has been interpreted consistently in the light of taking it for granted that it was about a War on Terror, Freedom for Women, Humanitarian Aid, Liberal Intervention and so on.
President Obama has in some respects proven more willing to use force against terrorist suspects than President Bush. He has increased the number of CIA-run drone strikes in the Afghanistan and Pakistan border region. These strikes, while effective in targeting militants, have killed an unknown number of civilians.
They have been waged in the shadows, without public acknowledgment and without clear lines of authority or control inside government. By expanding the number and geographic reach of these strikes – first deeper into Pakistan, then onto Yemen – the Obama administration may be inadvertently stirring hornet's nests that will generate even more terrorist attacks on the United States.
Not only has the war through Drones been enacted "in the shadows" , the pipeline of which one dare not speak its name in the mainstream media has also been cast into the shadows, despite it being mentioned explicitly by Brzezinski as a key interest and the fact the TAPI runs through Kandahar.

That's where most British troops have died in 2010. Its centrality as a NATO War aim has been studied in detail by John Foster, an eminent academic and petro-economist and seen as crucial by Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation. It is routinely mentioned as a war aim in the writings of think tanks.

Foster wrote in The Globe and Mail on 3rd September 2010 of the Disconnect between Pipelines and Transparency,
Terrorism is still touted as a reason for the Western presence in Afghanistan, but economic development is increasingly emphasized. Afghanistan occupies a strategic piece of real estate: It shares borders with Iran and Turkmenistan, two countries with immense petroleum reserves. George Krol, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told Congress last year that one U.S. priority in Central Asia is “to increase development and diversification of the region’s energy resources and supply routes.”

A new study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Johns Hopkins University advocates that Afghanistan become a regional hub for transportation, electricity and the TAPI pipeline. An endorsement by General David Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan, asserts: “Sound strategy demands the use of all the instruments of power.”

The study claims: “Today, the U.S. is paying the salaries of all Afghan soldiers and civil servants.” Under these circumstances, how can the Afghan government make independent decisions? The Pentagon recently announced hard mineral discoveries in Afghanistan worth nearly $1-trillion. A spokesman said, “This is that whole economic arm that we talk about but gets very little attention.”

In March, G8 foreign ministers agreed that “military-only responses” are insufficient, and that “solutions must include support for development.” They endorsed a new initiative to facilitate infrastructure projects referenced by Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their joint declaration included the planned TAPI pipeline, but it was not mentioned publicly.

Western politicians rarely talk openly about pipelines or trade routes. After visiting Afghanistan in May, German president Horst Köhler created a hullabaloo with a statement that linked German military deployment and trade routes. He resigned, and claimed later he was referring to sea routes, not Afghanistan.

Planning for the TAPI pipeline continues, despite security concerns. The Asian Development Bank, the project sponsor, is an international development bank whose members include the U.S., Canada and several other NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan.

Any bank financing for the project requires the approval of member countries. With such a heavy military presence, U.S./NATO influence on Kabul is obvious. The same countries are making military and development decisions.

TAPI is a multibillion-dollar project, and the Afghanistan National Development Strategy includes plans for 1,000 industrial units along the pipeline route. Who will provide security?

The continuation of the myth that Afghanistan and the drone attacks in Pakistan are part of a deficient and heavy handed "War on Terror" are comforting myths: the reality is that US foreign policy is about getting the TAPI pipeline built, despite the contention of Conor Foley that there was no evidence.

In fact the evidence is voluminous. The Guardian urgently needs to get columnists who will challenge the official claims about a "War on Terror" and put the record straight, so that the public really understands what is at stake in Afghanistan beyond spin, dissimulation and evasions.


John Foster, Afghanistan, the TAPI Pipeline, and Energy Geopolitics Journal of Energy Security March 3 2010.

John Foster, The Disconnect between Pipelines and Transparency The Globe and Mail September 3 2010.

John Foster and Millie Morton, Afghanistan, the Pipeline, and Politics The Peace Magazine April-June 2010 Volume 26.

John Foster, Pipeline Through a Troubled Land, Foreign Policy Series, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, June 19 2008

New Atheist Missionaries-Nick Cohen and A C Grayling

... behind many of the demands of today's religious apologists that we "respect" Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and even the Scientology cult lies a desire to keep the plebs in their place by protecting their ridiculous but politically useful beliefs.
Nick Cohen's interpretation of religion in The Observer is confused. For a start he keeps conflating the absence of religion with atheism when much of Hindu thought is, in fact, atheist and where the absence of traditional religion hardly means that societies are "atheist" as opposed to merely secular.

In secular societies, religion can continue to exist as secularism is historically an outgrowth of Christianity. It means that temporal and spiritual power is to be separated. Despite claiming not to be a "militant atheist", Cohen's creed does depend on a belief system that makes fantastical claims.

The idea that a society free of religion is necessarily better than one with it ignores the extent to which all societies can have a plurality of value systems that can coexist without conflict and have dome so for generations. Some trends in religious based thought are illiberal and intolerant. Some are not.

Islamism is a "political creed" and an ideology. It has not arisen directly out of traditional Islamic teaching in all cases and the versions of Islamism which preach apocalypse and terror and modernistic in believing that the world will be saved by destroying what are considered the destroyers of Muslim lands-the degenerate West and its oil intensive economies.

The notion that by changing people's beliefs one can change behaviour is a conceit entertained by those whose secularism and atheism derives from the more intolerant elements of religious thought and that all societies everywhere are converging towards or should be compelled by Progress to do so.

This is a myth with no more evidence to back it up than a religious faith. Since the high point of secular thought in the 1970s, religion has returned to many parts of the globe. This has annoyed those who so confidently predicted its demise and those who think like Cohen that it has spread by cowardly "appeasement".

The fall back explanation as why the inevitable has not happened is that religion is simply prescribed for the plebs by the powerful, a conceit that can only be held by those who actually hold to the snobbish idea themselves that the masses are blinkered and mentally shackled by religion.
Not all of those who condemn atheism are pious themselves, as the presence of journalists among their number suggests. Rather, they believe in piety for the masses and fear that without religion the lower orders will lose their moral bearings.
Along with Nick Cohen, the most dreary proponent of this kind of thinking is A C Grayling, who takes up Bertrand Russell's conviction in internationalism and militant Enlightenment but without his wit and with a shrill moralistic tone and the faith in the victory of the progressive intelligentsia that Russell lacked.

John Gray wrote witheringly of A C Grayling's obsession with removing the mental shackles and "fear" inculcated by religion showing, it becomes actually more obvious that the fear of the deluded masses is behind the anxiety of the secular and atheist intelligensia, as the philosophy preaches ,
...the same sermon: history is a record of crime, oppression and superstition; but salvation is at hand through rational inquiry, the gift of the Greeks that was lost in the Dark Ages and rediscovered in the Enlightenment.

Repeating this as Grayling does, over and over again, suggests that he believes the lesson has still not been understood, and throughout his extensive corpus of polemical writings he has the manner of a querulous teacher hammering rudimentary lessons into the heads of refractory schoolchildren.

For Grayling, it seems, few if any of the difficulties of ethics and politics are insoluble. The remedies for human ills are obvious, or would be so if only humans were not blinded by superstition. Never doubting that he is free of this vice, Grayling writes as one conveying the simple truth.
The notion that atheism in free societies will necessarily create better ones has no evidence to back it up: Sweden's social democracy might well have much to do with its peaceful and tolerant evolution in the twentieth century, if the experiments in eugenics are ignored, the kind once supported by the Fabian Society and progressives.

Yet that has much to do with Sweden's history, it granting of aid due to the guilt at having remained neutral when faced with Nazism in World War Two and the desire to expiate it through well meaning actions. It has little to do with atheism as such. And its secularism derives from its pietistic Lutheran inheritance.

Cohen lumps together under "religion" the beliefs and practices of states and regimes whose religions are as different as Sweden's secular society is from the USSR or other unfree atheist states where religion was proscribed by the state.
Saudi Arabia uses its petrodollars to promote its brutal Wahhabi theology
That is, the petrodollars the elite gets from the West's over dependence upon Saudi oil and which props up the consumer society that grew up in the post war period in the West where religion was eclipsed by consumption and entertainment. This trend had nothing to do with people accepting atheism.

Atheism did not persuade many in Britain philosophically in the 1960s and 1970s. Religion of the traditional type, especially Non-Conformism, simply in the context of British culture became irrelevant and dated. The Church of England was never that influential, especially in the cities.

Yet one argument that disproves the idea that atheism necessarily produces better and more rational people in a free society is the level of support given by both prominent religious fundamentalists and militant secular progressives to the invasion of Iraq ( e.g Hitchens, Berman, Michnik, et al )

When atheists criticised the Iraq War, as Dawkins did ) they did not emphasise the fact it was an oil grab but, curiously, tended to opine that Bush was a frenzied idiot and a messianic tub thumping fundamentalist, despite the absence of that from the thinking of most neoconservatives.

Likewise with Afghanistan. It takes much religious faith will the belief to an almost hallucinogenic degree that it was a "humanitarian war" on the part of the US government as opposed to a geopolitically calculated invasion to get a pipeline built, advance US power in Central Asia and win the War on Drugs.

Those like Peter Bracken who delude themselves with the theology that there is correct consciousness of those who see the wars as stridently part of Good against Evil are unaware of the scale of the rationalisation that even secular thinkers and atheists will put up to avoid confronting reality.

When bien pensants such as Grayling have indulged in spasms of indignation about Iraq they only went into print to condemn General Dannatt for proclaiming his religious faith and that it was irrelevant to the military and his mission.
......if General Sir Richard Dannatt were genuinely and fully consistent in his views as an evangelical Christian, he would not be a general or indeed any kind of soldier (except a "Christian soldier" in the meaning of the hymn).

His trade is war, war involves killing, the rather thin ethics of the founder of his faith implies pacifism and explicitly demands turning the other cheek rather than shooting and bombing: and so we see what professions of faith are really worth, in the long tradition of bishops blessing tanks.

But it is no surprise to find inconsistency and hypocrisy among the bulwarks of faith, and the general might share views about the good that the profession of killing does (not least, one supposes, to those who deserve it) with the crusaders and Torquemada and other more vigorous theorisers of what faith licenses and requires.

That will not make his views less inconsistent or unpalatable, but at least less hypocritical.

If so, then it was hardly pertinent for Grayling to bother commenting on that and claiming that it was inconsistent for a Christian to kill as opposed, presumably, it is for an atheist. If so, then at least some consideration as to why Iraq was invaded or whether it was a Just War could have been offered.

Grayling sententiously opined,
Members of the armed services have volunteered for a hazardous profession. It is remarkable and admirable how much courage and dedication they display, and how much sacrifice they make - so hackneyed, these terms, yet far more true than hackneyed, which is why they always bear repeating - in the execution of the duties they have been rigorously trained to perform.

Their duty, courage and sacrifice belongs to the army and through it the country; what they think about matters of value, life and death belongs to themselves.
It was odd that Grayling castigated a man as a hypocritical killer if he was a religious man in a war, a view held by some Christians such as the Quakers, but as admiral, dedicated and courageous in doing a duty so long as they do not proclaim any religious feeling or what they think.

If "matters of value" do not matter, then soldiers could not appeal to conscience in opposing torture. Unless, rather like Christopher Hitchens they come close to rationalising the need for torture because the "Islamofascist" opponents in Afghanistan do not play by the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Nothing General Dannatt said comprimised his ability as a general: he had a duty to do and Grayling as a "free thinker" was in a position to look at why it was that troops were in Iraq being killed and towards what ends: they were not religious but secular and based on what its authors considered a rational geopolitical scheme

The hypocrisy was more a quality evident in Grayling than Dannatt, that of avoiding such a question or looking at the ethics of invading nations to control their oil and hence maintain the profligate Great Car Society and consumerism that makes the invasion of such nations necessary was never considered.

Blair contended that he is a man of faith and clearly this "faith" is yet another rationalisation for his messianic idea that force can be used as the midwife of history, to rid the globe of Evil Forces and put the oil under the control of benign powers who make it work for the Good of All.

In that sense religion was merely the extension of Machiavelli: that is of political expediency, of being seen to have all the Christian or religious virtues, including praising the Quran and setting up TheTonyBlairFaithFoundation ( supported by Coca Cola ) whilst departing from its teachings for gain.

None of that ever seems to penetrate into the awareness of those preaching Britain's global mission to root out and defeat Jihadi Islamists or Islamosfascists everywhere as if it was a threat to the West comparable to Hitler's Nazi Germany and the USSR during the Cold War, a "seamless totalitarian threat".

Cohen and Hitchens were quite clear that "liberal interventionism", the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were a moral cause against fanatical religious based fundamentalist fanatics at home and abroad. Those like Grayling provide the unwitting rationalisation for such global crusade too through their ideology.

One reason for that is Grayling denies that the crimes of the twentieth century totalitarian regimes had anything to do with atheism. John Gray put this faith to rest thus,
The worst acts of the twentieth century were committed by atheist regimes that claimed a scientific basis for their policies. This fact is mentioned nowhere in Grayling's dictionary, and throughout his writings he is adamant in denying that the crimes of Nazism and Communism had anything to do with atheism. Instead, he asserts, they were due to the repressive character of the regimes.

He advances this proposition as something like an a priori truth, which may be prudent as it is certainly not supported by historical evidence.
Lenin and Stalin made plain, in both words and deeds, that the destruction of religion was essential to the achievement of their goals. A type of atheism was at the core of the Communist project, and the same was true of Nazism. Both made concessions to religion when circumstances dictated-Stalin during the Second World War, Hitler in his cultivation of "German Christianity" and his overtures to the Vatican.

They also concocted state cults-around Lenin in the USSR, and around Hitler and an ersatz paganism in Nazi Germany. (A similar pattern was evident in Maoist China.) The long-term aim remained the extermination of every variety of traditional religion-a goal that could only be realized by repressive means.

.....Anyone who remembers British left-liberal opinion as it was in the seventies will immediately recognize it here. Socialism and democracy, the horrors of religion and the near inevitability of ongoing secularization-these ephemera of a half-forgotten past are presented as ruling ideas of the twenty-first century.