Friday, 30 December 2011

Militarism and Popular Culture

A superb article in the Guardian here from George Chesterton ( Britain's Love Affair with the Military is Dangerous, December 23 2011 ),

....Britain has been drawn into a deep sleep about war and nowhere is this slumber more pernicious than in the militarisation of popular culture.

Dedicated servicemen and women should be respected and those who suffer deserve the very best support and care. But it is our fault we allowed our politicians to send them to conflicts that served little purpose other than to cling on to some amorphous notion of national power. Now the debate about why they are still dying – and killing – in Afghanistan has disappeared from public life. Instead, an acceptance that the military is an agent for good has become the norm, and we are told to love our soldiers as if they are members of an extended family. This year, from the The X Factor to football, from Radio 2 to the tabloids, we have been encouraged to welcome the military into our homes and hearts. There are, potentially terrible, consequences for this love affair.

Tough questions about a conflict that has cost, at the time of writing, 344 British combat deaths have been replaced by an invitation to demonstrate our gratitude to the military (BBC3's Our War aside). But what we are supposed to be grateful for has rarely, if ever, been mentioned in 2011. It's as if, in a scary and bankrupt world, we've been invited to take consolation wherever we can find it. In this case our consolation is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It's easier than thinking about a decade of fighting that has cost billions of pounds and at least 30,000 Afghan lives, and let's not forget six years in Iraq during which 100,000 people died.

We have turned the reality of war into an emotionally nourishing theatre – this year the home-counties Valhalla, Wootton Bassett, was rewarded with royal patronage for its role at the vanguard of our delusion. A key part of this is the politically stultifying Help for Heroes campaign, which, of course, serves an ideological and financial function for a broke government....

Iran and Afghanistan Break US Sanction Stranglehold.

The bizarre nature of global politics being played out in the oil and gas rich region of Central Asia was confirmed as news is coming out of the Iranian-Afghan oil deal. The Express Tribune reports,
“Iran has exported gasoil to Afghanistan over the past years but the export of gasoline and jet fuel will begin next year,” Irna quoted Ali Reza Zeighami, managing director of the National Iranian Refining and Oil Products Distribution Company, as saying.

Zeighami said the price of the products will be determined based on International prices.

In April, trade sources said Iran had struck a deal to sell gasoline to Iraq but that the rare cargo did not mean the Islamic Republic had became a net exporter and free from its dependence on gasoline imports.

Shipping data obtained by Reuters in November showed Iran’s October gasoline imports rose more than 21 percent to 63,279 barrels per day from 51,986 bpd in September.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday his country would become a major gasoline exporter by 2013, despite the West’s toughest-ever sanctions on the Islamic state.

The sanctions have targeted a vulnerability caused by Iran’s lack of refining capacity, and many foreign companies have been forced to withdraw from Iran’s energy sector.

The United States, Britain and Canada announced new measures against Iran’s energy and financial sectors last month and the European Union is considering a ban, already in place in the United States, on imports of Iranian oil.
NATO has spend a decade in Afghanistan trying to create a client state. It has invested in trying to stabilise the country so as to get the TAPI Pipeline constructed, integrate it into the regional economies to the north and south and exclude Iran by blocking the rival IPI project, one that Pakistan has had to be steered away from by US pressure.

Then Iran simply strikes an oil deal with Afghanistan. Whichever way it is looked at, the NATO occupation of Afghanistan cannot yield the results it wants to impose. The attempt to enforce a NATO settlement on Afghanistan without the regional players condemns it to pumping Western money into this land without sure economic benefits and increases regional tensions.

Mineral Wealth in Afghanistan.

Another liberal interventionist fantasy is the one where instead of becoming a focus for pathological conflicts, the discovery of mineral wealth and natural resources will be used to raise Afghanistan out of poverty at a time where it's undergoing protracted war.

A Guardian report makes clear that, apart from the TAPI Pipeline, other interests are at stake,
"Afghanistan houses rich seams of copper, iron, gold, lithium and rare earth deposits worth up to $3 trillion, according to the Afghan government. Unsurprisingly, the government and international community are eager to see these resources exploited. The plan is to sell off rights to access many of the country's mineral deposits over the next three years in the runup to transition in 2014 – potentially releasing a vast amount of revenue for the Afghan economy"
The fact that this is being rushed through as part of a "transition" will only intensify the existing level of corruption. The beneficiaries may well be Western corporations gaining the extraction rights. Yet despite being told the Bonn conference of December 2011 discussed this, there have been few details so far.

It is curious how such news is filed under "Global Development". In fact, these interests are part of the reason NATO is still in Afghanistan. The public has the right to know how important such mineral wealth is in the decision to continue the war and whether those resources really do have any chance of being extracted for the benefit of Afghan civilians.

This is all the more relevant when it seems likely that it will be China that will benefit from exploiting Afghanistan's minerals. As Charles Wallace reported in Daily Finance,
Although the U.S. government has spent more than $940 billion on the conflict in Afghanistan since 2001, a treasure trove of mineral deposits, including vast quantities of industrial metals such as lithium, gold, cobalt, copper and iron, are likely to wind up going to Russia and China instead of American firms.

The New York Times reported Monday that U.S. officials and American geologists have found an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits that have yet to be exploited in the country. The paper said a Pentagon report called Afghanistan potentially "the Saudi Arabia of lithium," a key component in batteries for cellphones, laptop computers and eventually, a plug-in fleet of electric cars.

But while the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries are providing the bulk of the security for Afghanistan.... the firms that are profiting from the resource boom are primarily Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Russian.

"China has an absolute advantage in Afghanistan as far as resource development goes," says James R. Yeager, a Tucson, Ariz., consultant who worked as an adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Mines.

In December, 2007, China's state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp. (MCC) signed a $2.9 billion agreement with the Kabul government to extract copper from the Aynak deposit, one of the world's largest unexploited copper deposits with an estimated 240 million tons of ore.

The Washington Post, quoting a U.S. intelligence official, reported that the Afghan minister of mines was accused of taking approximately $30 million in bribes from the Chinese company in exchange for the contract. The minister denied the charge and said the Chinese firm had offered the best deal.
Given these facts it can be said that even on the grounds of "enlightened self interest", the war in Afghanistan has been neither that enlightened, in being a huge waste of western expenditure, nor even for the benefit of western states. The war has cost 393 British soldiers lives, turned NATO into an offensive power block and damaged the credibility of Western states.

NATO forces have spent a decade in Afghanistan only for corruption amongst Afghan elites to remain endemic and for the mineral wealth to go to Chinese and Russian companies. This war has been a complete waste of time, money, effort and lives. Nothing can or will be achieved by NATO by military occupation.

Establishment orthodoxy on the Trident Nuclear System.

There's some good research from Norton Taylor on the failure to offer opposition to the renewal of Trident,
Disclosures in hitherto secret papers released at the National Archives under the 30-year rule are extraordinarily pertinent now. Despite Nott's claim about the prevailing view in Thatcher's government 30 years ago, the government built a four-boat Trident submarine fleet, designed and assembled new warheads, and leased the missiles from the US.

Today, we do not know how many ministers are questioning the plan to replace the existing Trident system. We may have to wait for 30 more years to find out. It is known that senior members of the armed forces have serious doubts about the wisdom of investing tens of billions in a new nuclear weapons system that is widely regarded as irrelevant to the immediate interests and pressing needs of Britain's armed forces.

Even Tony Blair, in his autobiography, A Journey, described Trident's purpose as "non-existent in terms of military use", remarking: "Its expense is huge."

Earlier this year, the MoD quietly acknowledged that the cost of a new fleet of Trident nuclear missile submarines – excluding the the missiles and warheads that would go on them – would amount to £25bn by the time they were built.

Britain, meanwhile, is also collaborating with the US on plans to replace nuclear warhead components....
Insanity. Britain seeks to replace Trident still even though it is about defence from a threat that has not existed for two decades-the Soviet Union-and is simply about maintaining "credibility" as a member of the nuclear club at a huge expense at a time of recession and cuts to public services.

And this is the government lecturing Iran about its nuclear programme.

The reasons Trident is being renewed are to maintain Britain as a "Global Player", to remain attached to the USA , military-industrial interests, the decline of Parliament and of independent politicians to challenge these interests. The absence of dissent is one of the more sinister features of public life.

Even CND is now led by Kate Hudson, a former member of the Communist party of Great Britain and supporter of the Soviet Union, who exists as a spokesman for trite anti-American propaganda as opposed to the principled opposition once offered by Bertrand Russell, Michael Foot and AJP Taylor.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Prospects for 2012. Resource Struggles.

In his round up of international developments, The Guardian's correspondent Simon Tisdall omits any mention of the looming problem of resource conflicts in 2012.

A senior US military official said recently that he woke up every morning worrying that Israel might attack Iran's suspect nuclear installations. The US, he said, was talking to Tel Aviv "every day" about the inadvisability of such an attack. But pressure to "do something" about Iran will build through 2012 and could become fatally entangled with US election politics.

The general strategy of encircling Iran, strangling its economy and bringing about 'regime change' is held by most leading Democrats and Republicans. They differ only about the way of bringing it about. The goal is control over it's oil and gas, one reason why the War in Afghanistan will drag on till 2014 ( officially ).

The 'transition' between NATO protection of the New Silk Route ( aka the TAPI Pipeline ) and that of Afghans trained to protect it will do nothing to prevent the instability caused by Pakistan being forced to choose the TAPI Pipeline over the IPI one from Iran that would provide gas four times cheaper.

This strategy of blocking off Iranian gas exports is part of the sanctions policy being imposed on Iran. As the Express Tribune reports,

While Iran has massive gas reserves, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project seems unlikelier by the day, given the current geo-political scenario. The US is strongly opposed to the pipeline and has been nudging Pakistan towards the hopelessly complicated TAPI pipeline project instead. On December 23, the National Bank of Pakistan refused to finance the IPI pipeline because of the threat of sanctions by the US. A recent purchase agreement signed with Turkmenistan has given some hope that a steady supply of gas may be achieved via TAPI by 2016, but that project is marred by numerous security threats.

Iran is now funding the Taliban in the absence of any regional peace plan for Afghanistan and the blatant attempt to destroy Iranian markets for gas. The result is that Iran is now threatening to cut off Western oil supplies at the Straits of Hormuz in reaction to this stranglehold.

The prospects for war with Iran are being ratcheted up as a consequence of NATO states being lethally overdependent upon supplies of oil and gas in far off and dangerous lands riven with sectarian and ethnic enmities and hatreds. Unless this reality is confronted the alternative is darkness.

Britain's Global Mission is to Control Natural Resources.

The doctrine of 'liberal interventionism' is largely concerned with security in regions where Western interests are at stake. In 2012 those will be as they have in 2011-access to oil and gas. Some journalists as Simon Jenkins, however, often tend to think the elites who apparently form British Foreign Policy are suffering from deluded visions of its former imperial role.

Writing in The Guardian, Jenkins opines,

....troubling is the foreign secretary, William Hague's, declaration on Facebook of a Christmas ambition to increase "international pressure on Syria … push Burma in the right direction … improve the situation in Somalia … and protect women's rights in the Middle East" among other uplifting goals.

His tour of the horizon boasted of "saving lives" in Libya, but he was more detached over Syria. He glided past Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, preferring the clearer ethical waters of Sudan, Somalia, Burma and Muslim women's rights.

None of the areas of Hague's concern had anything to do with Britain, let alone being within Britain's sovereign domain, nor have they been for over half a century. The power has gone. The legitimacy has departed. Only the language of implied command echoes through the Foreign Office's post-imperial dusk.

These areas are of concern to Britain. In democracies much of the presentation of foreign policy aims is "public diplomacy". This entails selling war or 2intervention " to bemused citizens and voters by promoting "our values" as being better than those other Powers such as China vying for control over minerals and oil.

The intervention in Libya was about securing oil supplies once Gaddafi's regime no longer seemed stable. As the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had backfired in opening up the oil concessions to Chinese capital as the dollar weakened along with the US economy, Libya was a relatively easy "regime change".

The mistake is to think of Britain having a foreign policy as an independent state. The diplomacy may have differed along with interests but essentially all twenty first century western wars are wars over diminishing resources such as oil and over the geopolitical quest for control over supply routes.

The security of zones which lie near to the resources that consumers demand ,whilst being indifferent as to where they come from, is the essential reality behind war irrespective of the claim to have a policy of 'liberal intervention'. China intervenes in Africa, especially Sudan, but makes no claim for 'human rights'.

One reason those such as Jenkins are against British foreign policy is because they are trapped in the mentality of the Cold War. Conservatives who detested the Communist threat are at a loss to know what purpose NATO has served since 1990.

The reality is that NATO is committed to energy security as a vital interest. Afghanistan is crucially now a conflict over securing the region for the construction of the TAPI Pipeline. The failure to grasp this fact is behind the sense of indignant outrage many feel at their state's foreign policy.

The claim to protect "Women's Rights" is public diplomacy: it makes interventions and meddling seem moral for citizens in liberal democracies who might otherwise feel uneasy about it. If Hague said we needed to intervene to preserve our consumer lifestyles he would be vilified for being honest.

Few want to confront unpleasant facts. If Libya was a war for oil, it is because it was a way to diversify oil supply when faced with the catastrophe of Iraq and Iran resisting Western pressure over its supposed nuclear programme. The reality in fact being that Iran is being targeted because of it's resources and position.

One unmentioned aspect of the Afghan war is that the TAPI Pipeline-the New Silk route-is designed as part of the policy of cutting off export markets for it's gas in neighbouring Pakistan. In turn, Iran then gives support to groups such as the Taliban to sabotage the plan to 'stabilise' the country to the advantage of it's clients.

The reason why the West does not want a regional peace settlement is that it does not want Iran to have any influence in using its gas and pipelines to exert clout in Central Asia or the Middle East. The West needs the pipeline to block off Chinese, Russian and Iranian collusion over energy.

If there is going to be talk over Britain's 'Imperial ethos', then reference should be made to the nineteenth century Great Game. Britain is a bit player in a new struggle for hegemony in energy rich Central Asia in which it supports the US in preserving its energy security.

Any omission of the strategic realities makes any commentary on foreign policy irrelevant, unenlightening and obsolete. The Guardian promotes delusional wish thinking on foreign policy by failing to mention the overdependence of Britain on diminishing fossil fuels.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Absence of Public Dissent On the War Objectives in Afghanistan.

The omission of any stated and coherent war objectives in Afghanistan is the most sinister aspect of the way the war has become normalised. So too the way discussions about what's actually at stake are infantilised by celebrity culture and TV "awards" and trivialised by mingling the position the soldiers have been put in with prime time entertainment.

The death of 391 British troops is low by historical standards but almost every week another soldier is killed and made for bad PR about the war. So the ritual of Wootton Basset welcoming home funeral corteges was stopped and the coffins rerouted to avoid public attention and the town renamed Royal Wootton Basset.

Instead, there is the subtle propaganda inherent in interweaving the virtues of selfless military endeavour with the notion of Afghanistan as unquestionably a 'Good War' , one implanted in popular culture and entertainment through Help for Heroes Concerts and ITV's A Night of Heroes ( "the millies" ) which gives Oscar style awards for bravery.

At the same time as this entertainment extravaganza, the British government seldom makes any attempt to explain why the troops are in Afghanistan beyond vague statements about 'terrorism', even though Al Qaida has not been present in Afghanistan for a long time. Nor does it explicitly use "The War on Terror", the War on Drugs or Women's rights to sell the war any more.

The subliminal message behind The Sun sponsored awards is that support for 'our brave boys' by extension also means mean support for the mission they are on. That this should be put beyond mere politics. It's curious that this has taken place at a time when the media and politicians remain silent on the war objectives and there is virtually no coherent opposition.

A J P Taylor in The Trouble Makers wrote that dissent over British foreign policy had ensured that there was never a time between the French Revolution and World War Two when it had followed a broad line of national interest that transcended the ordinary controversies of domestic policies.

In that light never in British history has there been such a lack of principled objection to a futile war where one essential geopolitical ambition-the security of the route along which the TAPI Pipeline is planned to be constructed by 2016-is not mentioned in Parliament nor press.

The fact that Britain is part of a NATO led coalition dominated by the US tends to lead to the belief that it is a war "in the notional interest". In fact, the interests are stated in documents and press releases and 'think tank' publications as clearly being related to the TAPI Pipeline

Almost every British soldier since 2007 has been killed in the most intense fighting in Helmland. The TAPI pipeline is planned to run through this traditional low lying Taliban dominated region. Now they cannot be defeated, US Vice President has stated peace talk will happen with them.

Indeed Mr Biden even made it clear that the Taliban now must not be referred to as 'the enemy of US Interests'. No mention of NATO here nor even 'the allies or 'western'. Those interests are clearly less to do with the prospect of Al Qaida returning to Afghanistan as to the unfinished business of the TAPI Pipeline.

The soldiers are dying for a pipe dream as the strategy of building a 'pipeline of peace' that will unite all the regional powers-Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India-together is fraught with problems. Pipeline transit states are notoriously unstable.

The plan to construct a New Silk Route is intended to diversify Turkmenistan's gas away from monopoly Russian control ( hence the special interest of Central European powers such as Poland which had five troops killed yesterday ) . It is also conceived as a plan to encircle and destroy Iran economically.

The TAPI pipeline ensures that Pakistan is brought under Western influence as well as getting the supplies of gas it needs and blocking off Iran's export of gas to the east and potentially to India and even Chinese markets. Despite the fact this is causing problems in Pakistan.

The Pakistani elites are not happy at being threatened with sanctions if Pakistan opts for the IPI pipeline which would bring in Iranian gas at a price four times as cheap than would be gas the more risky TAPI pipeline. Funding and support from the Taliban thus comes from Iran and certain factions in Pakistan.

The potential for increased as opposed to diminished conflict in Central Asia and the Middle East is a result of the lack of realism inherent in NATO's botched war and one that ought to have ended with the destruction of Al Qaida's base after 9/11. As Jason Burke has pointed out, Al Qaida is a global 'network of networks' that can operate from anywhere in the world.

The TAPI project and vast mineral deposits have ensured that NATO, and hence Britain, is 'staying the course' along with other objectives that have been euphemised as "mission creep"-the War on Drugs- and others used as pretexts to stay the course-women's rights, school building, aid work etc.

Whilst the humanitarian objectives were worthy, the fact remains it has never been the reason why NATO remained as no war is ever exactly fought for one reason alone. But the idea British soldiers are risking their lives in a selfless humanitarian mission is simply untrue. They fight to protect one another from the Taliban: the organisation the US wants to cut a deal with.

The public have the right as well as a need to know why this war was fought.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Taliban is Not an Enemy of US Interests..

The contradictory statements coming from various leading Western statesmen as regards the mission in Afghanistan are becoming more curious. From being evil 'Islamofascists', the Taliban have now been rebranded and downgraded to not being enemies of the USA.

The Daily Mail reported yesterday,
'The Taliban are not an enemy of the U.S. and should not be talked about in such terms, Joe Biden has claimed.

The vice-president said the militant Islamist group only represents an inherent threat if it allows Al-Qaeda to strike at the U.S.

In an interview with Newsweek, Mr Biden warned against labelling the Taliban as an enemy.

He said: 'That's critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests.'

Mr Biden's comments come as senior U.S. officials prepare to negotiate a peace deal with Taliban militants.

Even after a surge in U.S. troops in Afghanistan has pushed the Taliban out of much of their southern stronghold, the group's intentions regarding peace talks remain unclear.
What is unclear is what US interests are. The enemy is not the enemy is it does not threaten US interests. This is a different position from the one where the Taliban are eternally evil and that defeating them is a victory for women's rights and liberal democracy.

Peace talk with the Taliban are necessary as they threaten the route through which the TAPI Pipeline is scheduled to run by 2016.

It is no coincidence that as Biden effectively admitted whilst there are no permanent enemies only permanent interests, high ranking members of the US military started to suggest they will be there beyond 2014, the 'official' withdrawal date.

In an interview with The New York Times, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan General John R. Allen avoided stating how many troops would be left in the country after 2014 nor even exactly what their function would be. The New York Times reported,
...negotiations with the government of President Hamid Karzai on a strategic partnership agreement would “almost certainly” include “a discussion with Afghanistan of what a post-2014 force will look like.”

Mr. Karzai had, “in fact, just the other day talked about his desire to have conversations with the U.S. about a post-2014 force,” the general said. “We would probably see some number of advisers, trainers, intelligence specialists here for some period of time beyond 2014.”
Could their function, indeed the whole point now of operations in Afghanistan, be primarily to train a security force capable of guarding the TAPI pipeline against terror attacks ? What interests are being served by them being there ? Were these the only permanent interests that the US had been there for all along ?

The Decline of Metroland.

The green space here is one of the last remaining in what was once known as Middlesex, an ancient country that was destroyed as Greater London expanded from Ealing in the West outwards along the arterial A4 and north westwards along the Metropolitan Tube line.

It's hard now to believe that the south part of Harrow, glimpsed in the distance here, was once a desirable semi rural suburb that those fleeing inner city London wanted to move to. Harrow developed in the shadow of the hill upon which the public school and certain expensive independent shops exist as a self conscious and snobby reminder of a vanished England.

In fact, Harrow on the Hill has about as much connection to the reality of what surrounds it as a Harry Potter novel does to contemporary English life. Maybe one day it will develop gate houses at the foot of the hill with barriers and security if the dangerous sections of the teeming masses below target it in the next riots.

Whole swathes of Middlesex have lost their settled and sedate commuter aspect and appear as floodlight bricken wastelands. The semis with their tended gardens and silly ponds and gnomes have often gone as they become temporary work barracks for a globalised workforce in the shadow of Heathrow Airport.

Even the spire of the Church on Harrow on the Hill has a red light on it to warn low flying aircraft of its existence. From Old Redding, a high point from which Harrow and Highgate Hills can both be seen, by day the planes taking off from Heathrow like slow motion ballistic missiles one after another can be watched. More airport terminals are planned.

"The sisters Progress and Destruction dwell
Where rural Middlesex once cast her spell
Dear vanished county of such prosperous farms/
Where now are your weatherboarded charms."

John Betjeman wrote that in 1967. Even that world of contended suburban Metroland has mostly disappeared, a process accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s by London becoming an ever more deracinated "Global City". The idea that people, migrants from within Britain or elsewhere can 'make a home for themselves' here ignores the fact it no longer functions as one for those already living there.

Life has a feeling of transience and meaningless drift. It is hardly surprising that some alienated Muslims feel that if nations of Muslims must be, as they see it, are destroyed by the need of Western foreign policies designed to control their oil and that this is the 'civilisation' it has to offer, then it deserves to be destroyed in turn by them.

There is something sinister in the new architectures of warehouses and logistics depots surrounded with aluminium rail fencing, razor wire, and 24/7 security barriers and omnipresent CCTV cameras. The riots in August 2011 showed that social discipline is not internalised: only repression and surveillance can restrain outbreaks of mass pychopathology of the streets.

Metroland is dead, perhaps, due to two factors. Firstly, it's decline was hastened by the M25 and the Great car economy of Thatcher. This change in 1986 made it easier for those in Metroland to start to live in Motorway Towns. Secondly, in the 1990s the well to do Londoners could move back into the old inner city districts such as Islington if not beyond and around the M25.

The dislike of public transport probably played a part. It just became as obsolete as the "rus in urbe" concept. England consists of little more than sodium lit suburbs interconnected with numerous high speed motorway and dual carriage way links. The south east of England especially is now one large suburban sprawl.

With vastly inflated property prices in London, the economy of which was increasingly detached from the rest of England that was, however, still dependent upon it is role as a finance centre, many sold out and went off outside London, whether the Costa del Sol or the Motorway towns with quick airport

Then new people from all over the globe came in and either rented semis or bought them if they could. High Streets no longer had anything but bland retail chains such as Wenzels and Greggs selling trashy baked goods. Polish shops sprung up after 2005 when hundreds of thousands entered in order to work the London cash machine to their benefit.

Though large numbers of British Asians had took over the old suburban English ideas with success certain chunks Metroland . Few people look at one another or even say 'hello', crime is rampant, drugs are commonplace and there are tensions and enmities where there isn't just flat bored indifference.

Diary. No Point in Christmas.

Just under a week to Christmas or "Consumermass". It doesn't feel like it and neither do I. The fetid atmosphere and damp autumn drizzle means it isn't like it should be and I'd prefer a dinner on the 25th December but with no mention of the word "Christmas". It just isn't.

Alternatives have been put forth recently such as "Winterval", apparently, to avoid 'offending' Muslims. This is strange. Christmas has little to do with religion anyway, so devout Muslims who feel 'offended' can take relief from that if they actually exist.

In any case, without Christianity, it's a pagan mid winter festival. So without it being winter, it isn't anything and it's therefore obsolete. It only exists now as a way to encourage excessive shopping. Which most consumers do most of the year anyway.

It's absurd that Christmas is portrayed in film and on innumerable Christmas cards as a time of snow, hot roasted chestnuts with Santa Claus racing through snow on a sleigh with reindeer it's ridiculous with in a northern Europe now undergoing global warming. It's like having Tarzan flouncing around in midwinter Finland.

If Christmas was not an annual shopping ritual it would have no function at all.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The US Forces Pakistan Towards the TAPI Pipeline

The real thrust of US foreign policy towards Aghanistan revealed itself with reports that the US is now 'advocating' the Trans-Afghan TAPI Pipeline instead of the IPI pipeline as part of it's strategy to encircle and destroy the Iranian regime.

The Express Tribune ( aligned with the International Herald Tribune ) reported this today,in an article entitled Wielding Soft Power: US offers to finance TAPI Pipeline

"ISLAMABAD: The US has made a generous offer to finance the multibillion-dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, an implicit gesture to lure Pakistan away from the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline deal....Sources inform The Express Tribune that the Export-Import Bank (EIB) of the United States as well as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), an “independent” US agency, have offered Pakistan financing for TAPI"

What was not mentioned was that this 'soft power' seems to have come at the same time as a harder threat that states that non compliance with this magnanimous offer comes with the prospect of Pakistan being seen as objectively siding with Iran against 'the international community'.

As Dunya News reported that US state department press officer, speaking under conditions of anonymity claimed,

" The proposed Pakistan-Iran pipeline, if built, could raise concerns under the Iran Sanctions Act. We have raised this issue with the Government of Pakistan and are encouraging it to seek alternatives. Transactions such as these weaken international community pressure on Iran to fulfill its international obligations and address concerns about its nuclear activities"

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Globe and Mail : Stats and Facts on Afghanistan

Graeme Smith of the Global Mail has written on the facts in Afghanistan thus ( Report on 'more peaceful Afghanistan' doesn't tell the whole truth December 13 2011 ).

The World Bank study suggested a “sense of urgency” about avoiding a situation like that of Somalia, in which “abrupt aid cut-offs lead to fiscal implosion, loss of control over security sector, collapse of political authority, and possibly civil war.” Afghanistan’s economy, in other words, is a bubble inflated with war money.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Foreign Policy analysis is the violence data. The magazine website reports that “the country remains considerably more peaceful and united than it has been for most of the past 40 years,” citing World Bank data on battle deaths that show an average of 9,000 deaths a year in the 1990s, as compared with about 3,000 deaths a year from 2003 to 2008.

These numbers are compiled by a Swedish academic group called the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, and it appears that researchers did not have particularly refined data for several years in the 1990s; the figures are round estimates. Even those rough numbers show a clear trend during that decade, however. Battle deaths exceeded 10,000 every year from 1990 to 1994; in the following years, as the Taliban seized control of the country, battle deaths fell to an average of 5,000 per year from 1995 to 2001. The Taliban were exceptionally bad in many ways, but the statistics suggest that they imposed a certain amount of brutal order.

The Foreign Policy analysis is correct that violence remained relatively low in the first years after 2001, but the World Bank/Uppsala statistics don’t include the terrible heights of mayhem reached in 2009, 2010 and 2011. For those numbers, it’s easiest to look at the charts compiled by Brookings in the Afghanistan Index, which make it clear that violence now exceeds the averages for the years under the Taliban regime. Among civilians alone – excluding combatants on both sides of the conflict – the annual death toll is now running at roughly 3,000 per year.

I’ve been trading emails about this today with Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, and he summarized his opinion with typical flair: "If the international community had spent $100-billion on development over ten years and accomplished nothing, that would be shocking. So it’s no surprise that some things have improved. What [author Charles] Kenny should be asking isn’t, ‘Did we get anything for our vast expenditure?’, but rather, ‘Have the improvements been worth the cost?’"

The Pipe Dream That Never Dies: Afghanistan.

An interesting piece here appeared in Pakistan's Dawn.Com ( The Trans-Afghan Pipe Dream that Won't Die )

"The idea of a 1,700-km pipeline from Turkmenistan to India, known as TAPI, isn’t new. In the mid-1990s, Afghanistan’s then-rulers, the Taliban, talked to an American energy firm about building it. Almost 15 years and no gas later, the Taliban have been kicked out of power, thousands have been killed in Afghanistan during the US-led war, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is one of the most dangerous areas in the world — but the pipeline dream won’t die.“Without peace and stability in Afghanistan, the pipeline may become only a pipedream,” said Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra".

Violence is at its worst since 2001, according to the United Nations. Foreign forces have already started a security handover in parts of the country, ahead of a full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. Some fear that when they go, full-scale civil war could break out.

“People are talking about pipelines, roads and railways, and these are all very vulnerable,” said Thomas Ruttig, a co-director with Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul.

Afghan officials have pledged security forces, and talk about burying part of the pipeline underground, but even then it would still snake through the Taliban heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar in the south of Afghanistan.

“The pipeline is very long and very difficult to defend — you can’t put a soldier every 20 metres,” Ruttig said.

The Asian Development Bank earlier this year approved around half a million dollars to pay for consultancy and meetings on the project, but when asked at the end of October, it was no longer talking about TAPI.

According to the Afghan Ministry of Mines, the pipeline would pump 33 billion cubic metres a year from the South Iolotan field in Turkmenistan to Fazilka in India, crossing 735 kilometres of Afghan territory, then 800 kilometres in Pakistan.

Between problematic and impossible.

Getting Pakistan and India to agree on anything is tough.

Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours, who have fought three wars against each other since their independence from Britain in 1947, are prickly enough to scuttle the project without any help from the Taliban.

“Two of the major stakeholders in TAPI, India and Pakistan, have major differences including security and transit fee, and more importantly, trust,” Mahapatra said.

Energy experts aren’t holding their breath.

“It works economically and is even quite attractive. Needless to say, from the political side, it is somewhere between highly problematic and impossible,” said Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Britain.

Doublethink in the War for the New Silk Route and the TAPI Pipeline.

As news came through that, in reaction to the US drone bombing of Pakistani border, the Pakistani government had blocked NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, the futility of the "humanitarian war" was furthered when Human Rights Watch criticised NATO for ignoring human rights abuses in Uzbekistan-the alternative supply route into it's troubled neighbour.

In its first major report on Uzbekistan for four years, Human Rights Watch said Uzbek security forces beat people during interrogations and use electric shocks and rape to extract confessions.

But as Uzbekistan’s importance in the NATO supply chain to Afghanistan has grown, criticism of its abuses has melted away.

Steve Swerdlow, the Human Rights Watch Uzbekistan researcher, said the US and its allies know about these abuses.

“Being located next to Afghanistan should not give Uzbekistan a pass on its horrendous record of torture and repression”

Without Uzbekistan being onside, NATO would have strategic problems in withdrawing from Afghanistan

Uzbekistan was the Soviet Union’s regional transport hub and still has strong rail and road connections with Russia. This makes the country useful to Nato and it was able to switch its re-supply effort to Central Asia and Uzbekistan when US relations with Pakistan deteriorated over the past year.

Britain will also use this network to pull out equipment when it quits Afghanistan in 2014 and last month officials visited Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, for talks.

Since it became an ally, public criticism of Uzbekistan’s human rights record by NATO governments has dried up. The US has even publicly stated that human rights in Uzbekistan are improving.

The Human Rights Watch report disagreed with this assessment and gave detailed firsthand accounts of torture.

This came at the same time as Assistant Secretary of State Robert O. Blake, Jr discretely visited Ashgabat to meet with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov before the conference on Afghanistan in Bonn regarding the future of Afghanistan some 10 years on after the "war on terror" was proclaimed.

At the meeting Blake mused on the subject of Can Virtue be Taught ? and emphasised the importance of adhering to human rights whilst fighting terrorism.

The Joint Plan of Action includes a commitment to abide by and uphold the core values, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, that are too often compromised in efforts to combat terrorism. This is a very important point, because counterterrorism efforts can best succeed when they place respect for human rights and the rule of law front and center. Abusive and extra-legal behavior often only make the terrorism situation worse in the long-term, and it is important in our zeal to protect our citizens that we do not weaken their legal rights and protections.

Catherine Fitzpatrick mused on this subject,

Blake's remarks came on the eve of an unfortunate development at home tending to undercut his message, as the US Senate voted for the defense re-authorization act but failed to uphold the principle that American citizens arrested in the US in the war on terror shouldn't be subject to indefinite military detention on the president's order.

Just days before the meeting with Turkmenistan's president, Blake had returned to the real business of the USA and NATO in Afghanistan-the development of the TAPI pipeline. None of that is actually reported in the mainstream media in the West as being the reason for continuing the war in Afghanistan.

Blake stressed that

"The United States appreciates the leadership of Turkmenistan in ensuring stability and sustainable development in Central Asian region and, in particular, on supporting the socio-economic reconstruction of Afghanistan" He continued "the U.S. government welcomes Ashgabat's leading role in promoting the project of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline".

At the same time "huge importance of the transnational project, designed to become a reliable link between the states of the region, to promote their effective economic integration and to contribute to recovery of the Afghan economy and improving the social situation in this country" .

The Afghan War is now solidly about the New Silk Route, excluding and diminishing Iran's regional interests and encircling it the better to cripple it economically and target it for "regime change", and developing Afghanistan's copious resources of lithium and cobalt through the Asian Development Bank.

In this New Great Game. human rights are entirely secondary and expendable as and where necessary.

The Globe and Mail: The Bonn Conference and Afghanistan a Decade on.

An article in the Globe and Mail puts the War in Afghanistan in perspective by comparing the triumphalist Bonn Conference of 2001 and that of December 2011. The staggering cost and futility of this war are self evident. Yet still the public has never been told the truth about the war and why it has been deemed "worth it".

What was said about international aid and military cost?

Then: The initial international aid estimate was put at $10 billion over 10 years.

For the United States, the actual military cost at the time of the first Bonn meeting was over $30 million a day, or more than a billion dollars a month.

The Bonn agreement requested the United Nations to authorize the creation of an international protection force for Afghanistan. The first International Security Assistance Force in 2002 numbered 5,000 soldiers from around the world.

Now: Total international aid between 2002 and 2010: $29 billion

Total U.S. military spending: $443 billion spent since 2001, $118 billion in 2011 alone, and another half a trillion over the next decade where America will continue to have a presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Total U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan: 1,829

Total Canadian military spending: By the end of 2011, estimated cost of total Canadian mission in Afghanistan is expected to be up to $18 billion.

Total Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan: 158

Total Afghan civilian casualties: “The rising tide of violence and bloodshed in the first half of 2011 brought injury and death to Afghan civilians at levels without recorded precedent in the current armed conflict,” said the UN's mid-year report on civilian deaths, which numbered 1,462 from January to June 2011.

What was said about the Taliban?

Then: “Generally the Taliban movement or that regime has completely gone away from Afghanistan. The main terrorist bases associated with them have been removed,” Mr. Karzai said after his first meeting of the country’s new government in December 2001.

“There may be individuals hiding in parts of Afghanistan. We are looking for them. In recent days some have been arrested and we are looking for more.

“We will see to it that terrorism is completely finished in Afghanistan in all its forms.”

As US troops fought in Afghanistan, the Bush administration rejected any negotiated settlement with senior Taliban leaders.

Now: President Karzai said at the Bonn conference that he remained open to talks with the Taliban. His peace envoy, former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in September. The killing blamed on the Taliban.

“The political process will continue to be inclusive, open to Taliban and other militants who denounce violence, break ties with international terrorism, accept the Afghan constitution and defend peaceful life,” Mr. Karzai said in Bonn.

Countries like Germany are also pushing for negotiations and a political solution that includes the Taliban: “Reconciliation does not happen among friends but rather between erstwhile opponents. That is what we need to work on,” Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said in the lead-up to the Bonn conference.