Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Connection between Afghanistan and Iran

With news of Iran having shot down a US Drone over Afghanistan, the storming of the British Embassy by a mob in Tehran, NATO having blown up a border checkpoint in Pakistan and continued warnings over Iran's nuclear programme, the need for these seemingly disparate events to be interpreted within the context of energy politics is urgent.

As the Bonn Conference some ten years on from the first in 2001 discusses the problems and prospects for peace in Afghanistan, there has been no attempt to outline to the public in the West just how its over dependence upon oil and gas in far off lands beyond its control is making a bad situation even worse.

As the TAPI pipeline ( which British soldiers are dying to facilitate ) rivals the IP or IPI pipeline, so too does Iran, encircled by US military presence, seek to deploy its proxy forces in Afghanistan to tie down NATO and prevent the TAPI being constructed. Ironically, Iran has funded the Taliban to this end in recent years -despite detesting it's Sunni extremism and persecution of Shi'ites in the 1990s.

This is one additional reason why the attempt to use TAPI to block off Iranian energy interests to the East is self defeating-unless the West seriously considered trying to overthrow the Iranian regime by force. This would, of course, trigger off a global conflict.

Brian Downing has written in Asia Times Online an interesting article looking at the reality of the geopolitical struggles that stretch across from the Middle East to Central Asia,

"US forces in Afghanistan and the Gulf
Iran already gives limited support, in the form of explosives and training, to Afghan insurgents, including the Taliban. This is not out of ideological affinity or broad strategic interests. Iran despises the Taliban as an intolerant Sunni movement that slaughtered tens of thousands of Shi'ites and killed a number of Iranian diplomats as well.

In the latest atrocity to inflict Afghan, 58 people were killed on Tuesday in a suicide bombing at a crowded Kabul shrine on the most important day in the Shi'ite calendar"

Sunni groups connected to AQ claimed responsibility. The support given to the Taliban is pure realpolitik. It is simply to derail the pipeline project, open up the possibility of exporting gas to Pakistan, India and even China and prevent the US hemming it in from all sides. If IPI was built, the whole purpose of the War effort in Afghanistan would be made obsolete.

As Downing states,

"Iran works against the Taliban as well by supporting development programs in the north and west where Tajik and Hazara peoples have long had cultural and political ties to Iran and deep hatred of the Taliban.

Iran could venture to deploy Qods Force troops into Afghanistan to destroy aid projects, ambush troops, and interdict International Security Assistance Force convoys coming into the southern part of the country from Chaman and Spin Boldak in western Pakistan, not far from Iranian soil. Such convoys are of course already subject to intermittent stoppages by the Pakistani army.

The US's present antagonisms with the Pakistani generals offer an opening for Iranian diplomacy. Iran could offer more favorable terms for gas and pipeline projects and support for Pakistani interests and aspirations in Afghanistan. In return, Pakistan could further restrict foreign troop convoys into Afghanistan.

The US naval presence in the Persian Gulf offers numerous possibilities. The Fifth Fleet facilities in Bahrain are within missile range, at least one carrier group is always inside the Gulf, and support ships routinely transit the Straits of Hormuz. All would be vulnerable to Iranian aircraft, missiles, and ships - especially if "swarming" tactics were used. Pentagon war-gaming of such attacks has reportedly been less than assuring.

Even a brief skirmish in the Gulf would send oil prices soaring on world markets, perhaps 15% in a day or two. Many economies would be adversely affected and world opinion might not side with Iran's opponents in affixing blame. Paradoxically, soaring prices would be a boon for Tehran.

... Iran may increase support for the insurgents as a means of punishing the US and deterring further attacks inside Iran, especially on its nuclear facilities. Iran can provide more weapons to insurgents, possibly to include shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles such as the Stingers given to the mujahideen"

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