Sunday, 12 May 2013

"Transitional Relief" in Afghanistan

Western newspapers are still failing to grasp the realities of the Fourth Afghanistan War. A Guardian op-ed claimed today,
More effort is being put into crafting a face-saving narrative or keeping the country out of the news altogether. The policy is called "transition" but there is little to be in transit to.
There is a lot the West and the Karzai regime want in regard to 'transit to.

The transition, in reality, is from a more full scale military presence to the strategy of retaining special advisers from NATO nations in in order to secure the route and maintain the security of the TAPI pipeline which is due to be finished in 2017.

The usual reaction to these facts is to suggest that the war is not about a pipeline and that this is a 'conspiracy theory', a sincere reaction given credence by the fact that leftists tend to think all wars are only about oil or , as in 2001, UNOCAL, Halliburton and Bush's cronies grabbing profit from war.

Unfortunately, this infantile view of the world, which indeed, is a conspiracy theory in the manner of Michael Moore's populist 'journalism', has tended to lead otherwise intelligent people from accepting what Orwell termed the 'power of facing' with regards the real war objectives in Afghanistan.

The TAPI Pipeline is an energy project that is backed by the Western powers as part of the New Great Game to control energy supplies in Central Asia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of the ex-Soviet 'stans', rich in oil and gas, to global competition.

By successfully securing the construction of the TAPI Pipeline, gas from Turkmenistan is diverted away from too much Russian control over the pipelines heading West. More importantly, the TAPI is vigorously backed by the USA as an alternative to Iran's rival IP pipeline project.

The siren voices about Afghanistan being a 'humanitarian intervention', as opposed to what the invasion back in 2001 actually was-realpolitik, have gone curiously silent. Understanding that the invasion was about-removing Al Qaida and advancing longer term geopolitical interests-is seldom stated.

That n the West journalists and 'experts' are queasy about mentioning that the war in Afghanistan is crucucially concerned about the TAPI pipeline's strategic benefits is due what Freud knew as the power of 'wish thinking'. Liberals want to believe that Afghanistan was and is about the Afghan people.

Unfortunately, despite the sincere efforts of some Western aid agencies, at least the ones not tied to corporate donors, the Fourth Afghan War was always about the unpleasant business of forestalling Iranian influence in the Indian subcontinent by ensuring that the TAPI pipeline gets built.

The fact that work on the TAPI pipeline has not yet begun does not mean that the obsession with getting it constructed has not been a continuity in Western foreign policy since 2001. In short, the TAPI pipeline is central war aim.

By blocking off lucrative Iranian gas exports to the east to a Pakistan that is in danger of political instability due to constant energy shortages and blackouts, the USA ( the most powerful Western Power ) is pursuing its policy of putting the screws on Iran's economy and politicians.

By comparison, the TAPI Pipeline would unite Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in a community of interest that would isolate Iran. As such it has now dovetailed with the sanctions policy of the Obama administration. This is why Pakistan has been threatened over the IP deal.

That Afghanistan is about the hard realities of geopolitics seldom gets any mention in mainstream Western media. Yet a cursory glance at US 'think thank' papers, the Indian and Pakistani newspapers, reveals that discussions over the merits of the TAPI project are accepted as routine facts.

The former World Bank energy economist John Foster writes in detail about it in his Pipeline Through a Troubled Land. Lutz Klevemann, a journalist of high reputation and integrity, interviewd the Afghan energy minister in 2003 who admitted that the war was centrally concerned with the pipeline.

Reference to 'Western interests' never mention the TAPI Pipeline as it is considered bad form to mention this as it contradicts the 'humanitarian narrative' about NATO's involvement. Enlightened self-interest in Afghanistan has been far more about self interest than 'enlightened' policy.

For it's a cruel fact that states dependent upon lucrative transit fees are liable to political infighting and corruption as politicians vie for power to control the $3 trillion in transit fees the TAPI pipeline would generate in a land as poor as Afghanistan.

Moreover, the instability in Pakistan is exacerbated by the squabbles over accepting, as Zadari did, the IP pipeline deal as it provides gas four times cheaper than the TAPI which has not yet even begun construction. Not least as it threatens Western aid packages.

These are the hard facts.

More hard evidence that the Fourth Afghan War is about energy geopolitics can be read in John Foster's Afghanistan, The TAPI Pipeline and Energy Geopolitics
In January 2009, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then NATO Secretary General, said, “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.”
Obviously, there has been a 'crisis' in Afghanistan for a long time. Whilst obviously, the Bush II administration's immediate concern was to remove Al Qaida from it's base in Afghanistan, the relationship between Al Qaida and the Taliban was never an easy one as they distrusted the 'Afghan Arabs'.

The significance of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 is that it definitively put an end to any illusion that the Taliban would be reliable clients in promoting what was then known as the UNOCAL pipeline before 2006 when it was renamed the TAPI Pipeline.

The irony is that, for all the rhetoric of 'humanitarian intervention', the US administration has been trying to negotiate with more 'moderate' elements of the Taliban as part of the 'transition'. This is consistent with the continuity with US negotitions with the Taliban in the 1990s over the pipeline.

As Jason Burke pointed out in his Al Qaeda, the Bush II administration made an error after 9/11 in thinking of it as a terrorist 'group' with a rigid chain of command and hierachy that could be eliminated by thinking of it as a permanent ally of the Taliban.

There was evidence that the Taliban often detested Al Qaida's presence, a legacy of the mujahadeen struggles against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. After the Soviet Union was defeated, with US and UK assistance, the mujahadeen broke up into squabbling factions and rival militias.

US policy has always been opportunistic in Afghanistan. The invasion of 2001 was about destroying 'the base' of Al Qaida. Yet it was also about the pipeline and remains so to this day. Not to mention the flawed 'war on drugs' and destruction of the opium crops and export of heroin to the West.

The only impact in such a poor war ravaged land as Afghanistan of doing that was to drive opium farmers into the hands of the Taliban who then reversed its policy of suppressing the opium trade into wholeheatedly promoting it and profiting from it in order to continue fighting NATO.

The fact is that the 'war on drugs' and destroying opium crops reduced supply for a time whilst not reducing the massive demand in the bored consumer societies of the US and Western Europe for the mind numbing qualities of heroin.

The majority of opium comes from Helmland, a Taliban stronghold, through which the TAPI pipeline route goes. This is where the vast majority of British troop deaths have happened since around 2007. Without any stake in the politicking in far off Kabul, the Taliban were bound to keep the war going.

The embarassment of having waged a war with contradictory objectives has led Western politicians to concentrate on trying to omit all mention of this war and to cynically concentrate on lauding the heroism of the soldiers whom they sent to their deaths for nothing.

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