Monday, 16 December 2013

Afghanistan: Mission Not Quite Accomplished

"You have to remember that Afghanistan is an extremely poor country with a very, very troubled history but I think the purpose of our mission was always to build an Afghanistan and Afghan security forces that were capable of maintaining a basic level of security so this country never again became a haven for terrorist training camps. That has been the most important part of the mission …That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done."
Cameron might well have declared that the mission has been accomplished. The fact it is it has not because the main strategic objective of the West in Afghanistan-securing the construction of the TAPI pipeline-has not been achieved. That is why British troops are being 'drawdown' and not withdrawn.

"Afghanistanisation" is a longer term project that underlies the geopolitical strategy of ensuring that Iran is excluded from being able to export its gas eastwards through Pakistan into India, one of the world's largest markets. Thousands of Western troops and private contractors will remain after 2014.

Despite the recent thaw in relations between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear programme, the US was resolute in November 2013 in refusing to exempt the IPI pipeline from sanctions and instead pushing Pakistan towards accepting the future Trans-Afghan alternative.

With British troops being withdrawn from 'combat roles'. the military and private contractors are set to stay there in order to keep the Taliban in check from attacking the TAPI pipeline's construction because this has remained the paramount interest as the idea of 'nation building' was shelved.

The process of 'drawdown' of British troops has been paralleled by the US. Replaced by private contractors and with the conflict spilling over to the south in Pakistan with drone warfare, the strategy is to keep on with 'infrastructure projects' and the pipeline that is in the West's vital interest to protect.

The importance of the TAPI pipeline lies in the strategy of energy diversification. It means Turkmen gas could be exported south beyond Russian control, preventing China exerting too much leverage ( a pipeline now goes between Turkmenistan and China ) and hemming in Iranian influence.

Opponents of the war can scoff at Cameron's claim of 'mission accomplished' because they are in the dark as to what the true objectives were. Even if the war initially really did have women's liberation, the establishment of liberal democracy and the 'war on drugs' as aims, these are now less prominent.

The reality is that Afghanistan has always been an important part of a geopolitical jigsaw and valued as a potential prize for its copious resources, expecially of lithium ( used to make batteries for everything from the mobile phones to iPads that consumers demand ).

Afghanistan is a conflict zone and a cockpit in the New Great Game for control of energy flows and the minerals needed for high tech products being played out between the West, China and Russia. The facts are established on this. US State Department officials routinely mention 'the New Silk Road'.

If we are going to talk about whether it 'was worth it', it's first necessary to understand why Afghanistan was fought for so long. It's infantile to berate 'idiot politicians' because the politicians know they could never admit the real geopolitical reasons for the war that are too complex for the children to grasp.

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