Pipelinestan re-aligns as US-Pakistan relations unravel

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With the recent US-Pakistan brouhaha, which erupted when a two-hour NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the northern tribal areas on 11-26-2011, the US audibly wondered if Pakistan had been pushed too far. Mass rallies broke out against the US in the country, and even more pointedly, the Pakistan Army closed down the legendary Khyber Pass through which NATO supplies are trucked into Afghanistan. The US anxiously suspended its drone attacks in response. “There is concern that another hit [by the drones] will push US-Pakistan relations past the point of no return,” one official told The Long War Journal. “We don’t know how far we can push them [the Pakistani], how much more they are willing to tolerate.”

As it turned out, it was all a tempest in a teapot. It is helpful to have a psychological portrait of the opponent facing you at a high-stakes blackjacks table, and the US has consistently bet that Pakistan’s elite would rather be gently led toward the dissolution of their country than challenge their own political and cultural dependency on the United States. Even as the “Memogate” threatened to set the Pakistan army against the pro-US kleptomaniac civilian government and its US handlers, a Pakistani military inquiry has handily set all things to right. Blaming an Afghan National Army commander as the ultimate culprit behind the incident, the document declared that the said “Afghan commander conspired on the instructions of Indian and Afghan intelligence to dismantle Pakistan’s ties with US and NATO.”

But the “what if” scenario, the point of no-return when the downward graph of the hapless Pakistani elites intersects with the upward-boiling one of the masses, has already shifted the balance of power in Pipelinestan. The former Soviet Republics –” Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan –” are the dreamy gas-rich bonanza that has prickled the thumbs of US energy men since the late Cold War. It certainly counted amongst the US’ most noted successes to peel off the Eurasian republics from the Soviet Union in the waning years of the Cold War, in addition to gaining Georgia as a NATO and CIA staging platform.

But while the Cold War ally Pakistan has been a reliable corridor to the Eurasian geographies, US-Pakistan tensions are fast closing it down. A recent study indicates that while three years ago, 90% of the Afghan war supplies passed through Pakistan, currently only about 45% do so.

Pakistan is condemned property, condemned to dereliction by Zionist-neocon existential horror at nuclear weapons in the hands of an Islamic state (even if Islamic in name only). The Khyber Pass border opens and shuts in the tango of death between the ISI and CIA-Pentagon –” once dubbed brothers in arms –” as they cooperate and surreptitiously blood-let each other. This state of affairs places the US in the unenviable position of staking out its supply grounds in the theatre of war itself. For even as the United States moves ahead with its plans to develop natural gas pipelines moving through Afghanistan into the warm-water ports of India and Pakistan, the volatile Eurasian states that are the headwaters of the liquid gas wealth –” and over which Russia, China, and the EU are competing –” have become the main supply routes for the US Afghan war.

NATO war munitions are now snaking across Turkey, moving across the Black Sea to course along three main routes. One of them winds from Azerbaijan, over the Caspian Sea and then into Central Asia. The other two sprout from Russia, move through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and pass respectively through Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan into Afghanistan. In Pentagon bureaucracy speak, this is dubbed the “Northern Distribution Network,” through which hardware, weaponry, and military-intelligence personnel are pumped into the US Afghan crusade to the tune of $310 million a day.

How effective is the “Northern Distribution Network (NDN)” a replacement for the Khyber Pass through which Alexander the Great once trudged with his exhausted armies? A 12-2011 Senate report admitted it “is not a perfect substitute for the current supply routes in Pakistan. For example, the NDN only allows for one-way transit of goods to Afghanistan, though discussions are reportedly under way to expand the NDN to support two-way transit of cargo leaving Afghanistan via the northern routes.” In polite diplomatic speak, this is a bloody mess for the Cold Warriors dreaming of energy monopoly over the Eurasian dictatorships, a nest of golden eggs that would power NATO countries’ civilization for the next few decades, capture the energy-hungry markets of India and Pakistan, and definitively marginalize Russia. The Eurasian geography is far too complex, its players too numerous to easily subject it to the tactics of seduction and abuse doled out to Pakistan’s traumatized elite.

For one thing, instead of marginalizing Russia, the US has now become reliant on the Russian sphere of influence. Prime Minister and soon to become President (again) Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB official who has publicly dreamed of reconsolidating Soviet glory in a “Eurasian Union” of former Soviet states, has energetically worked to bring back the breakaway states back in the Russian fold. In some cases, geography can make a case for kinship –” Russia tends to have the greatest influence over the states closest to it, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. However, the US is determined to accelerate the Eurasian estrangement of Russia, dispersing military hardware and dollars to the tin-pot despots like a fairy godmother of gunmetal.

In 2-2011, when its economy was already crashing, the United States earmarked Eurasian countries to receive the most aid –” Kyrgyzstan tops the list with $40.8 million in aid while Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan and which has become a prime military staging area, is number two at $38.1 million. The budget was fairly honest about the US need for Tajikistan, noting the importance of “increasing the stability of Tajikistan, particularly given its potential impact on US efforts in Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has been titillated with the possibility of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, with its windfall of business investment and tourism. However, the US economy losing steam means a dip in aid and consequently, its ability to purchase influence. The total aid doled to the five Central Asian republics and three Caucasus countries –” Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia –” has dropped by around 4% to $232 million compared with the current budget of $241 million.

But the courtship of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan is rather like inviting the quiet, dorky girl to the prom once you find out that the popular cheerleader has accepted someone else. The US held high hopes for Uzbekistan, ruled by the despotic Islam Karimov. The Central Asian despot, notorious for boiling opponents alive, was extended an invitation to join the NATO political alliance that he accepted after the post-9/11 military pyrotechnics in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Karimov’s iron-fist over his hapless people proved attractive, he showed a bit more spine than the US State Department found itself comfortable with, and soon enough, a series of terrorist attacks in Uzbekistan threatened to de-stabilize his regime. After Karimov traced them back to his allies in 2005, he broke with the US and ordered NATO to clear out the airbase they occupied. It also formally withdrew from GUUAM (an anti-Russia NATO organization). Thus, Uzbekistan loosely enrolled itself in the Russian orbit, while accepting limited business deals with US War Inc.

The other point brought up by the “Northern Distribution Network” is the sheer awkwardness of supplying the Afghan War through Russian territory itself. It is surely galling to pay the hefty rentier fees in munitions transport to Russia, which already enjoys its 27 billion barrels of energy reserves in addition to its lucrative political connections to the Eurasian states. Where the Cold War once revolved around the refusal to share Afghanistan with the Soviets, there is a certain kind of desperation in supplying the US-Afghan Crusade through the Russian landmass. This arrangement can only involve the kind of resource-sharing agreements that would have hurled the Cold Warriors of yesteryears into an apoplectic fit. If world geography itself had become a claustrophobic space in Cold War jousting between the Soviet Union and the United States, Central Asia is surely too limited and too volatile a battleground.

No surprise, then, that the Russo-American geopolitical joustings are creating shock waves that are reverberating across the media. The 12-2011 issue of The Economist magazine is a veritable bashing post against Vladimir Putin (seeking re-election for the presidency in 3-2012), who is accused of muffling liberal reform in Russia and leading it to the dark ages of Soviet expansionism. True enough, but US media profiles are rather subjective to the political interest shaping the picture (Putin was admiringly photographed shirtless in Time Magazine at the time of US-Russian complacency, encouraging New Jersey and Tampa Bay housewives to ooh and aah over the ex-KGB colonel’s impeccable physique). The Economist title, setting off an image of Putin viewed through a wintry, cracked glass, ominously declares: “The Cracks Appear [in Putin’s Russia].”

Putin is responding by rubbing salt in US wounds. In 2011, news agencies reported that Tajik and Russian border officials are negotiating a new joint agreement on controlling the porous border Tajikistan shares with Afghanistan. While Russian border police officials left Tajikistan in 2005 (ending a police presence of more than 100 years), Russia retains a presence on that all too interesting border through officers serving “in an advisory capacity.” And if economic collaboration with corrupt elites is the key, binding them into multinational business ventures, then Russia is comfortably ensconced in Kyrgyzstan too. In April 2011, Kyrgyzstan signed on to become a member of the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, where the flow of Russian rubles in the Kyrgyz economy is matched with Russia gaining shares in Kyrgyzstan’s major companies.

China is another eyesore for US and European oil companies. Beijing is deep in the process of cashing in its geopolitical proximity to Eurasia to guarantee itself an energy-secure future. Xinjiang, the Uigher province, is the doorway linking China with Kazakhstan, where 70% of the energy wealth of the Caspian gas reserves is thought to be pooled. To US and European consternation, China has bought up the rights to one quarter of Kazakhstan’s gas reserves, constructing gargantuan pipelines running across Eurasia to Kazakhstan into Xinjiang (Eastern Turkistan). US war czars complained back in 2007 that China and Russia were circling US energy holdings “like vultures” and certainly, China sees itself as geopolitically entitled to ensure itself the liquid gas satrapies needed to power its fantasies of endless growth.

In 9-2011, the head of China’s National Energy Administration Liu Tienan went on a diplomatic tour of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the three main energy-producing hubs of Eurasia, signing lucrative deals and political collaboration agreements. Meanwhile, the US is struggling to replicate its successes with the unctuous Gulf sheikhs in Eurasia. In 2010, the Kashagan consortium of Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Italy’s ENI and France’s Total struggled to get Kazakhstan to toe the line on its desired profit ceilings from its staked gas fields. Kazakhstan had the temerity to demand a 10% stake in the profits, to the horror of the consortium’s board of directors. The fact is that the US and its colonies lack a certain panache, or cultural legitimacy if you will, in the area. Or perhaps they are out of practice after dealing with the Saudis who have been acclimated to la vida Americana through 50-plus years of chomping on McDonalds and buying designer duds.

In fact, the US has grown increasingly sour about determined Chinese penetration. At a 2011 conference, US Ambassador Richard Morningstar lectured to the Chinese, warning them that “regional cooperation is critical for energy security,” and widely touted “market-based, transparent, and open investment climates” and alternate energy sources as an imperative to gain a “diversified energy profile” in China. That is, mind your p’s and q’s and don’t hog the resources –” leave enough spoils for our economic hit-men.

The final thorn in the Eurasian game is Iran, the neighbor of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan (where the US’s main gas field is located, the headwaters of the TAPI pipeline that has sparked the Afghan Crusade). Iran is the crucial geopolitical gateway to both the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, the crucial sea-routes to exporting Middle Eastern and Eurasian energy to starving world markets. While the Gulf sheikhs have been more than willing to limit Iran’s influence over the Persian Gulf, in Eurasia, the situation is reversed –” NATO encounters an unofficial, undeclared energy alliance between Russia, China and Iran working to keep the United States at bay. No wonder that Iran has become the wish-bone of US discontent, mirroring its subversive collaborations in Eurasia in the Muslim East, where it supports Hizbullah and Hamas. Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese opposition in the UN is the fluttering fig-leaf to a US declaration of war on Iran on the pretext of its nuclear program.

In the Great Game of Pipelinestan, as envisioned by former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US has suddenly found itself holding all the wrong cards. While the US continues to audibly dream of a NATO-controlled Silk Road, pulling Eurasian wealth westward through a vortex of pipelines, it has suddenly found itself becoming a renter rather than a bona-fide landlord of Eurasian property. Eurasian dictators want to be courted, but the violent regime changes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently, Libya have sent a rather unpleasant set of signals. US power-projection in the area dwindles with its economy, just as Russia and China are binding the Eurasian countries closer to their own economic interests.

Meanwhile US war with Iran (and more covertly, Pakistan), urged by an Israel that demands security at whatever cost –” be it Pax Americana itself –” flies counter to Great Game counsels laid down by its original founder Zbigniew Brzezinski. In focusing so obsessively on the specter of Muslim nukes, the US is zoning out on the geography (never a strong subject in US schools anyway). Brzezinski counseled against war with Iran, realizing the pragmatic need to court Tehran as a central asset in the geo-strategics of Pipelinestan. Pakistan, like a comfort woman grown incapable of resisting her master, has been kicked out. Deprived of the Khyber Pass, the US realizes that the battered old comfort woman was rather indispensable after all. And in a state of economic exhaustion, it pulls out its troops from Iraq (leaving the mercenaries and bases) while confronting the same specter in Afghanistan.

The oil pipeline snaking down from Eurasia into Pakistan and India (depending on whether the US develops it or China) will certainly be realized. The desperate prospecting of resources worldwide and the hunger of energy-starved markets will guarantee it. But the US may not be able to pay its way to controlling the profit margins, given the state of its economy. The tango of death continues with Iran and Pakistan, Israel continues to demand its chimerical security, and US taxpayer treasuries continue to spill out in a Eurasia as greedy of historical ambitions as ever.

Terrorism: Israel in action

This account was sent by Jan (identity withheld for personal protection) on 11-27-2011. She represents the United Church of Canada as an ecumenical accompaniment person for the World Council of Churches.

The Israeli Army demolition crew rumbled its way through the South Hebron Hills on Thursday (11-24-2011), leaving a sea of pain in its wake. They arrived in the village of Susiya and demolished a residential tent, leaving eight people homeless.

The tent had been located on a hilltop, a strategically desirable place for the Israelis to build settlement outposts. There was a demolition order on this tent, issued because the Israelis allege it was built on “state-owned” land. The Palestinian people believe it is their land. On the day of the demolition, an aid group arrived and a temporary tent was erected for the family.

The next day six soldiers came back to the demolition site. Their presence brought anxiety to the family and to all who had gathered to offer support. They wandered around, they went into another family’s tent, they checked into other buildings, and they spoke at length with a settler who had trespassed onto the property. They also spoke to the family and ordered the temporary tent to be moved. Apparently, a temporary structure cannot be placed within 30 metres of a demolition site.

The pain of this demolition was evident in the faces of all around. Old men appeared frustrated, children were crying, women looked to be at their wits end. How do you deal with the upset of all this? How do you deal with the fact that your home has been intentionally destroyed and now those who have destroyed it have returned to tell you that your temporary home must also be dismantled and moved? How do you deal with the chaos, with the commotion? How do you deal with your anger? How do you deal with the fear you carry, the one that is afraid that if anyone –” ANYONE –” makes the slightest wrong move or says what they really think and feel, that they will be arrested and taken away? You know, deep in your heart, either through personal experience or through the experience of loved ones, that life in an Israeli jail is cruel and horrible; that the treatment Palestinians receive there is inhumane and brutal. You cannot, absolutely cannot risk arrest.

A demolition crew also arrived that morning in the village of Um Fagarah. No demolition order had been issued. Imagine waking up, going about your normal morning routine, and all of a sudden the army trucks, soldiers and bulldozers arrive. That’s exactly what happened Thursday (11-24-2011) morning in Um Fagarah. When all was said and done, the community mosque and five homes were demolished leaving 43 people homeless. Yes, that’s right. You read it correctly: 43 people who no longer have a home to live in.

Also damaged was the community’s sole generator. There is no electricity in Um Fagarah. A new electrical transmission system was being built to bring electricity to the village, but it was demolished by the army just over a month ago.

A man named Mahmoud spoke with us at length the following day, his face and his voice unable to hide his deep distress. He had gone through extensive court proceedings six years ago to ensure that he had all the necessary papers for his house and was assured that all was well. In spite of that, his house was demolished on Thursday morning.

When the bulldozer pulled up to the front of the family’s home, a solid stone house, his 19-year-old daughter Sausan realized what was about to happen. She tried desperately to get some of the family belongings out of the house before the soldiers began this part of their destruction. That did not go over well with the soldiers. They stopped her from going into the house, they restrained her and then they administered a gas that rendered her unconscious. As she lay on the ground, her mother, Haleemi (Mahmoud`s wife), went to attend to her. That also did not go over well with the soldiers. As Haleemi attempted to get to Sausan, a soldier forcefully pushed her away. Haleemi lost her balance and fell against either a rock or the bulldozer, breaking her leg. As Sausan lay on the ground, still unconscious, she was handcuffed. Mahmoud watched all of this, completely unable to help. After regaining consciousness, both Sausan and one of her relatives, a 17-year-old girl Amel, were arrested and taken away by soldiers in army vehicles. As of 5pm Friday (11-25-2011), villagers had no idea where these two young girls were, how to contact them, what charges were laid against them (if any), when they will see them again or how to help them. They too, know the reputation of Israeli jails and their treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

Mahmoud took us to visit with his wife, Haleemi. She sat wrapped in a blanket in a neighbor’s home on a mattress on the floor, her foot bandaged and elevated. Her mother and other women sat with her. She had just been interviewed by Palestinian TV. I knelt down to speak with her. We took each other’s hand and looked into each other’s eyes.

There was so much agony in her eyes. What do you say in this kind of situation? What can you say? In the midst of such deep pain, hearts meet. The heart of one speaks to the heart of the other. Words, in the end, are superfluous. But as human beings, we try to convey our feelings. Through an interpreter, I said what I could. I told her that I was so very sorry that this had happened, that it was terribly wrong, and that I believed that God loves her. She nodded, and looking upwards said the word “Allah.”

Yes, I nodded. In the midst of this, Allah indeed is present. In the midst of suffering, God is with us.

As a mother, I cannot imagine this woman’s agony. The harsh reality is that this state-sanctioned brutality happens several times a month across the West Bank to hundreds of innocent victims.

This is not a story of fiction. It is true. All who have read it now know what has happened. If we continue in silence, are we not complicit in this family’s suffering, and in the suffering of countless others who also endure this brutality at the hands of the State of Israel? Make no mistake about it… this is terrorism, enacted against those who are among the most vulnerable. Didn’t Jesus have something to say about standing with the oppressed and the downtrodden?

Peace, Salaam, Shalom –” A Mosaic For Peace.

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