Pakistan ‘Punished’ in Pipelineistan

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Pepe Escobar

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Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari during an official meeting in Tehran June 24, 2011.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Before the end of 2011, Pakistan will start working on its stretch of the IP (Iran-Pakistan) gas pipeline – according to Asim Hussain, Pakistan’s federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. The
1,092 kilometers of pipeline on the Iranian side are already in place.

IP, also known as “the peace pipeline”, was originally IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India). Although it badly needs gas for its economic expansion, faced with immense pressure by the George W Bush – and then Barack Obama – administrations, India still has not committed to the project, even after a nearly miraculous agreement for its construction was initialed in 2008.
More than 740 million cubic feet of gas per year will start flowing to Pakistan from Iran’s giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf by 2014. This is an immense development in the Pipelineistan “wars” in Eurasia. IP is a major node in the much-vaunted Asian Energy Security Grid – the progressive energy integration of Southwest, South, Central and East Asia that is the ultimate mantra for Eurasian players as diverse as Iran, China, India and the Central Asian “stans”.

Pakistan is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the grid. Becoming an energy transit country is Pakistan’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to transition from a near-failed state into an “energy corridor” to Asia and, why not, global markets.

And as pipelines function as an umbilical cord, the heart of the matter is that IP, and maybe IPI in the future, will do more than any form of US “aid” (or outright interference) to stabilize the Pakistan half of Obama’s AfPak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession.

Another ‘axis of evil’?

This Pipelineistan development may go a long way to explain why the White House announced this past Sunday it was postponing US$800 million in military aid to Islamabad – more than a third of the annual such largess Pakistan receives from the US.

The burgeoning Pakistan-bashing industry in Washington may spin this as punishment related to the never-ending saga of Osama bin Laden being sheltered so close to Rawalpindi/Islamabad. But the measure may smack of desperation – and on top it do absolutely nothing to convince the Pakistani army to follow Washington’s agenda uncritically.

On Monday, the US State Department stressed once again that Washington expected Islamabad to do more in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency – otherwise it would not get its “aid” back. The usual diplomatic doublespeak of “constructive, collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship” remains on show – but that cannot mask the growing mistrust on both sides. The Pakistani military confirmed on the record it had not been warned of the “suspension”.

No less than $300 million of this blocked $800 million is for “American trainers” – that is, the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency brigade.

Moreover, Islamabad had already asked Washington not to send these people anymore; the fact is their methods are useless to fight the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked jihadis based in the tribal areas. Not to mention the preferred US method is the killer drone anyway.

The wall of mistrust is bound to reach Himalaya/Karakoram/Pamir proportions. Washington only sees Pakistan in “war on terror”, counter-terrorism terms. Since the coupling of the AfPak combo by the Obama administration, clearly Washington’s top war is in Pakistan – not in Afghanistan, which harbors just a handful of al-Qaeda jihadis.

Most “high-value al-Qaeda targets” are in the tribal areas in Pakistan – and they are, in a curious parallel to the Americans, essentially trainers. As for Afghanistan, it is most of all a neo-colonial North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war against a Pashtun-majority “national liberation” movement – as Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself defined it.

Asia Times Online’s Saleem Shahzad – murdered in May – argued in his book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban (full review coming later this week) that al-Qaeda’s master coup over the past few years was to fully relocate to the tribal areas, strengthen the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), and in a nutshell coordinate a massive Pashtun guerrilla war against the Pakistani army and the Americans – as a diversionist tactic. Al-Qaeda’s agenda – to export its caliphate-bound ideology to other parts of South and Central Asia – has nothing to do with the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban, who fight to go back to power in Afghanistan.

Washington for its part wants a “stable” Afghanistan led by a convenient puppet, Hamid Karzai-style – so the holy grail (since the mid-1990s) can be achieved; the construction of IP’s rival, the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, bypassing “evil” Iran.

And as far as Pakistan is concerned, Washington wants it to smash the Pashtun guerrillas inside their territory; otherwise the tribal areas will keep being droned to death – literally, with no regard whatsoever to territorial integrity.

No wonder the wall of mistrust will keep rising, because Islamabad’s agenda is not bound to change anytime soon. Pakistan’s Afghan policy implies Afghanistan as a vassal state – with a very weak military (what the US calls the Afghan National Force) and especially always unstable, and thus incapable of attacking the real heart of the matter: the Pashtunistan issue.

For Islamabad, Pashtun nationalism is an existential threat. So the Pakistani army may fight the Tehrik-e-Taliban-style Pashtun guerrillas, but with extreme care; otherwise Pashtuns on both side of the border may unite en masse and make a push to destabilize Islamabad for good.

On the other had, what Islamabad wants for Afghanistan is the Taliban back in power – just like the good old days of 1996-2001. That’s the opposite of what Washington wants; a long-range occupation, preferably via NATO, so the alliance may protect the TAPI pipeline, if it ever gets built. Moreover, for Washington “losing” Afghanistan and its key network of military bases so close to both China and Russia is simply unthinkable – according to the Pentagon’s full-spectrum dominance doctrine.

What’s going on at the moment is a complex war of positioning.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy – which also implies containing Indian influence in Afghanistan – won’t change. The Afghan Taliban will keep being encouraged as potential long-term allies – in the name of the unalterable “strategic depth” doctrine – and India will keep being regarded as the top strategic priority.

What IP will do is to embolden Islamabad even more – with Pakistan finally becoming a key transit corridor for Iranian gas, apart from using gas for its own needs. If India finally decides against IPI, China is ready to step on board – and build an extension from IP, parallel to the Karakoram highway, towards Xinjiang.

Either way, Pakistan wins – especially with increasing Chinese investment. Or with further Chinese military “aid”. That’s why the Pakistani army’s “suspension” by Washington is not bound to rattle too many nerves in Islamabad.

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Mumbai-Terror Strikes Dominate India’s Diplomatic Parleys

December 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

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NEW DELHI: Diplomatic impact of Mumbai terror strikes has not been confined to the West, particularly the United States. The last week was marked by the issue being discussed between India and visiting dignitaries from countries closer, geographically than the US. The Mumbai-issue dominated the press conference addressed by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh before concluding his India visit (December 19). During his visit, Akhoundzadeh held discussions with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. India and Iran discussed tragic Mumbai incident, deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Akhoundzadeh said at the press conference.

The two sides also discussed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project as Mumbai-attacks have raised India’s concern about its security.  “We have expressed readiness on part of our country to take forward the project, the sooner the better,” Akhoundzadeh said. “We are expecting a response from India and Pakistan,” he added. On whether Mumbai-case has had any negative impact on it, Akhoundzadeh said: “This century is a century of Asia, with Asian capacities flourishing. The growing need for Asia is to meet increasing demand for gas.” “We feel that there are attempts from foreign powers, who do not welcome this project, to torpedo it. We feel leadership in Asia should be vigilant to look into their future demands,” he said. Referring to Mumbai case, he said that terrorism “should not deter the will and determination” of Asian countries to move ahead with project.

On Iran’s stand regarding Pakistan-based terrorists being responsible for Mumbai-case, Akhoundzadeh said: “It does not matter from which place they are. They should be dealt with iron hand.” “Terrorists have no religion, no patriotic value. India and Pakistan have proved in past few years that they have maturity to deal with terrorist cases. We should be coolheaded.  Whoever is behind it (Mumbai-case), the leadership of both countries should not fall victims to designs of terrorists,” Akhoundzadeh said. He pointed to leaders in both countries having fallen victims to terrorists, including Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto.

“No genuine Islamic individual would dare to endorse terrorism,” Akhoundzadeh said when asked on Islamic States’ stand on terrorism.

To a question on whether Indo-Pak dispute on Kashmir was root cause of terrorism in the region, Akhoundzadeh said that “growing sense of insecurity” in Afghanistan could be linked with it. With those (United States) who had “promised stability and development” to Afghanistan having failed, the State “could be the breeding ground for more terrorism,” he said.

The brief visit of Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawai Bin Abdullah was the first from a Gulf country since the Mumbai attack. During his meeting with Mukherjee, Abdullah “expressed deep condolences at the loss of life in the Mumbai terror attacks and solidarity with the people of India” (December 16). Abdullah noted: “There can be no excuse for not dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism across the Indian border.” Abdullah’s visit followed the landmark visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Oman last month. Mukherjee expressed appreciation on the telephonic call made by Abdullah soon after the Mumbai attack. He also apprised Abdullah of the results of ongoing investigations, which clearly point to “complicity of elements in Pakistan.”

During the two-day meeting of India-Russia Joint Working Group on Combating International terrorism, the Russian side “strongly condemned” the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and “reiterated their solidarity to the government and people of India.” “Both sides underlined their shared concerns on the growing threat of cross-border terrorism and reaffirmed their commitment for strengthening bilateral cooperation against terrorism,” according to a joint statement released on the two-day meeting (December 17).

Vivek Katju, Special Secretary in External Affairs Ministry led the Indian side, while the Russian delegation was led by Anatoly Safonov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cooperation in the Fight against Terrorism and Transnational Crime.

During the talks held in “an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust,” India and Russia described their “cooperation in combating terrorism” as an important part of their “strategic partnership.” Giving stress to importance of “international efforts to prevent and fight terrorism” including the United Nations’ Global Counter Terrorism Strategy and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions, they “underlined the need for expeditious conclusion of negotiations leading to finalization of India sponsored Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN General Assembly.”

India and Russia pointed out to “curbing financing of terrorism” as a “key component of counter terrorism strategy.” They also expressed concern at spread of narcotics in the region, which “directly threatens the security of both countries.” “They agreed on the need to further consolidate bilateral efforts for sharing information and expanding cooperation against drug-trafficking.” They noted the “growing threat of use of cyber-space by terrorists in their activities and the need to cooperate in this field,” according to the joint statement. They also agreed to “expand the exchange of information, experience and cooperation in the means of countering terrorism.”

The Mumbai-case was also raised during talks between Albania’s Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha and his Indian counterpart Mukherjee (December 19). Basha was the first foreign minister from Albania to visit India (December 17-20). Albania, Basha conveyed, fully shared India’s sense of outrage at the Mumbai attacks and considered terrorism as a common challenge for the international community.

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