ISLAMABAD, Pakistan-Publicly, America’s most immediate challenge after the government change is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Privately, in Washington’s power corridors, it is oil.
Oil, and not al Qaeda, is threatening to knock America off global leadership. President Obama takes over a country whose global economic leadership is threatened by dwindling oil reserves and a dogfight over whatever remains.
Oil is running out, fast. And the remaining oil, including new reserves, lie in other people’s lands, closer to Russia, China, Europe and other powers. America’s global supremacy rests on an economic system based on easy access to oil. If someone else gets that oil, America loses.
Jon Thompson, an American oil veteran ExxonMobil Exploration Company’s former president, has written in June 2003 that by next decade the world will need 80% more oil than we have today to keep the world going.
Luckily for President Obama, his predecessor, George W. Bush, has done an excellent job in: One, securing new oil, and, Two, warding off threat from other oil hungry powers.
Under the guise of spreading freedom and democracy, Bush’s eight years saw the biggest expansion of American military bases across the world. And the trail follows the smell of oil. This riddle is as mysterious as the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
America’s foreign policy was also adjusted to follow the footprint of oil, going where the oil is, be it Angola, Sudan/Darfur, Central Asia, Russia, Colombia, Georgia, Venezuela, and of course Iraq. Somalia is fast becoming the latest battlefield in this secretive global dogfight over oil and transport routes.
In the words of veteran American oil industry correspondent William Engdahl, ‘U.S. military and foreign policy was now about controlling every major existing and potential oil source and transport route on earth.One superpower, the United States, would be in a position to decide who gets how much energy and at what price.’
The Taliban government was not an enemy of America. It sent delegations to United States and lobbied for U.S. State Department’s attention. Its removal was decided much before 9/11, according to Pakistan’s former top diplomat Niaz Naik, who was told so explicitly by U.S. officials in July 2001. Taliban fell out of favor because they put terms and conditions on the pipelines that American oil giants planned to construct on Afghan territory. Taliban were replaced by U.S. oil consultants Zalmay Khalilzad and Hamid Karzai.
Pakistan was and continues to be the next target. U.S. diplomatic meddling has already disturbed the natural progression of the Pakistani government system, leading to instability and creating local players who look to America for support. U.S. military intervention is softening up the country through regular missile attacks and drone flights. The last time this method proved effective was in Iraq during the 1990s. The chatter in the U.S. think tanks and media about Pakistan’s division along ethnic lines has never been this high. Pakistan has to be subdued in order for American energy and military transport lines to become secure. America needs to secure Pakistani transport routes from the sea to the Afghan border.
Balochistan is an interesting case. Destabilizing this Pakistani province disturbs Iran’s plans to lay down pipelines to Pakistan and beyond. The instability also helps destroy China’s chances of using Gwadar, the new Pakistani port city overlooking oil-rich Gulf, to dock its commercial and naval ships. In fact, the entire area between Gwadar and the Sino-Pakistani border is up in insurgencies of all sorts, known and unknown. This is the same route that a future Chinese oil pipeline is supposed to take, linking China to oil supplies from Africa and the Gulf. This entire area was peaceful before 2005, until meddling by unknown actors began from the U.S.-controlled Afghan soil, exploiting Pakistani internal problems.
The United States is playing a big role in ‘softening’ Pakistan. It is trying to pitch the country’s elected governments against the military to reduce the military’s ability to decide Pakistani interest on Afghanistan, China and India. Outside meddling is easy thanks to Pakistan’s weak political and government structure.
Stopping American intervention in Pakistan, while continuing the cooperative relationship, is the biggest challenge facing President Obama.
Will he do it? The facts on the ground are not encouraging. After gaining unprecedented access inside Pakistan – both diplomatically and militarily – it is doubtful that an Obama administration would scale back U.S. gains.
Pakistan will have to tell the U.S. that it has legitimate security and strategic interests in the region and that it cannot allow the U.S. to decide those for Pakistan. This includes the shape of the future government in Kabul, the expansion of the Indian role in the region, and the relationship with China.
Obama’s Washington has to understand, respect and work with Pakistani interests and concerns. Any other type of relationship won’t work. President Obama needs to wean his policy planners off the idea of reproducing the pliant regimes Baghdad and Kabul.
Those things require war. And President Obama doesn’t want another war, does he?
Writer is a Political Analyst based in Islamabad. (www.ahmedquraishi.com)