Courtesy: The News
The April revolution and the overthrow of the regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Kyrgyzstan is the last nail in the coffin of the United States’ plans to use the Afghan Northern Alliance as the stepping stone to Central Asia’s energy-rich states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and, ultimately, to Azerbaijan on the other side of the Caspian.
The energy resources of Central Asia were to be the “Golden Fleece” of the Pentagon’s mission in Afghanistan, the secret economic justification for a trillion dollars’ worth of war in a far-off land. April 8, 2010, saw the completion of Russia’s “counter-plan” of reasserting its influence in Eurasia and Central Asia. Borrowing a page from the United States’ preventive-war strategy, Vladimir Putin expediently reclaimed Central Asia while the US was still bogged down in Afghanistan. All Putin had to do was fight one quick war in Georgia in August 2008. The rest fell in line without firing further shots.
The emergence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Russian influence has already thwarted Western plans for building energy pipelines through the Black Sea to world markets, bypassing Russia. The subsequent end of US-assisted regimes in Ukraine and now Kyrgyzstan firmly re-establishes Russian hegemony in Central Asia. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan cannot afford to ignore the neighbour “God has given” them (to borrow a popular local phrase). The Pentagon’s brutalities in Afghanistan have led Central Asian states back into Russia’s fold for comfort. The people of the region feel threatened by the US.
What factors allowed Russia to reconsolidate its position in Central Asia in such a short time? The answer lies in the paradox of the Pentagon’s obsession with Pakistani nukes which kept the US preoccupied with a long-drawn covert operation to destabilise Pakistan through Afghanistan. For this, the US turned its absolute military victory in Afghanistan into a hazardous occupying mission under the misnomer of “reconstruction,” during which Afghans were killed pointlessly and driven into Pakistan.
The US, inherently a free-market construct, is ill suited for supervision of a country’s economic reconstruction under government control. It therefore ended up mismanaging Afghanistan to epic proportions. With the rise of the inevitable national resistance in Afghanistan, the US was able to coerce Pakistan into carrying out military action against its own population because it harboured Afghan insurgents.
The Pentagon dubbed the Afghan national resistance as “Taliban resurgence,” a strategy that allowed the Americans to bully Pakistan on the one hand and, on the other, to get a public-relations cover to their massacre of Afghans. Pentagon’s press office fed the illusion that it was the “Taliban” which the Nato forces were killing in Afghanistan, not Afghans who oppose foreign occupation and a puppet regime.
If one were to believe the Pentagon’s press releases since October 2001, an average of nearly thirty “Taliban” are killed every day. This means that nearly 100,000 “Taliban” have been killed in the nearly nine years since the September 11 attacks, in addition to the ones killed during the first month of Operation Enduring Freedom (A). The Pentagon, typically, never released the exact number of Taliban casualties. Given the nature of carpet bombing, experts put the figure at between 50,000 and 100,000.
The same “Taliban” are now resurgent? The Taliban must have had a gigantic army at their disposal during their reign in Kabul.
The entire idea behind partnering with the Northern Alliance was to empower a community within Afghanistan which would facilitate the United States’ access to the Central Asian states. Soon after the US victory in Afghanistan, age-old formulas of social engineering were deployed in a multifaceted approach to give northern Afghans with an identity distinct from, and hostile to, the Pakhtuns. Books and movies of average quality were elevated to glorious heights in the media. For instance, the much publicised movie, The Kite Runner, portrays Pakhtuns as ignorant, arrogant, immoral, and brutal, as against peace-loving non-Pakhtun Afghans.
The term “Taliban” has become the Pentagon’s blanket term for describing the Afghan resistance to the occupying forces and a corrupt government sponsored by them. Riding the anti-Taliban horse, the US has managed to infiltrate every strategic nook and corner of Pakistan.
The United States’ “Taliban” resurgence in Afghanistan may end up becoming an actual Taliban ascendance in Pakistan. By persisting in the falsehood that it is fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and not winning, the US is lionising the very image of a movement it destroyed in 2001. What is worse, it is doing so in a country with 170 million people, 60 per cent of which constitute under-privileged and under-educated youth. The US is fighting a nationwide uprising against foreign domination in Afghanistan. The reason it is not winning is that no one can ever win in such a situation.
Hence, while the US is busy being a python eating its own tail in South Asia, Russia has utilised the time to regain strategic control of Central Asia. The Central Asian population has turned anti-US after watching American atrocities in Afghanistan for almost nine years. It was precisely the nature of US involvement in Afghanistan that led Uzbekistan to close the American military base at Karshi Khanabad in 2005. Washington’s subsequent “Surge for Peace” in Afghanistan was perceived as being so dangerous that it led the people of Kyrgyzstan to call for the closure of the US military base at Manas, despite the escalation of the yearly rent from $17 million to $60 million. While the popular sentiment was against Manas, Bakiyev agreed in early March to establish yet another base in Batkene, which became the catalyst for his overthrow on April 8.
Whether or not the US airbase in Kyrgyzstan at Manas stays open is now Putin’s decision. Chances are it will be packed off. The base was an irritant not only for Russia but for China as well. Merely 200 miles from the border with China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang, the Manas base puts China’s main nuclear testing facility at Lop Nor within easy reach of US air strikes. Even if it is allowed to operate for a limited period during the Afghan offensive, Putin will extract a diplomatic payment on the Nato front.
The United States’ options are limited. If it covertly organises a pro-Bakiyev camp in south Kyrgyzstan, it runs the risk of Russia and China covertly paying it back in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition, Russia can exercise its energy leverage in Europe. The EU imports 50 per cent of the energy it uses, 45 per cent of which comes from Russia. An American decision to continue to push into Kyrgyzstan will thus be an isolated and bad one.
If Washington wants to have a foothold in Central Asia, it will have to re-conceptualise its entire Central Asia policy, with greater emphasis on a diplomatic approach that takes into account the people of the area, rather than a military one. The main purpose behind the strategy of propelling the Northern Alliance has been defeated by Putin. The fire-breathing dragon, temporarily indisposed, is back to guarding the “Golden Fleece” of Central Asia.
The writer is an analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org .edu
Thursday, April 15, 2010