Monday’s terrorist blast in Rawalpindi comes soon after similar attacks in Peshawar. The vulnerability of the US’s Af-Pak policy was clear with the Peshawar attack that happened on the eve of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan. Clearly, the conflict in Afghanistan is engulfing Pakistan. India has not been spared either: the attack on our embassy in Kabul proves that. New Delhi’s assistance of over $1 billion may have generated goodwill among the people but it has also generated a backlash from the Taliban. But it would be naive to hope that Pakistan’s pre-occupation with the Taliban means that India will not be targeted again. One hopes that Pakistan realises that any discriminatory approach towards terrorism is not in its interests as well. Patronising anti-India outfits while cracking down on the Taliban will not work since these outfits are only loyal to terror.
The Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has asked for an additional 40,000 troops. US President Barack Obama has not yet endorsed this, but has indicated troop augmentation. The US’s Nato allies, however, are wary.
On the 8th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban issued a statement: “We announce to all the world, our aim is obtainment of independence and establishment of an Islamic system. We did not have any agenda to harm other countries including Europe nor do we have such agenda today. Still if you want to turn the country of the proud and pious Afghans into a colony, then know that we have an unwavering determination and are braced for a prolonged war.”
Some are interpreting this to mean the Taliban’s readiness to be a part of future governmental structures in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has been talking about this for a while. Will the US treat the Taliban as separate from al-Qaeda and permit such a possibility? The US has indicated favouring a ‘unity government’, whatever that means.
Meanwhile, Britain and Germany have called on the UN Secretary-General to convene an international conference on Afghanistan. One former Foreign Minister of Afghanistan has proposed to replace the US-led forces with troops from Islamic countries under UN leadership. Irrespective of whichever possible approaches is adopted, the hope of the US Af-pak policy succeeding seems receding.
Given India’s long links with these lands, we need to take a clear policy direction. These areas eluded control by imperial powers for many centuries. The Mughals made such efforts with Akbar shifting to Lahore for over a decade to control these lands. His absence, incidentally, led to the desertion of Fatehpur Sikri. Centuries later, the British waged three Indo-Afghan wars between 1838 and 1918. Subsequently, the former Soviet Union supported a progressive regime there. To combat this the US gave birth to its Frankenstein’s monster — the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Refusing to learn from history, the US is pursuing its compelling need to control this region. Afghanistan occupies a central position in the US strategy for the economic control of the oil and gas resources in West Asia. The Energy Information Administration estimates that by 2020, the US will import 64 per cent of its crude — 25.8 million barrels per day. The Caspian region oil reserves might be the third largest in the world (following Western Siberia and the Persian Gulf) and, within the next 15 to 20 years, may be large enough to offset Persian Gulf oil. Caspian Sea oil and gas are not the only hydrocarbon deposits in the region. Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert holds the world’s third largest gas reserves — 3 trillion cubic meters — and has 6 billion barrels of estimated oil reserves.
Current estimates indicate that, in addition to huge gas deposits, the Caspian basin may hold as much as 200 billion barrels of oil — 33 times the estimated holdings of Alaska’s North Slope and at a current value of $4 trillion. It is enough to meet the US’s energy needs for 30 years or more. The presence of these oil reserves and the possibility of their export raises new strategic concerns for the US and other Western powers. As oil companies build pipelines from the Caucasus and Central Asia to supply Japan and the West, these strategic concerns gain military implications.
The US government’s Energy Information factsheet on Afghanistan in 2000 said: “Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographic position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea”. This potential includes proposed multi-billion dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan. Hence this US-led war to control Afghanistan.
Unless the US abandons the pursuit of these interests through military means, no possible solution to this imbroglio is possible. Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. He now needs to earn it.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP