Kabul’s China-policy will not alter, irrespective of the political situation, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday.
Karzai was hosting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday.
Wang said he made the visit in the crucial year of Afghanistan’s transition to underscore the importance of bilateral ties.
“We hope to see a broad-based and inclusive political reconciliation in Afghanistan as soon as possible, and China will play a constructive role to facilitate that,” he said.
“China firmly supports Afghanistan to realize a smooth transition and hopes Afghanistan’s general election will go ahead smoothly as scheduled. China is willing to keep close communication with Afghanistan and work hard to facilitate Afghanistan’s political reconciliation,” he added.
The Afghan government is trying to reassure foreign investors its economy will not sink following the NATO withdrawal. In their meeting on the sidelines of the Sochi opening in Russia earlier this year, Karzai asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to aid the restructuring of the war-torn nation.
During his visit Wang announced China will increase aid to help infrastructure projects, including the construction of school buildings in Kabul University, offering farm machinery and training classes to Afghan technicians.
“The Chinese government encourages and supports capable Chinese enterprises to invest in Afghanistan to strengthen cooperation with the Afghanistan side in trade, energy and other fields,” said Wang.
In 2007, Chinese mining companies announced the single biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan, a whopping $4 billion into developing a copper mine.
Mineral reserves in the country, including copper, gold, iron ore and rare earths, are estimated to be worth $1 trillion.
In a separate meeting with Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Karzai’s national security advisor, Wang stressed on security cooperation even as the Chinese government battles insurgency in the restive region of Xinjiang.
China lauded Afghanistan’s efforts to crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and other terrorist forces.
“China hopes both sides would continue strengthening such cooperation,” said Wang.
Spanta said as a good neighbor of China, Afghanistan will keep its policy to cooperate with China to fight the “three evil forces, ” including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement.
The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 as part of Washington’s war on terror.
Retired Pakistani General Hamid Gul says the United States and its allies are seeking to destroy Pakistan by fueling insecurity in the country.
The former head of Pakistan’s Intelligence Service (ISI) alleged that Washington used the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City as a pretext to invade the neighboring Afghanistan.
The former Pakistani intelligence chief, who was often accused of collaborating with the Taliban militant group in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also stated that the United States has failed in Afghanistan and is now seeking to destroy Pakistan.
General Gul also pointed out that the US military will have to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and follow the example of the former Soviet Union in accepting defeat after its military occupation of the country in the late 1970s.
The administration of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has initiated a negotiating process with the pro-Taliban militants in an effort to end the violence in the country.
There are speculations that the negotiations may not succeed as the militants have set tough conditions for the talks.
Pakistan has been gripped by deadly violence since 2001, after Islamabad joined the so-called US war on terror. According to official Pakistani sources, nearly 50,000 people have lost their lives in fatal attacks across the country ever since.
The US Central Intelligence Agency is seeking new drone bases in unnamed countries in Central Asia, fearing the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would affect the targeted killings in neighboring Pakistan.
The spy agency asserts that if the US fails to sign a bilateral security deal with Afghanistan and secure an enduring military presence there, it would not be able to fly drones from its Afghan bases because drone operations are covert and need US military protection.
The security deal, which Washington says “ought to be signed” and is not renegotiable, could allow thousands of US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
However, despite pressures from the White House and Congress, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign the deal and the US intelligence community is hoping that the next Afghan president will agree to sign it.
Worried that its drone killings can become a casualty of strained relations between Kabul and Washington, the CIA is reportedly making contingency plans to use bases in other countries.
“There are contingency plans for alternatives in the north,” an unnamed US official briefed on the matter told the Los Angeles Times without specifying the countries.
According to Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts professor, the CIA and the Pentagon used to fly drones from an airbase in Uzbekistan until the US was evicted in 2005.
Michael Nagata, commander of US special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, also traveled last month to Tajikistan, which is Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, to discuss “issues of bilateral security cooperation” and “continued military cooperation.”
Meanwhile, US officials say a new jet-powered drone, called Avenger, which will be able to “get to ‘hot’ targets in Pakistan much faster,” could soon be flying from bases outside Afghanistan.
The CIA is in charge of drone strikes in Pakistan since the country is not officially a war zone and the CIA’s program is covert.
US President Barack Obama has already stated that the responsibility for Washington’s deadly drone attacks could gradually shift from the CIA to the Pentagon. However, the idea of putting the US military in charge of drone attacks is not favored by US lawmakers.
A US federal agency that sought to pay photographers for “positive images” of its work in Afghanistan has canceled the program. The project, created to combat negative news coverage, collapsed amid charges that the effort amounted to propaganda.
Using US$1 billion on aid programs in Afghanistan, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) solicited proposals on Monday for a project that aimed to “help inform Afghans about the assistance American taxpayers are providing,” an anonymous USAID official told USA Today of Thursday’s decision.
“The wording of the (request) did not appropriately articulate that purpose and is being re-evaluated,” the official said.
In addition to targeting Afghans, the program was intended to gather support in the United States for USAID initiatives in Afghanistan. Over 12 years old, the war in Afghanistan is highly unpopular with the American public, if the war can be called an issue of popular awareness at all. A CNN poll released at the New Year found record low 17 percent support for the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.
The proposal was quickly criticized by a public advocacy group as a blatant hype campaign.
“USAID should instead be focusing on accomplishing mission goals, not glossy propaganda,” said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a non-partisan government watchdog organization. “Waste, fraud, and poor performance have already resulted in billions being lost, let’s not throw additional money down the drain.”
The agency called the budding program one that would serve to show positive influences of US aid in the war-torn country amid the “negative” images usually shown by news organizations.
“USAID is executing the most massive US international assistance campaign ever, and the gains particularly in health and education have been impressive, yet the overwhelming majority of pictures recording that effort are negative, and at least to some extent misleading,” the solicitation reads. “This is because professional photographers working for news agencies are the prime source of high-quality images of USAID work in Afghanistan. News photographs by their very nature focus on the negative.”
Top objectives of the project included countering negative representations of Afghanistan, distributing those images through USAID social media, and to establish a long-term contract that would continually provide such images “to conventional media and directly to the US public.”
USAID also sought to influence American thought on efforts in Afghanistan.
“The US and Afghan publics require accurate, well-balanced information about USAID work abroad,” the proposal states. “Currently, this requirement is not being met in Afghanistan.”
USAID did not disclose how much contract photographers would earn for the photos.
The announcement of the “positive image” proposal on Monday came alongside the unveiling of three new USAID development programs worth almost $300 million to wean Afghanistan off its ‘war economy,’ which is heavily subsidized today by opium exports – a trade that had been practically squashed while the country was under Taliban rule.
Under the USAID initiative, $125 million will go to reviving Afghanistan’s food and farm sector, and another $77 million to opening up the country to greater international trade and investment. The last program, valued at about $100 million, would seek to assist Afghanistan’s educational system.
A report released late last month by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that Afghanistan cannot be trusted to properly spend the millions of dollars it receives in aid from the United States. The report found that none of Afghanistan’s 16 ministries could be entrusted with USAID funds without high risk of that assistance being stolen or wasted.
In September, the SIGAR chastised USAID for poor oversight of money the agency spent there. A SIGAR report highlighted how USAID gave over $230 million to the Afghan Ministry of Health with little guidance for how the money was to be spent.
“Despite financial management deficiencies at the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, USAID continues to provide millions of US taxpayer dollars in direct assistance with little assurance that the (ministry) is using these funds as intended,” according to the SIGAR report.
Meanwhile, after a long, protracted struggle that sought to convince Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to approve a security deal, the US is considering leaving the issue suspended until the Afghan presidential elections in April in order to address Karzai’s successor.
The Obama administration has long hoped to get the long-lasting bilateral security deal with Kabul signed by the end of 2013, yet Karzai has refused to take responsibility for leaving a several thousand-strong US military contingent in the country beyond 2014.
Frustrated by numerous reports criticizing U.S. spending in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has launched a public relations campaign aimed at countering the work of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). That watchdog agency is charged with overseeing the military’s $96.5 billion reconstruction program in Afghanistan.
John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, has upset military commanders by frequently reporting on million-dollar programs that haven’t panned out or failed to account for missing American tax dollars.
One recent example involved a hospital in northeastern Afghanistan costing $600,000 that lacked adequate water, sewer, electrical, and heating systems—and was vulnerable to collapsing in an earthquake, according to SIGAR.
The U.S. military countered SIGAR’s report by issuing a news release that praised the hospital and even rejected some of the critical findings.
Somehow, the military came to these conclusions even though the Army hadn’t inspected the hospital in months because the insurgency made the area too dangerous to visit.
In addition to putting out press releases, the military has crafted an in-house strategy for dealing with SIGAR’s negative reports. This plan was revealed in a slide presentation, a copy of which was obtained by USA Today, that stated the goal was to “[build] the right combination of ammunition to achieve desired effects on a specified target.”
That target was Sopko, who was mentioned in the presentation during a hunting analogy: “In the past we may have shot where we saw the duck, but now, with our plan of action—we will bag our limit of birds before Mr. Sopko wakes up to feed his dogs.”
When informed of the anti-SIGAR campaign, Sopko told the newspaper: “It’s disappointing to see that funds appropriated by Congress are being used by elements of the Department of Defense to misrepresent the work of an independent inspector general. American taxpayers would be better served if ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] spent less time writing misleading press releases and more time fixing the problems we’ve identified.”
SIGAR spokesperson Philip LaVelle shares his boss’s concerns. “Let me get this straight,” he recently said to the Los Angeles Times. “They’re complaining we’re telling the American people how their tax dollars are being spent? The public has a right to know and we have a duty to tell them — and we intend to keep doing just that.”
Since 2008, SIGAR’s investigations have resulted in 56 criminal convictions or guilty pleas, involving nearly three dozen civilians and members of the U.S. military, along with 21 Afghans.
The Pentagon’s overall public relations campaign—exercised at home and abroad—grew by 63% during a five-year period since 2004, reaching $4.7 billion in 2009, according to Defense Department budgets and other documents produced that year. The budget included the employment of 27,000 people to handle public relations, advertising and recruitment.
The military’s budget for outreach and media amounts to 1% of the total Pentagon budget, according to Fox News.
To Learn More:
The Pentagon’s PR War Against SIGAR (by Neil Gordon, Project On Government Oversight)
Military Yanks Leash of Critical Government Watchdog (by Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today)
U.S. Embassy in Kabul Defends Itself Against Blistering Fraud Reports (by David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times)
Harsh Inspector General Report Says 0 of 16 Afghan Agencies can be Trusted with U.S. Aid (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
U.S.-Led Military Unit in Afghanistan Lost $230 Million in Spare Parts, Then Spent $138 Million for More (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
U.S. Paid $6.8 Million to “Maintain” Non-Functioning Afghan Police Vehicles (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has seen “no good” with the presence of American forces in his country, prompting further speculations of a breakdown of trust between Kabul and Washington.
“This whole 12 years was one of constant pleading with America to treat the lives of our civilians as lives of people,” Karzai said in an interview with The Sunday Times.
Karzai also said that he has not spoken to US President Barack Obama since June last year, which may show the increasing gulf between Afghanistan and the US.
“We met in South Africa but didn’t speak. Letters have been exchanged,” he said, referring to the funeral ceremony for South African anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.
The differences between the two sides have grown increasingly since Karzai refused to sign a security pact with Washington that would allow thousands of foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014.
“The money they should have paid to the police they paid to private security firms and creating militias who caused lawlessness, corruption and highway robbery,” Karzai said.
The Afghan president also went on to say that the US-led forces “then began systematically waging psychological warfare on our people, encouraging our money to go out of our country.”
“What they did was create pockets of wealth and a vast countryside of deprivation and anger,” he said.
“In general, the US-led NATO mission in terms of bringing security has not been successful, particularly in Helmand,” Karzai said.
He also dismissed concerns about the cutting of Western financial aid to Afghanistan over his refusal to sign the security deal.
“Money is not everything,” he said, adding, “If you ask me as an individual, I would rather live in poverty than uncertainty.”
On Wednesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed deep frustration with Karzai over the prolongation of the review process for the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US.
The Pentagon chief, however, stated that Karzai is the elected president of a sovereign country, and Washington’s ability to influence his decisions is limited.
Karzai says he will not sign the BSA until certain conditions are met, including a guarantee from Washington that there will be no more raids on Afghan houses. He says the demands come from the country’s highest decision-making body, the Loya Jirga.
In his speech at the Loya Jirga on November 24, 2013, Karzai said, “If US military forces conduct military operations on Afghan homes even one more time, then there will be no BSA and we won’t sign it.”
The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but after more than 12 years, the foreign troops have still not been able to establish security in the country.
The US military plans to establish an intelligence center in Bahrain in a bid to compensate for its dwindling presence in Afghanistan.
A senior US military official told a Senate hearing that the planned espionage center in the Arab state, home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, will be an “integral part” of the Pentagon’s post-2014 strategy in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The official, Erin Logan, who oversees the Pentagon’s “counter-narcotics efforts,” claimed during a US Senate hearing on narcotics on Wednesday that the plan is part of Washington’s efforts to “continue fighting” Afghanistan’s “booming drug industry.”
“The center,” she added, “will help fill the gap where space for personnel on the ground in Afghanistan is no longer available.”
The US move to expand its military and intelligence presence in Bahrain comes, however, despite the grave human rights record of the ruling Al Khalifa regime for its brutal crackdown on a popular uprising that has left scores shot and tortured to death and many more injured and prosecuted for taking part and even sympathizing with the continuing anti-regime protests in the country.
The United States has long been suspected by regional countries, particularly Iran and Russia, of promoting the growth of the narcotics trade in Afghanistan ever since American and NATO military forces invaded the country in 2001 under the pretext of fighting terror and bringing stability to Afghanistan.
There have been numerous press accounts over the past years pointing to the involvement of US troops and CIA operatives in Afghanistan’s expanding drug trade that largely finances the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban militants in the country.
The US military aims to establish an intelligence center in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain in a bid to compensate for its dwindling presence in the war-torn Afghanistan.
With 196 nations in the world and U.S. troops already in at least 177 of them, there aren’t all that many available to make war against. Yet it looks like both Syria and Iran will be spared any major Western assault for the moment. Could this become a trend? Is peace on the horizon? Are celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s nonviolence sincere?
The glitch in this optimistic little photo-shopped storyline starts with an A and rhymes with Shmafghanistan.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years now. We’re spending $10 million per hour, and $81 billion in the new annual budget, on an operation that many top officials and experts have said generates hostility toward our country. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this operation is suicide.
And now, at long last, we have an important (and usually quite corrupt) politician on our side, responding to public pressure and ready — after 12 years — to shut down Operation Enduring … and Enduring and Enduring.
Oddly, this politician’s name is not President Barack Obama. When Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until “2024 and beyond.”
Sadly, the politician who has taken our side is not in Washington at all. There are a few Congress Members asking for a vote, but most of their colleagues are silent. When Congress faced the question of missiles into Syria, and the question was front-and-center on our televisions, the public spoke clearly. Members of both parties, in both houses of Congress, said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before.
But on the question of another decade “and beyond” in Afghanistan, the question has not been presented to Congress or the public, and we haven’t yet found the strength to raise it ourselves. Yet someone has managed to place himself on our side, namely Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Like the Iraqi government before him, Karzai is refusing to agree to an ongoing occupation with U.S. forces immune from prosecution under Afghan laws. Before signing off on an ongoing military presence, Karzai says he would like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people’s doors at night. He’d like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He’d like Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. (Of the 17 still there, 4 have long since been cleared for release but not released; none has been convicted of any crime.) And he’d like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections.
Whatever we think of Karzai’s legacy — my own appraisal is unprintable — these are remarkably reasonable demands. And at least as far as U.S. public opinion goes, here at long last is a post-invasion ruler actually engaged in spreading democracy.
What about the Afghans? Should we “abandon” them? We told pollsters we wanted to send aid to Syria, not missiles. Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country — would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations (51.4% of the new federal budget), and could quite easily make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we’d favor that course of action if we were asked — or if we manage to both raise the question and answer it.
The U.S. military has decided to scrap nearly half a billion dollars worth of aircraft purchased for Afghanistan’s air force because the planes couldn’t handle the climate, among other problems.
A total of 16 cargo planes, the G222 manufactured by Italy’s Finmeccanica, now sit at Kabul International Airport. They were flown only 200 of the 4,500 hours scheduled for flight training by Afghan pilots before the U.S. decided to shut them down.
The Obama administration spent $486 million to purchase the aircraft, which were supposed to comprise 15% of the Afghan Air Force.
“We need answers to this huge waste of U.S. taxpayer money,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction who is investigating the matter, said in an email to Bloomberg. “Who made the decision to purchase these planes, and why? We need to get to the bottom of this, and that’s why we’re opening this inquiry.”
A January 31 Pentagon Inspector General report, marked “For Official Use Only,” criticized NATO and U.S. training commands for “hav[ing] not effectively managed the program.”
Lieutenant General Charles Davis, the U.S. Air Force’s top military acquisition official, told Bloomberg: “Just about everything you can think of was wrong for it other than the airplane was built for the size of cargo and mission they needed.”
“Other than that, it didn’t really meet any of the requirements,” he added.
A key problem was that the planes couldn’t handle the heat and dust of Afghanistan’s environment, which caused numerous maintenance troubles and prevented them from flying.
Davis said the Air Force tried to sell the aircraft to another country, but couldn’t locate any buyers. So now they will be dismantled for parts.
The U.S. decided to replace the G222s with American-made C-130H transports for the Afghan Air Force to use. But the replacements won’t be available until 2016.
To Learn More:
- Planes Parked in Weeds in Kabul After $486 Million Spent (by Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg)
- Notification of Special Project: Lessons Learned Review of the G222 (C-27A) Aircraft Program (Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)
- Fleet of Planes from $486 Million Program for Afghan Security Forces Scheduled to Be Destroyed (by Hanqing Chen, Daily Beast)
- U.S.-Led Military Unit in Afghanistan Lost $230 Million in Spare Parts, Then Spent $138 Million for More (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
- U.S. Military Builds $34-Million High-Tech Operations Complex in Afghanistan…and Will Never Use It (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
- U.S. Military to Shred Thousands of Million-Dollar Armored Vehicles in Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
It appears that the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, are recognizing that their strategy for keeping their co-dependent relationship with the NSA going is failing and that the American public and an increasingly large segment of Congress no longer believes their bogus claims. Perhaps that’s because every time they open their mouths, it takes all of about an hour before many of their claims are completely debunked, if not outright mocked for obviously being bogus. So their latest strategy? To basically yell “Ooga Booga Terrorists!” as loud as they can to try to scare people based on absolutely nothing.
Feinstein and Rogers did a little dance on Sunday political TV shows insisting that “the terrorism threat is increasing” and we’re all going to die if we stop trying to make sure the NSA actually, you know, respects the Constitution. Asked if we were “safer” now than a year or two years ago, Feinstein kicked off the FUD:
“I don’t think so,” Feinstein replied. “I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that. The fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs. Trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnetometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups than ever. And there is huge malevolence out there.”
And Rogers quickly followed:
“I absolutely agree that we’re not safer today for the same very reasons,” he said. “So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it’s getting more difficult.”
Of course, Feinstein’s claim that “terror is up worldwide” is — as is so often the case with her (and Rogers’) claims about terrorism — sorta true, but highly misleading. Yes, recent stats show an uptick in terrorist attacks and fatalities in 2012 — but you can also see that it’s highly variable. Earlier in the year, before the 2012 numbers came out, people were commenting on the fact that terror attacks and fatalities around the globe had been on the decline since 2007. Terrorism is highly variable and dependent on a few big successful attacks. Furthermore, if we look at attacks on the US, we find that there have basically been next to none in the US since 2001. You could make the case that 16 people have died in US “terrorist” attacks since 2001 (including the 13 soldiers killed by Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood), but you have to have a very broad definition of terrorism to do so.
Nearly all of the “terrorist” attacks in that original report that Feinstein is obviously relying on, appear to take place in areas that are considered war zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And, um, I hate to bring this part up, but part of the reason why those are war zones is because, you know, the US invaded both places. This isn’t to say that there aren’t terrorists out there who would like to attack the US. There clearly are. But it seems highly misleading to make the claims that both Feinstein and Rogers are making here, as the “data” they’re talking about don’t show any heightened risk in the US at all.
Either way, this whole thing — having both appear together, both making vague “we’re all going to die” statements without any details to back it up combined with an exceptionally misleading use of statistics — suggests that this is the typical FUD. It’s Feinstein and Rogers shouting “terror” in a crowded theater, because they know that they’ve already lost public opinion on this, and are quickly losing Congress as well.
I imagine myself walking down to the Beirut train station, boarding the 4pm bullet train that will steam off toward Damascus, heading across the great plains to the east to Baghdad. In a day we’ll be in Iran and then at Mashad there is a choice: one could go south through Pakistan to Delhi, or one would take the longer journey to Beijing via Samarkand. This would be the Great Asian Express that links one end of the massive continent to the other.
But it is impossible. War in Syria stops the train before it has even begun. Instability in Iraq intimates that the tracks would be blown up before they can be laid down. Iran is far more stable, which is why it has begun to build a train line that would link Turkey to Turkmenistan through northern Iran. Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are unable to create a modus vivendi that would welcome such a train, or indeed an oil and gas pipeline that might run parallel to it, bringing Iranian fuel to the consumers of the subcontinent. Central Asia oscillates between long periods of calm and bursts of dangerous violence.
A train itinerary such as the one I described sounds like a dream history – impossible even. But it is not so out of our time. The Trans-Asian Railway comes out from the 1960s, a historical artefact, a project of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific that was finally brought to the stage of an inter-governmental memorandum of understanding in 2006. This Iron Silk Road is to run from Singapore to Istanbul. The project has no timetable. Parts of it are already present, and parts of it are in the maddening future. But some of it will form part of the China-Iran rail link which is expected to go into production within a decade, and will form part of the Istanbul to Tehran route that is also already in production. Not so far that regional future.
Regionalism rests on the mantle of geography. Attempts to isolate a country for ideological reasons do not always work. The West, since 2003 at least, has attempted to isolate Iran but it cannot do so – Afghanistan, under US occupation, buys half its oil from Iran. It cannot do otherwise. Any other source would be ridiculously overpriced. The US embargo of Iran had to be violated despite the fact that it was US money in Afghan hands that was buying the Iranian oil.
Pressure from the US and the desire of the Indian political and economic elites for a close link with the US befuddled India’s Iran policy between 2003 and 2013. India is the second largest importer, after China, of Iranian oil. In the halls of the Non-Aligned Movement, India is a country that is greatly respected.
Through a nuclear deal – as I detail in my new report on India’s Iran policy, the US was able to push India to vote against Iran twice at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meetings in exchange for being brought out of the nuclear winter itself. As the sanctions regime on Iran tightened, India found it hard to buy oil from Iran and coldness between the countries set in as a result of India’s seeming eagerness to toe the US line. But beneath the surface of the IAEA votes and the statements against the buying of Iranian oil, linkages deepened – on oil buying certainly but also on the trade in pharmaceuticals and wheat as well as on the Indo-Iranian construction of a port in south-eastern Iran (at Chabahar). The sanctions regime had certainly throttled Iran, but it could not sunder fully the imperatives of regional trade.
On Sunday, November 24, the P5 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) + 1 (Germany) signed a deal with Iran to end the siege on the latter. The P5+1 promised to ease the sanctions regime in exchange for Iran’s disavowal of a nuclear weapon.
India welcomed the deal, suggesting that it was along the grain not only of Indian policy but also of the BRICS declaration from 2013 (“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue,” was the wording of the eThekwini Declaration).
India’s oil firms promised to hastily transfer arrears held in Indian banks for oil purchased during the previous years (now totalling $5.3 billion), and to increase orders for Iranian oil. The latter would be facilitated by the end to the pressure on insurance firms who then refused to underwrite oil tankers coming out of Iran.
India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh met with Iran’s Deputy Prime Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour on Monday, November 25, and agreed that there is “considerable untapped potential to develop economic cooperation between the two countries particularly in the area of energy and transit.” India and Iran have already been at work building the Chabahar port, and India is building a 900 km train track to link the port to the Hajigak region in Afghanistan. Dreams of oil and gas pipelines and train lines remained suspended over the gathering like a huge exclamation mark.
What these developments indicate is that the time of US primacy is now over and the time of multipolar regionalism is at hand. From 1991 to the present, the US had attempted to forge strong bilateral ties with its chosen allies and sought to knit those allies into a planetary security web of military bases and inter-operatable armed forces; this was the hub and spoke system that James Baker had written about in 1992. That system meant that regional ties had to be sacrificed for the close linkages to the United States. Latin America, through the Bolivarian dynamic, was the first region to exit from the US strategy and create its own regional architecture (for political, economic and social linkages). An over-extended US military presence in Asia and the collapse of the finance-led economic model in 2008 weakened the US considerably.
The example of Latin America gave confidence for the new India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) formation, the antecedent of the BRICS bloc. With the quiet emergence of the BRICS bloc in the context of a weaker West, it was inevitable that the siege of Iran would have to be lifted. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Li uncharacteristically told the Chinese media that his country played a crucial role in concluding the deal. Pressure from Russia and China on the European Union pushed them to bring a wayward France in line. No longer can an imperial foreign policy dominate international policy without challenge. That is the lesson of the Iranian deal.
Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon. His most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.
- India will continue to engage Iran in economic activities (rediff.com)
- Post-deal with world powers, Iran briefs India on moving ahead (thehindu.com)
- PressTV: US extends Iran oil sanctions waivers (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
When Barack Obama became president, there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He escalated to over 100,000 troops, plus contractors. Now there are 47,000 troops these five years later. Measured in financial cost, or death and destruction, Afghanistan is more President Obama’s war than President Bush’s. Now the White House is trying to keep troops in Afghanistan until “2024 and beyond.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign the deal. Here is his list of concerns. He’d like the U.S. to stop killing civilians and stop kicking in people’s doors at night. He’d like the U.S. to engage in peace negotiations. He’d like innocent Afghan prisoners freed from Guantanamo. And he’d like the U.S. not to sabotage the April 2014 Afghan elections. Whatever we think of Karzai’s legacy — my own appraisal is unprintable — these are perfectly reasonable demands.
Iran and Pakistan oppose keeping nine major U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, some of them on the borders of their nations, until the end of time. U.S. officials threaten war on Iran with great regularity, the new agreement notwithstanding. U.S. missiles already hit Pakistan in a steady stream. These two nations’ concerns seem as reasonable as Karzai’s.
The U.S. public has been telling pollsters we want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan “as soon as possible” for years and years. We’re spending $10 million per hour making ourselves less safe and more hated. The chief cause of death for U.S. troops in this mad operation is suicide.
When the U.S. troops left Iraq, it remained a living hell, as Libya is now too. But the disaster that Iraq is does not approach what it was during the occupation. Much less has Iraq grown dramatically worse post-occupation, as we were warned for years by those advocating continued warfare.
Humanitarian aid to Afghanistan — or to the entire world, for that matter, including our own country — would cost a fraction of what we spend on wars and war preparations, and would make us the most beloved nation on earth. I bet we’d favor that course if asked. We were asked on Syria, and we told pollsters we favored aid, not missiles.
We stopped the missiles. Congress members in both houses and parties said they heard from more people, more passionately, and more one-sidedly than ever before. But we didn’t stop the guns that we opposed even more than the missiles in polls. The CIA shipped the guns to the fighters without asking us or the Congress. And Syrians didn’t get the aid that we favored.
We aren’t asked about the drone strikes. We aren’t asked about most military operations. And we aren’t being asked about Afghanistan. Nor is Congress asserting its power to decide. This state of affairs suggests that we haven’t learned our lesson from the Syrian Missile Crisis. Fewer than one percent of us flooded Congress and the media with our voices, and we had a tremendous impact. The lesson we should learn is that we can do that again and again with each new war proposal.
What if two percent of us called, emailed, visited, protested, rallied, spoke-out, educated, and non-violently resisted 10 more years in Afghanistan? We’d have invented a new disease. They’d replace the Vietnam Syndrome with the Afghanistan Syndrome. Politicians would conclude that the U.S. public was just not going to stand for any more wars. Only reluctantly would they try to sneak the next one past us.
Or we could sit back and keep quiet while a Nobel Peace Prize winner drags a war he’s “ending” out for another decade, establishing that there’s very little in the way of warmaking outrages that we won’t allow them to roll right over us.