Whilst contemplating a strategic withdrawal from combat scenarios in Afghanistan, the US-led Coalition will no doubt look to ensuring and insuring its long-term aims and interests in and around Afghanistan. Among other objectives in the region, a substantive unfulfilled US interest, over the last decade and more, remains the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline.
The real potential guarantors of the security of the project will be those with the wherewithal to wield local kinetic dominance in the terrain that the pipeline will traverse in Afghanistan and Baluchistan upto the desired sea coast port terminals. However, self-reliance to the maximum extent in this respect is best.
Can any guarantees of support to the project from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia be treated as credible? Will US investment in the project to build and operate the pipeline not risk being just another major hostage to Pakistan-based and Saudi-funded insurgent threat?
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have their own reasons not to be enthusiastic about the pipeline and hence to not be supportive.
The Saudis view with disapproval any purchase of hydrocarbon resources by the US outside Saudi Arabia – as to that extent diminishing US dependence on Saudi oil supplies, and disapprove also the emergence of any competitive oil exporter that potentially may resist falling in line with Saudi preferences concerning worldwide pricing of oil.
The Saudis also view with disfavour any prolonged perpetuation of US influence in the region – which they apprehend will interfere with their policy of radicalising Central Asian states - using tenets of Wahhabi Islam.
The Saudis also see US involvement in Central Asia as creating basis for US
entrepreneurial entrenchment in Baluchistan, and leading to US domination and blockage of a key region in the focus of Saudi aspirations.
The Pakistanis, whilst acutely aware that a key US interest requiring Pakistan’s oversight or support will always induce substantive financial and military US backing to Pakistan, are also aware of the consequences of doing anything disapproved of by the Saudis, or the Chinese, and have independent additional reservations also relative to the TAP pipeline project.
Ideally, the Pakistanis would like themselves to exploit not just Turkmenistan’s but all of Central Asia’s natural resources. However, sorely lacking the capacity to do so, they are anxious not to rub just Saudi Arabia but Red China also the wrong way – the latter having its own designs and plans underway so far as Central Asian natural resources are concerned.
Far preferable it is to Pakistan for the US and its allies simply to leave Afghanistan; the region ‘outsourced’ to Pakistan’s management, costs and profits on account of doing so being generously underwritten by the US; or, in the alternative, for the US to remain mired, struggling in Afghanistan, and therefore dependant on Pakistan for regional logistic, political and military cooperation.
The Pakistanis, although cognizant of risks, may be expected, as in the past, if they perceive an advantage for themselves, to be quite willing to facilitate the Iranians – even if detrimental to US interests, and particularly if further approbation of the Chinese is to be secured.
The Chinese have plans for extension of rail, road and strategic communications from the Karakoram region south-west through Pakistan to Gwadar and Karachi ports, and to expand communications between Gwadar and Karachi.
This is related to the coveted aim of connecting, consuming and manufacturing capacities in China with a sea port near the Straits of Hormuz, as much to exploit mineral and other natural resources in Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and build a strategic naval facility adjoining the mouth of the Gulf region, compassing the Arabian Sea and its rim -- the coastlines of Africa, peninsular India, and Sri Lanka; and access the blue water in southern Indian Ocean region.
The Chinese have a long range vision towards building China’s rise to super power status, displacing the global economic, political and military preponderance of the US. Afghanistan and Baluchistan are key pieces in Chinese perspectives and policy formulation.
Mindful of all the foregoing considerations, many purposes are to be served if the US eventually does arrive at and execute the right strategy in and around Afghanistan.
The right strategy involves clarity and fullness of perception that the key to mastering the whole situation, indeed towards getting into position to drive world events in the immediate future as well as in the unfolding decades of this century, is not principally Afghanistan, but centered in and controlling and dominating Baluchistan and key locations in the border districts from Chitral to Baluchistan. (Incidentally, this is the territory dreamed of by the great freedom fighter and Pashtun hero, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan as comprising his cherished ‘Pashtoonistan’.)
The right strategy also involves eschewing by the US of any appeasement of all forces that propagate Wahhabism or cooperate with and connive in doing so.
Purposeful, inexorable, practical action must be taken firmly to curb and suppress Wahhabism.
The right strategy also entails exerting irresistible and implacable pressure, on the military elite in Pakistan as well as the Saudi regime, and unambiguous warnings of the action that shall follow if there is any form of support to terrorism.
Strict vigilance is necessary to ensure adherence by these respective governments and agencies to first principles and canons of international law.
Come mid-July 2011, the US, as announced by the young President Barack Obama – intent, no doubt, on fulfilling past campaign pledges in the early stages of the run up to another election period, - may well begin withdrawing forces in Afghanistan to non-combat locations.
It is essential to locate appreciable forces in well-selected encampments in Baluchistan and at places on the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier region, including the newly named ‘Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’ province of Pakistan.
Doing so will confer vital, decisive, strategic and tactical leverage relative to the entire region, concentric spaces around it, and vis-à-vis all the key players having stakes therein.
It is in this area that the US-led Coalition should have operated from the first to tackle and eliminate the menace posed by al Qaeda and Taliban.
Any refusal by Pakistan to cooperate in this respect should be viewed and declared as complicity with the enemy, and be heavily penalized as such.
Pakistan should never be allowed on the one hand to plead inability to take effective action against terrorists based in Pakistan, and, on the other hand, to refuse to allow action to be taken by a foreign government responsible for the security of its citizens under attack or threat of attack by terrorists based in Pakistan.
The developing international situation affected by international terrorism based in Pakistan requires a strong kinetic presence of the US in key locations in Pakistan: Baluchistan and the districts from Chitral to Baluchistan. The US must assert itself in this respect so long as the problem is resolved.
It is to be noted that the US has maintained military bases in the region from the early years of Pakistan, and has added to these – not the least now being the Shamsi base in Baluchistan: 27’ 51” North, 65’10” East: stationing US drones; Googleable.
The need of the hour is to develop adequate encampment of re-located US and Coalition forces in Pakistan.
When Pax Britannia ruled and ‘the sun never set on the British Empire’, it was because British strategists and policy makers did not shy away from bold and forceful action in accord with strategic realities.
In the context of Central, South and West Asia, they fully grasped the significance to empire defense of organizing location of military power in this specific area, Baluchistan and the frontier districts up to Chitral – and from quite early times too.
In 1893, the British imposed upon Afghanistan’s then ruler, the tenacious but beleaguered Amir Abdur’Rehman, the so-called ‘Durand Line’, known as such after Sir Mortimer Durand, foreign secretary of the then imperial Government of India - the ‘Durand Line’ being an unsurveyed and undelineated boundary, marked inexpertly in blue chalk on a defective map.
In 1947, the British government, led by Prime Minister Clement Atlee of the Labour Party, operated again in accord with British strategic interests, and maneuvered the configuration and coming into being of ‘Pakistan’, and Pakistan’s inheritance of the chain of vital border districts – from Baluchistan to Chitral – on the British side of the ‘Durand Line.’
All things considered, the US is the world’s paramount power, the ultimate arbiter of aggregate equities, and must comport itself as such in international affairs, especially relative to critical world crises -- for a better future for all.
(SS Sohoni is a retired IAS officer and is currently a Senior Advisor to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)