Operation Enduring Pipeline

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Operation Enduring Freedom is the official label for the US military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. After almost seven years of fighting, what has been gained? What might be gained?

Militarily, US frustration with heavy casualties and lack of progress came to a head recently when Defense Secretary Robert Gates blamed NATO allies for US casualties. “I know I’ve been a big nag, and I know I’ve been a pain, … but for NATO to continue to be tied up in politics [because of a lack of public support] and issues between governments that are irrelevant to whether we are making progress in Afghanistan, I just don’t have patience any more . . .We’ve got kids dying because of the gaps.”

Freedom? There’s no progress there, either, for women, journalists and Afghanis in general.

Freedom for women? Ann Jones, a writer who has lived in Afghanistan, writes that promises to the Afghans are repeatedly broken. The national government, with the consent of the occupation, installed many of the very warlords who had shelled Kabul for years. Afghan women, by far, have had it the worst, suffering for centuries in a moribund patriarchal culture, from relentless discrimination that regarded them as the lowest form of slaves. A recent example: On May 21, 2007, the lower house of the Afghan parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, voted to suspend Malalai Joya, a female MP elected from Farah province. Malalai was accused of insulting the parliament and suspended until the end of her term in 2009. Malalai’s suspension occurred after she appeared in a television interview comparing the parliament to an animal stable.

Freedom of the press? The fourth trial of journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, condemned to death, scheduled for Sunday, June 15, was delayed again by the judges in the case. Medical evidence has been submitted showing Kambakhsh was tortured during interrogations at the Balkh provincial jail. Yakub Kambakhsh, older brother of Parwez, and a noted journalist himself said, “Now we have found out that there is no impartial court in Afghanistan, even in the capital." The Committee to Protect Journalists in Afghanistan on June 11th called on President Karzai for press freedom:

  • Call for the release of imprisoned journalism student Parwez Kambakhsh, who was sentenced to death by a provincial court in January on blasphemy charges.
  • Identify and prosecute the killers of BBC journalist Abdul Samad Rohani, who was slain in Helmand province on June 7.
  • Investigate reported attacks in western Herat province against two female journalists who later resigned their news media positions. Unidentified assailants twice hurled grenades at Khadija Ahmadi’s house in April after she was anonymously warned to quit her post at Faryat radio station, according to news reports.
  • Direct prosecutors to drop criminal charges against the privately run television network Tolo TV for defying a parliamentary ban on selected Indian soap operas.

Freedom for the Afghanis? According to the recent Amnesty International Report 2008: Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law were committed with impunity by all parties, including Afghan and international security forces and insurgent groups. All sides carried out indiscriminate attacks, which included aerial bombardments by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) forces, as well as suicide attacks by armed groups. According to the Afghanistan NGO Security Office, there were around 2,000 non-combatant civilian deaths, with international forces causing over a quarter of casualties and insurgent groups just under half. Rights associated with education, health and freedom of expression were violated, particularly for women. Human rights defenders and journalists, many of them women, were threatened, physically intimidated, detained or killed. Reforms of key government institutions, including the police and intelligence service, made limited progress. Government officials and local power-holders were not held accountable for reported abuses and there was little or no access to justice in many areas.

Freedom is in big trouble in Afghanistan, but let’s think positive, prospects for a natural gas pipeline might be better.

Turkmenistan is just north of Afghanistan. Daniel Sershen reported a year ago from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan for the Christian Science Monitor: "Blanketed by vast deserts, Turkmenistan sits atop some of the world’s largest natural-gas reserves. As Russia and the West look to secure new gas and oil supplies in a tightening race for energy security, this Central Asian country has landed squarely in their sights. Last weekend, Russia secured a deal for a new pipeline to take Turkmenistan’s gas north, delivering a serious setback to US and European hopes for one that would siphon the gas to the West – bypassing Russia’s increasingly powerful grip on energy resources and routes."

Setback to the West? Not so fast. In response, last November Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the four partners of a proposed $3.3 bn pipeline, vowed to accelerate work on the four-nation project to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan to India. The declaration was adopted in New Delhi at a two-day regional economic cooperation forum on Afghanistan, which was attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The proposed gas pipeline project (TAPI) will initially provide 30 million cubic meters of gas to Pakistan and India each and 5 million cubic meters to Afghanistan on a daily basis, which can be later increased up to 90 million cubic meters in aggregate. TAPI will run from the Dovetabat gas deposit in Turkmenistan to the Indian town of Fazilka, near the border between Pakistan and India. Six compressor stations are to be constructed along the pipeline. TAPI certainly would help the consumer countries, Pakistan and India, while Turkmenistan could make billions of dollars from gas exports. But arguably it would benefit US-client Afghanistan most by providing steady transit fees to fill depleted state coffers in Kabul.

The American company Unocal has a ten-year history of interest in the Turkmenistan gas field and a pipeline through Afghanistan. The Taliban wasn’t interested, but the Hamid Karzai government is more amenable. On April 28 Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov met in Kabul, where they signed an agreement on extension of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

A key political objective of the TAPI pipeline, one that changed it from TAP to TAPI, was to involve India and keep it away from a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. This would receive a boost from a civil nuclear energy pact with the United States.

But India has its politics also. The future of the nuclear energy pact between New Delhi and Washington appears bleak, and last month, reports Downstream Today, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said that, after a visit from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project is moving toward the "final stage" of its implementation. "The direction of the project is positive," said Sadiq at a weekly news briefing. The US$7.5-billion IPI gas pipeline project, which has been under discussions since 1994, is to deliver natural gas from Iran to Pakistan and India. Last month, the long-stalled talks on the gas pipeline project made a breakthrough when Ahmadinejad made whistle-stop visits to Pakistan and India. The three countries are expected to sign agreements on the IPI project soon.

Yikes, foiled again, outflanked by Iran? Again, there are options. The IPI pipeline wouldn’t of course pass through war-torn Afghanistan but it would pass through Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan’s provinces and the scene of recent unrest including pipeline bombings. (I wonder who financed the unrest?) In fact, Balochistan might opt to become an independent state if it is not granted provincial autonomy, Senate Deputy Chairman Jan Muhammad Jamali said recently. “The time is running out … there is no other option left but to grant provincial autonomy to all the provinces including Balochistan,” Jamali told the Upper House while speaking on a point of order. He said he had been forced to raise the voice of the people of his province, as the situation was rapidly deteriorating. “The four brothers (provinces) will not be able to live together if the situation remains the same,” he added.

Is there any chance that Jamali’s threats might come true? Do the Jamalis have any clout? Could Pakistan break up? It’s possible. The Jamali family has in the past collaborated with the CIA and the ISI (Pakistan Intelligence) in countering the activities of two other tribes and their Marxist influence in Balochistan. During the course of this collaboration, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali became friendly with Nancy Powell (no relation to Colin), who was then a young member of the diplomatic corps in Pakistan and then served as US ambassador to Pakistan 2002–2004. She is currently the ambassador to Nepal.

An independent Balochistan would balkanize Pakistan, create a US-friendly state between Iran and India, and hurt Iran badly by stymieing the IPI pipeline. It would also provide a side benefit by isolating the large new port that the Chinese are financing in Gwadar, on Balochistan’s coast. In March 2002, Chinese vice premier Wu Bangguo laid the foundation for Gwadar port, which is intended be a key Chinese facility on the Arabian Sea, not far from the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. The US might consider this a threat to The Carter Doctrine, which dictates that the US shall be the big dog in the Middle East.

Operation Enduring Freedom? With John McCain and Barack Obama now arguing about widening the Afghanistan war and invading Pakistan, the TAPI natural gas pipeline has a better chance than freedom ever had. It would be an American-controlled cash cow that would hurt Iran. All the US needs to do is pacify Afghanistan with more troops (to safeguard TAPI) and balkanize Pakistan (to stymie IPI) while widening the war and antagonizing India. Freedom be damned. Freedom was never an option anyhow, especially when there’s money to be made by endless war.

June 20, 2008

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