What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Weekly Great Game #5 (April 7 - April 13)

This will be a somewhat briefer and irregular issue of the Weekly Great Game. Irregular because instead of a day-by-day account of events I'll focus in more detail on just two of all the issues that might be worth mentioning.
I'll start by highlighting some more I learned related to Turkmenistan's Berdymukhamedov's visit to Bucharest from some sources I found courtesy of Jeff Kouba, whose "Cables, dispatches and memoranda" feature at his blog - Peace Like a River - will be a very useful resource to rely on among the rest I'm using for these compilations of weekly developments I'm putting together on Sundays.
So a couple of days ago I wrote of Uzbekistan's potentially growing significance as a result of their participation, under Russian tutelage of sorts, in NATO's logistics in support of operations in Afghanistan. And, connected to that and Uzbekistan's proposal of including NATO in the Afghan contact group's 6+2 format, Turkmenistan's importance couldn't be missed, either. Notably, talks are coming up in Islamabad, Pakistan, regarding the TAP (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) pipeline, which may potentially turn into a TAPI pipeline if India jumps onboard as well. I'll get back to this in a minute.
Ghepardoo's blog notes that actually even all of the GUAM country group's state leaders were present in Bucharest (beside MAP aspirants Georgia and the Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan were also represented by presidents Voronin and Aliev, respectively). And adding to the post-Soviet agenda of the Summit, Putin reportedly even tried to push the idea of an undersea tunnel from Alaska to Russia, among other potential fruits of world peace, supposedly just an inch away, should NATO not go forward with missile defence and with giving the Ukraine and Georgia a clear membership perspective. It was in this sort of setting, teetering between competing incentives to confrontation and cooperation, that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan appeared to open somewhat towards NATO (but seeming to me to act in a well-coordinated fashion with Russia all the time).
Now, the TAP(I) pipeline is important for the U.S., because it would be happy with any cubic foot of gas that could leave Turkmenistan not via Russia but some other way. The Nabucco pipeline with its longest dreamed-of extension all the way to Turkmenistan would be a nice enough project from that point of view, but there is the other dream of TAPI to pursue also. And Uzbekistan's opening, coordinated with the Russians, aims to bring NATO into an institutionalised discussion with the 6+2 regional contact group set up to deal with the Afghan question. So these are all interesting coincidences that are making up quite a complex picture of diplomacy in the region. It's a could-be-many-things sort of situation, primarily as a result of Russia's initiative - which in turn came in reaction to NATO's transformation - where moves by everyone will be highly interdependent now.
The Moscow Times noted about the outcome of a side-meeting between Bush and Berdymukhamedov (by the way Berdymukhamedov also had a one-on-one with Karzai reportedly):
" "Turkmenistan has huge potential in the energy sphere ... and remains committed to its strategy of diversifying export routes on the global market," Berdymukhammedov told Bush, the state Turkmen Khabarlary news agency quoted.
"This position was met with full support from the U.S. president," the agency reported.
Turkmenistan exports most of its natural gas through Gazprom, which then resells it to Europe at higher prices.
The United States has urged Turkmenistan to find alternative routes for its exports and has lobbied for the rival Nabucco pipeline project designed to link Caspian gas with West European markets. "
The Institute for the Study of Conflict's analysis registers how TAP(I) could even expand to become (K)TAP(I) if all the challenges are overcome at some point in time, with Kazakhstan willing in as well (footnotes omitted - P.M.):
"Now, a little over five years later, India finally has signed on to the project during Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari’s visit to Ashgabat on the heels of Berdymuhammedov’s return from the NATO summit and his meeting with Karzai. Ansari met with President Berdymuhammedov and various other Turkmen officials, including Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Gas Tachbardy Tagier and ended his visit by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate with the Turkmen government in the further development of its oil and gas industry. Ansari’s Ashgabat trip was the first leg of a journey that also included a visit to Kazakhstan, another country known for its hydrocarbon riches. Ansari’s eagerness to collaborate in new oil and gas deals no doubt stems from the fact that India must import 70% of its energy needs and is seeking new suppliers. The Central Asian countries’ vast petroleum resources are a logical choice in this quest, if the knotty problem of export routes can be solved."
The Taliban's comments
The Taliban did a few notable things this last week. Notably they did all those in Pakistan. Where by the way both the new, democratically elected government and the North-Western Frontier Province's new provincial leadership is looking to negotiate with them.
"Armed supporters of rebel cleric Maulana Fazlullah reappeared in the Matta tehsil of Swat and were seen marching on the roads on Wednesday.
According to locals, commanders Iqbal Hussain and Ikramuddin led the armed militants — numbering between 40 and 45. The local Taliban marched in the Shakar Darra area, which is 500 metres from the Baryam checkpost. Neither the security personnel at the checkpost, nor the area police officials posed any resistance to the show of strength. Locals said that the militants were travelling to the Pisho Dherai area.
Awaiting orders: Army officials in Swat said that they were awaiting directives from the provincial government before taking action."
To which the always intriguing Syed Saleem Shahzad adds elsewhere:
"With the destruction of a bridge on the Indus Highway in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) region of Darra Adamkhel last weekend, the Taliban have taken another step towards choking the supplies that flood through Pakistan to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission in Afghanistan."
He quotes a Pakistani Talib militant as having said this in reaction to the NATO-Russia transit agreement that was brought together at the Bucharest NATO Summit:
"Chopping off NATO's supply lines from Pakistan is the prelude of our operations and, believe me, the NATO deal with Russia for an alternative supply line is useless. To me, this is a fallacy or a political slogan to pressurize the strategically illiterate Pakistani leadership that NATO can do without Pakistan."
Of course there's a lot of grandstanding in the statement, and one could hardly regard the NATO-Russia transit deal as insignificant. But still the Pakistani Taliban do have nuisance potential and of course their operations focused on attacking NATO supply lines don't directly tread on the feet of those within Pakistan's security sector who still see the militants as the key to securing Pakistan's strategic depth in Afghanistan (at least a part of "faction A" as I once called it).
Other developments in less detail now - bulletpoint style
  • The French government can continue to go ahead with its entente cordiale or enhanced cooperation with the UK, as it comfortably survived a no-confidence vote in the French Assemblée on April 8.
  • On the same day Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak visited India and met Indian Defence Minister Shri A K Antony in New Delhi. Wardak also visited Srinagar and the HQ of the 15 Corps of the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir and discussed the possibility of India providing specialised training to the Afghan military for counterinsurgency operations.
  • Afghanistan's election body the next day announced that parliamentary elections would be held in the middle of 2009 if all goes according to plan, and the presidential election would come only some time in late 2009. Feelers out again regarding the "what if" of Zalmay Khalilzad trying his luck at the elections, even while Karzai also says he is ready for another round as Prez.
There'd be more topics to write about, but I'll try to come up with some special issues over the next week - I'll be trying to find time for that.


Jeff Kouba said...

Hi Péter, thanks for the plug...

Péter MARTON said...

You're absolutely welcome, Jeff.