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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Weekly Great Game #7 (April 21 - April 27)

Instead of a day-by-day overview, this time I'll mention just three of the developments that I thought noteworthy over this last week.
Al-Qaida vs. Iran
The previous week Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced the familiar conspiracy theory that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan merely under the pretext of, and not because of, the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
Last Sunday I watched a couple of clips from the Onion TV for some fun, and one funny scene there was about how upset an al-Qaida operative might be about conspiracy theorists trying to rob them of the credit for their attacks. You know, if you spend dreamless nights in caves, sleeping on rocks, planning something special... Politically incorrect and insightful humour at the same time. Here it is for you.

Vid title: 9/11 Conspiracy Theories 'Ridiculous,' Al Qaeda Says

I thought immediately how ironic it could be, in a way, to see al-Qaida taking on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his remarks now. Which then they actually did. AQ deputy chief Zawahiri blamed both the Iranian President and Lebanese Hizbollah's al-Manar TV station for the conspiracy theories spreading in the Middle East.
Coming back to Ahmadinejad's statement, though, I tend to see it as more important by now than merely a simple outburst of the predictably regular kind from Ahmadinejad. It could be an indication by Iran of a possible future readiness to challenge the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, coming as it is in the wake of Russia's and China's moves of late to become more involved in what's going on there. The West's commitment is not firm enough so far, and others may be sensing that. This is the view offered by M.K. Bhadrakumar in the Asia Times, and I tend to accept that interpretation.
M.K. Bhadrakumar writes, quote:
"Ahmadinejad's statement is the first time that Tehran has questioned frontally at the highest level of leadership the raison d'etre of the US intervention in Afghanistan. He suggests that terrorism is the pretext rather than the reason for the US intervention. The Iranian leader alleges that the US intervention was more geopolitical. Considering that Iran (under former president Mohammed Khatami) had provided logistical support for the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, Wednesday's statement signifies an important rethink in Tehran."
The TAPI pipeline...
... so far with the I (for India) calculated in. Aftab Maken for the Pakistani The News reports:
"ISLAMABAD: The 10th steering committee of oil ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on Thursday agreed to start construction work on the much-delayed TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline project in 2010.
This was stated at a joint press conference by Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Khwaja Muhammad Asif, Turkmen Minister for Oil and Gas Industry Dr Baymurad Hojamuhamedov, Afghan Minister of Mines Mohammad Ibrahim Adel and Indian Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Shri Murli Deora here after the conclusion of the steering committee meeting.
The second meeting of the technical working group (TWG) of the four countries was also held the same day. The gas pipeline project, to be completed at the cost of $7.6 billion, will start supplying 3.2 billion cubic feet gas per day through 56-inch diameter pipeline.
The pipeline will start from Dauletabad field in Turkmenistan to Fazilka at the Pakistan-India border, passing through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan and Multan in Pakistan. (Six compressor stations are to be built along the route - P.M.) The project cost estimate was $3.3 billion in 2004, which has now been updated to $7.6 billion. The price increase was due to sharp increase in the price of steel, construction cost and the cost of compressor stations. Key principles for future gas sales and purchase agreement will be agreed bilaterally between the buyer and sellers under the heads of agreement discussions.
The parties have also agreed to form a consortium of investors to undertake a detailed feasibility study and further action, it said. The project would be completed to achieve first gas flow in 2015.
To a question, he said Turkmenistan would provide third party certification of reserves before the next meeting of the steering committee of ministers from four countries to be held in September/October this year in New Delhi."
(Unocal has already surveyed the Daulatabad field in the 1990s by the way, so doubts are not that strong about the potential reserves here.)
Meanwhile, pledges were also made that the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline will go ahead as well.
Radio Free Europe reports w.r. 2 IPI:
"The IPI pipeline would be some 2,600 kilometers, with an estimated cost of $7 billion. Iran estimates it can complete its section of the pipeline to the Pakistani border by 2013, though other estimates say Pakistan could start receiving gas from the IPI pipeline as soon as 2011. But potential investors may be frightened away from the IPI because of U.S. sanctions against doing business with Iran. The Asian Development has yet to publicly support the project, either."
With these plans, of course, nothing is sure as yet. But Turkmenistan's possible opening up to diversifying its export channels may be somewhat promising. Ouvertures are being made by Berdymukhammedov and his team towards China as well. And even in the EU there were rumours recently that Turkmenistan might be every up for joining the Nabucco project. These things are all such a long way away. Yet pipeline plans like that of IPI and TAPI are the sort of mutually enticing opportunities (which I talked of in a post yesterday as well) that may offer a way to transcend conflicts in the region. So I'll be paying attention to them as an ex-officio optimist should.
Assadullah Khalid vs. Canada
With both Canadian foreign minister Maxime Bernier and Kandahar's governor Assadullah Khalid still in place, the recently started diplomatic quarrel between them continues. The previous week Bernier said Khalid should be replaced, to which the formal decision-owner Hamid Karzai didn't quite agree so far. The aggressively defending Khalid escalated the situation, acting in unison with some of the Canadian opposition, and calls for Bernier's resignation were made.
Khalid this week escalated somewhat further, by claiming that in one instance, in early April, an Afghan police unit's decimation by either the Taliban or - rather - some poppy trader's militia was the Canadian's fault because they weren't ready to provide protection to the Afghan unit which was on a poppy eradication mission when it was ambushed.
Now interesting details emerge about how local power structures affect where eradication is taking place.
" Growing opium is illegal in all parts of Afghanistan, but governors are encouraged to follow the National Drug Control Strategy when conducting their spring eradication programs. The strategy calls for targeted eradication of fields where farmers might be able to grow other crops, in part, to avoid victimizing the poorest farmers, who often suffer more eradication because they cannot pay bribes.
“Experts work with over 70 data sets to produce the target maps,” said David Belgrove, head of the British counter-narcotics team in Kabul.
But governors often stray from the experts' maps as they feel pressure from power brokers or other local influences, observers say. The governor of Helmand province aimed 60 per cent of his eradication at the targeted areas this year, Mr. Belgrove said, while in neighbouring Kandahar, the governor only followed the maps for 8 per cent of his campaign.
“We've managed to stay in the target areas in Helmand because we have a good dialogue with the governor and the task force there,” Mr. Belgrove said.
“Unfortunately, Governor Khalid's eradication has been outside of those areas,” he said. “It's very sad that it's been in some insecure areas where it's caused deaths.” "
So by the metrics mentioned Khalid's record is not exactly clean on all this - not to mention that to force eradication even in the carefully selected areas, while an insurgency is going on, is quite possibly detrimental to any counterinsurgency effort anyway (which is why ISAF troops don't really want to become involved in it).
Alright, that's it for today, end of transmission.


Ghosts of Alexander said...

RE: "Ahmadinejad's statement is the first time that Tehran has questioned frontally at the highest level of leadership....."

I'll disagree with Bhadrakumar on this one. Especially in regards to Ahmadinejad being at the highest level of leader ship. Any important "rethink in Tehran" will need to come from the Supreme Council. And I think/feel/believe that they are far more pragmatic than Ahmadinejad regarding Afghanistan and the American presence there.

although I'll admit that some Iranian activities go on in Iraq and to a far lesser degree Afghanistan without the council's permission.

Péter MARTON said...

You're right, but neither do I nor does Bhadrakumar (I think) say that this challenge would come in the form of IEDs, EFPs and other similarly menacing combinations of the alphabet soup.
Rather, it is challenge by means of rhetoric, ideology, diplomacy and such. And Ahmadinejad may be but a spokesperson here. Others within the institutional jungle of the Iranian polity could later join and escalate this line.
It's good this is brought up, because when I write about Iran challenging the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, I see that it could fairly easily be interpreted as though I'd mean sg of the "fourth-generation warfare" type, which I don't.