Russia Hosts Milestone Conference on Afghanistan to Kick-Start Peace Process

By Peter Korzun
Source

or-41730.jpg

There’s a first time for everything. On Nov. 9, a Taliban delegation attended a one-day diplomatic conference in Russia to explore potential solutions for a peaceful settlement. It was the first time the Taliban had ever taken part in such a high-level international event that brought together India, Pakistan, Iran, China, and five countries from Central Asia. The US was invited as an observer but did not attend.

Russia hopes “to open a new page in the history of Afghanistan through joint efforts,”according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He believes that the participation of both Afghan leaders and the Taliban was an important contribution that helped to create a favorable environment for kick-starting direct talks.

The US efforts to involve the Taliban in the negotiations not been successful thus far. Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has held meetings with the Taliban in Qatar, but to no avail. The US is not happy with the “Moscow format” talks on Afghanistan, especially with the Taliban present, but nothing can be done about it — Moscow is spearheading the Afghan peace process. Russia was the first to get the Afghan delegates and the Taliban into the same room and at the same round table, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov seated between them. As CNN put it on Nov. 9, “Taliban Representatives in Moscow Signal Russia’s Rising Diplomatic Clout.”

Kabul was not officially represented at the Moscow conference. Instead, it sent a delegation from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (AHPC), a semi-official body that oversees peace efforts but does not represent the government. It did not prevent the members of AHPC from communicating President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to launch peace talks without preconditions. In February 2018, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani devised a peace offer for the Taliban that included readiness to both recognize the movement as a political party as well as to engage in unconditional talks with that group.

The Taliban officials refused to hold direct talks with the government in Kabul but they reaffirmed their readiness to discuss Afghanistan’s future with the United States. They are demanding a US withdrawal from their country and the adoption of a new constitution “based on the principles of Islamic religion.”

This one-day event was not intended to be a diplomatic breakthrough, but Moscow demonstrated its ability to act as an effective mediator between the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government — a mission the US has so far failed to accomplish. As a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russia has become a major contributor to the Shanghai Organization’s rising prominence, promoting the credibility of the peace efforts undertaken by the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group. Afghanistan has an observer status in the SCO — a group that can turn the peace process into a multilateral effort. This will weaken US clout in the region but will stop the fighting.

The Moscow conference also demonstrated that Russia has become a potentially vital bridge between the Taliban, the Afghan government, and the US at a time when Washington is seeking to end this war that is sapping its resources and proving a distraction from its other efforts, such as setting up a major anti-Iranian military alliance in the Middle East (Arab NATO). Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes Russia can play a decisive role in ending America’s longest war. As the participants of the “Moscow format” talks agreed, the Russian-brokered consultations will continue. After all, Russia, the Taliban, and the Afghan government all face a common enemy — the Islamic State.

Advertisements

US Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan Killed 500,000 People

Source

Over 60,000 US troops either killed or wounded in conflicts

Jason Ditz

Brown University has released a new study on the cost in lives of America’s Post-9/11 Wars, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The study estimates between 480,000 and 507,000 people were killed in the course of the three conflicts.

This includes combatant deaths and civilian deaths in fighting and war violence. Civilians make up over half of the roughly 500,000 killed, with both opposition fighters and US-backed foreign military forces each sustaining in excess of 100,000 deaths as well.

This is admittedly a dramatic under-report of people killed in the wars, as it only attempts to calculate those killed directly in war violence, and not the massive number of others civilians who died from infrastructure damage or other indirect results of the wars. The list also excludes the US war in Syria, which itself stakes claims to another 500,000 killed since 2011.

The report also notes that over 60,000 US troops were either killed or wounded in the course of the wars. This includes 6,951 US military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

The Brown study also faults the US for having done very little in the last 17 years to provide transparency to the country about the scope of the conflicts, concluding that they are “inhibited by governments determined to paint a rosy picture of perfect execution and progress.”

Those wishing to read the full Brown University study can find a PDF version here.

Why’d The US Issue A Sanctions Waiver For Chabahar?

By Andrew Korybko
Source

Many observers are wondering why the US issued a sanctions waiver for the Indian-built port of Chabahar in southeastern Iran and the railroad project that’s supposed to one day extend from it to Afghanistan, but the reason is that America sees this curious “Lead From Behind” arrangement as one of its last chances to retain its long-term influence in the landlocked country.

For as tough as the US promised that its reimposition of sanctions on Iran would be, it unsurprisingly went soft when it came to the issue of the Indian-built port of Chabahar in the southeastern part of the Islamic Republic. The State Department confirmed earlier this week that the US granted a sanctions waiver for this project, which simultaneously drew attention not only to the project’s significance, but also the special nature of the American-Indian Strategic Partnership if Washington thought it important enough to preserve at the expense of undermining its sanctions regime against Iran. The reason for this is that the US understands the long-term strategic ramifications of redirecting Afghanistan’s international trade away from Pakistan (and increasingly China) and towards the rest of the world market via the access that it obtains through Chabahar, which is why the railroad that’s supposed to branch off from this port to the landlocked country is also excluded from the sanctions regime.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place

The US isn’t just losing influence in Afghanistan on the military front after the Taliban’s recent spree of gains across the country, but also on the economic one as well after China’s recent inroads there, which America worries could soon have political consequences if Beijing succeeds in establishing new patronage networks with the internationally recognized Kabul elite. This could in turn make it less likely that the US can keep Kabul and the Taliban from striking a deal, especially one at its expense, which is why there’s such an interest in ensuring that America can still retain its control over Afghanistan’s permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”). Suitcases full of cash aren’t sustainable, whereas the clinching of privileged business deals with China are, hence why the US had to urgently streamline a solution and realized that it was forced to rely on its newfound Indian ally.

No reasonable comparison can be made between China’s ability to exert influence in Afghanistan and India’s, but the two BRICS “frenemies” nevertheless did agree to cooperate in jointly training its diplomats. There’s also the possibility that they’ll pool their infrastructure resources together in turning the country into a shining example of the “China-India-Plus-One” framework that they unveiled before this summer’s BRICS Summit, thereby putting an end to the competition between the New Silk Road and the “Asia-Africa Growth Corridor”. On the surface, all of this should be appalling to America because of how much it risks undercutting its strategic ambitions in Afghanistan, but Washington is clearly wagering that mutual suspicions will persist between China and India which will in turn make the railroad a feasible opportunity for indirectly exerting influence through its South Asian “Lead From Behind” partner.

Keeping India In Line

Iran will obviously receive some residual knock-on benefits from being the transit country facilitating Indian-Afghan trade (which, to remember, is intended to function as a more sustainable means of ‘buying off’ Kabul’s “deep state” than suitcases full of cash in the face of China’s New Silk Road competition), but the US is willing to turn a blind eye to that because of how comparatively insignificant those profits will be. After all, the US could always sanction individual Indian or Afghan companies that trade with Iran across this route instead of keeping their economic activities on a strictly bilateral basis (apart from paying transit dues and other unavoidable expenses that go into the country’s coffers), so the plan is at least conceptually viable and doesn’t necessarily subvert the spirit of Trump’s sanctions policy against the Islamic Republic.

It needs to be emphasized that the US is engaging in long-term strategic planning that won’t yield immediate dividends, but that it’s undertaking this approach because of the high level of trust that it’s established with India since the election of PM Modi in 2014. The US now regards India as a strategic partner, one which is indispensable to “containing” China, even though India itself is playing a “double game”  by working closer with China over the past few months through a cunning strategy that it regards as “balancing” (officially described as “multialignment” in its official parlance). There’s always the chance that India could disappoint the US, but that’s unlikely since it needs access to the US marketplace to continue its growth and is deathly afraid (whether rightly or wrongly) of having its domestic industries swamped by Chinese imports if it pivots towards the New Silk Road.

A Reason To Rethink The Hybrid War On CPEC

This strategic backdrop suggests that the Indian-American Strategic Partnership is here to stay and that the US will continue indirectly backing New Delhi’s efforts to circumvent Pakistan and trade with Afghanistan via Iran in spite of the Trump Administration’s sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Adding another wrinkle to this already complicated arrangement is that Pakistan might counterintuitively benefit in some respects from Chabahar’s success so long as this gets the US and India to stop destabilizing Balochistan out of fear that the resultant blowback could endanger the Afghan corridor that New Delhi is building. Terrorism could easily spill across the border and threaten the project, thereby harming the US and India’s long-term joint strategic interests, and Iran might also take serious issue with India’s covert sponsorship of these terrorists to make its continued hosting of this corridor conditional on New Delhi discontinuing its support for them.

Pakistan and Iran are on the same page regarding the role that third-party actors have in provoking occasional border problems between them through these means, so considering the increasingly strategic importance that both countries attach to their relations with one another, it follows that Tehran’s interests would be best served by leveraging its influence over the Chabahar Corridor to ensure security in the transnational Baloch space. This is the only scenario in which Pakistan could partially benefit from the Chabahar Corridor, so it’s incumbent on those in Islamabad to do everything that they can to encourage their Tehran counterparts to take every step in that direction. The US and India have obvious reasons for wanting to continue their Hybrid War on CPEC, but the argument can be made that their support of Baloch terrorism to this end runs an unacceptably high risk of blowback that could scuttle their joint plans for Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia.

Concluding Thoughts

The prima facie impression is that the US must have had some reason or another for waiving its sanctions against Chabahar, but cohesive explanations for why this is have been far and few between. It sounds absurd that the US’ interests in Afghanistan are furthered by Iran of all countries and especially at this specific point in time, but that’s the reality as it presently exists. To be clear, Iran isn’t intentionally assisting the US with anything, but its hosting of the Indian-built Chabahar Corridor to Afghanistan could be instrumentalized by Washington through its strategic partnership with New Delhi to advance the US’ grand strategic interests. On the other hand, however, Iran isn’t a completely passive bystander to this process either, and could at the very least work directly with its Indian partner to ensure that neither it nor the US continue their destabilization of Balochistan through the Hybrid War on CPEC because of the blowback that it could cause for the Chabahar Corridor.

The Untouchable US-Saudi Relation Is a Core Element of US Imperialism

26083230857_ca8c9f31c0_z_a4243.jpg

By Frederico Pierccini
Source

Nixon’s decision in 1971 to withdraw the United States from the gold standard greatly influenced the future direction of humanity. The US dollar rose in importance from the mid-1950s to become the world reserve currency as a result of the need for countries to use the dollar in trade. One of the most consumed commodities in the world is oil, and as is well known, the price is set by OPEC in US dollars, with this organization being strongly influenced by Saudi Arabia.

It is therefore towards Riyadh that we must look in order to understand the workings of the petrodollar. After the dollar was withdrawn from the gold standard, Washington made an arrangement with Riyadh to price oil solely in dollars. In return, the Saudis received protection and were granted a free hand in the region. This decision forced the rest of the world to hold a high amount of US dollars in their currency reserves, requiring the purchase of US treasuries. The relationship between the US dollar and oil breathed new life to this currency, placing it at the centre of the global financial and economic system. This privileged role enjoyed by the dollar allowed the United States to finance its economy through the simple process of printing its fiat currency, relying on its credibility and supported by the petrodollar that required other countries to store reserves of US treasuries in their basket of currencies.

This arrangement continued to sustain itself in spite of numerous wars (the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan), financial crises (the Black Monday of 1987, the Dotcom bubble of 2000, and Lehman Brothers’ subprime crisis of 2008), and the bankruptcies of sovereign states (Argentina in 1998). The explanation is to be found in the credibility of the US dollar and the US itself, with its ability to repay buyers of treasury bonds. In other words, as long as the US continues to maintain its dominance of the global financial and economic system, thanks to the dollar, its supremacy as a world superpower is hardly questioned. To maintain this influence on the currency markets and the special-drawing rights (SDR) basket, the pricing of oil in US dollars is crucial. This explains, at least partially, the impossibility of scaling down the relationship between Washington and Riyadh. Nobody should delude themselves into believing that this is the only reason why Saudi-US relations are important. Washington is swimming in the money showered by Saudi lobbies, and it is doubtful that those on the receiving end of such largesse will want to make the party stop.

The agreement made between Washington and Riyadh guaranteed that the latter would receive protection from the former and Washington would look the other way regarding Riyadh’s behavior within its kingdom and in the region – so long as Saudi Arabia sold its black gold in US dollars alone. This agreement was clearly a controversial one and has been kept away from the general public, even in the light of Khashoggi’s death and the liberal mainstream media’s piling on the Kingdom. Yet this is not the only reason why US-Saudi ties are so close. The initial agreements between the Saudis and the Americans concerned the petrodollar; but after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 (Iran’s nationalist prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, had been previously overthrown by the US and UK in 1953), Riyadh and Washington decided to declare war on their common enemy, with the hearty approval of Israel. The cooperation between Riyadh and Washington became even closer in the 1980s, through the common campaign against the USSR in Afghanistan through the use of jihadists recruited, trained and armed by the Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the US secret services. The use of jihadist terrorism as a geopolitical weapon has been a main feature of Riyadh’s statecraft.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US evolved from a mere economic and protection agreement, to a full-fledged collaboration against the shared enemies of Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh, expanding on the existing cooperation since the 1980s of using jihadism to advance strategic objectives. The situation with Iran became of primary importance for US strategy in the region. Riyadh, with the passage of time, assumed a triple role, namely, that of being the guarantor of the petrodollar, a facilitator in the use of Islamic terrorism as a geopolitical weapon, and a regional opponent of Iran.

This relationship has been mutually beneficial. The House of Saud has been free to run its country according to the strict strictures of Wahhabism without Western interference; and Washington enjoys a capacity for unlimited military spending (especially after the 2008 crisis and the beginning of quantitative easing) simply through the printing of debt in the form of government bonds that are immediately acquired by other countries. Washington has effectively been printing waste paper and obtaining consumer goods in return, a state of affairs that has allowed the United States to squander six trillion dollars in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without suffering significant economic consequences.

Ever since Donald Trump took over the White House, the process of de-dollarization that begun during the Obama era has only accelerated. With the unprecedented move in 2012 to remove Iran from the SWIFT international banking system, a dangerous precedent had been set that acted as a warning to the rest of the world. The United States revealed itself as willing to abuse its dominant position by wielding the dollar as a weapon against geopolitical adversaries.

The consequences of that action continue to be felt today. Many within the Western elite have come to recognize this mistake and are regretting it. Russia and China understood that they were next on the chopping block and set about creating alternative payment systems like CIPS that would serve to act as a backup system in case Washington tried to exclude Moscow and Beijing from the SWIFT system.

Trump contributed more than any of his predecessors towards further pushing the world in the direction of de-dollarization. Sanctions and tariffs have weakened confidence amongst US allies and forced the rest of the world to start looking for alternatives. The cases of Iran and Russia are instructive, with commercial exchanges being undertaken in currencies other than the dollar for a number of years now. There are dozens of other examples where the use of the dollar in commercial transactions has been abandoned. More complicated, however, is the financing of debt for private or public companies that often takes place in dollars. This exposes industries to a difficult situation in the event that their national currencies devalue against the dollar, making it more expensive to find the US dollars needed to repay creditors, leaving what are major national companies with the prospect of facing bankruptcy. As Russia learned in 2014 with the attack on its Ruble, exposure of potentially strategic sectors of the country to the economic influence of a foreign adversary should be avoided.

The push to renounce the use of the dollar in financial transactions also stems from the fear that the next financial crisis may affect global debt as expressed in dollars; not only destroying the US economy, but dragging down with it countries that are large holders of US treasuries. This is not speculation or conspiracy theory but simple deduction from observing the economic situation over the last 10 years. The global economy was saved in 2008 as a result of the confidence held by citizens following the intervention of central banks. The corrosive mechanism laid out by the Fed and its partners became evident months later. Central banks started printing unlimited amounts of money at 0% interest rates and furnishing it to banks and financial institutions to cover the debts left by the bursting of speculative bubbles like the one involving subprime mortgages.

The average citizen, seeing Bernanke and Draghi on TV talking about “unprecedented actions to save the system”, felt reassured, and therefore felt their money remained safe, in banks or in US dollars. The next financial crisis – potentially the worst ever – is likely to be caused by either the raising of interest rates by the Fed and other central banks, or from the popping of one of the numerous debt bubbles around. The central point is that the citizens’ belief in the system will be put to the test because, as Draghi said, “[this weapon of QE] can be used only once”. There is no protection for banks and speculative entities that could be in debt to the tune of many billions of dollars with no chance of survival.

With a view of to the possible collapse of the dollar-based financial system, several countries are selling their US government bonds, reducing their exposure and accumulating gold. This involves not just China and Russia, but even the European Union.

In such a situation, a crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia is unthinkable for Washington, especially when the region now seems to be guided by an axis that starts from Tehran and ends in Beirut, including Baghdad and Damascus. Riyadh is necessary for the Israeli strategy in the region, and Washington follows in tow for reasons related to the US dollar. Factoring the importance of Riyadh in supporting the petrodollar and in countering Iran in the region, it is not surprising why the Israeli lobby in Washington is doing its utmost to calm US senators down intent on punishing Riyadh for the Khashoggi affair.

If Saudi Arabia were really convinced of the innocence of MBS in the Khashoggi affair, it could use this situation to its advantage by reducing the role of Washington in its foreign policy. Turning to the east and increasing partnerships with China and Russia would have beneficial effects on the whole region, as well as reducing the importance of the United States in the world. Saudi Arabia is governed by a large family riven with divisions and feuds spanning decades. MBS has no interest in his kingdom and is occupied with his survival alone. He is aware that Netanyahu and Trump are his best bet for continuing to reign. Trump is equally aware of the importance of MBS in his communication strategy in the US, with a view to the midterm and the 2020 elections. MBS is for Trump the golden goose that finances the MAGA project, thanks apparently to Trump’s mesmerizing negotiation skills with the Saudis. Of course this is far from the truth, but what matters is the spin that Trump gives to this alliance.

Israel is the primary ally of MBS, given that the crown prince is the first Saudi monarch openly willing to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish State and bring relations between the two countries out into the open. The upper level of the US government, the so-called deep state, tried for a few weeks to use MBS against Trump. But this strategy came to an end after the Israelis, together with some elements of the US deep state, saw the risk of downsizing the global relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US. MBS will hardly be pushed aside, and within the Kingdom his position seems firmer than many expected, as seen at the Davos in the Desert conference. Breaking up with MBS would have had unimaginable repercussions for the US’s hegemonic position, and this is something Washington can ill afford at the moment.

The use of jihadism and petrodollars as political and financial weapon against Washington’s adversaries is reason enough to quickly forget Jamal Khashoggi and go back to ignoring the various abuses committed by Saudi Arabia. In this phase of the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world, the US cannot afford to renounce some of the most potent weapons in its arsenal to wield against its geopolitical foes.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s Declaration on Trump Sanctions (MUST SEE!)

November 06, 2018

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has lashed out at the United States for imposing “illegal and draconian” sanctions on Tehran, saying Washington would once again regret its “unwise measures.”

“The US administration appears to believe that imposing illegal, draconian sanctions on Iran will bring about such pain to our nation that it will force us to submit to its will no matter how absurd, unlawful or fundamentally flawed its demands are,” Zarif said in an online video message on Tuesday.

He added that fresh US sanctions against Iran were an “indiscriminate assault” and said the Islamic Republic has weathered “difficult times” in the face of 40 years of American hostility by relying solely on its own resources.

“Today, we and our partners across the globe will ensure that our people are least affected by this indiscriminate assault in the economic warfare that directly targets the Iranian people,” the top Iranian diplomat added.

The administration of US President Donald Trump announced on Monday the re-imposition of the “toughest” sanctions ever against Iran’s oil exports, shipping and banking. The bans had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The re-imposition of the second set of sanctions came after Trump in May pulled the US out from the agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

After leaving the deal, the US administration vowed to bring Iranian oil sales to “zero.”

It has, however, agreed to grant waivers to Turkey and seven other countries — China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan — to continue importing Iranian oil without facing diplomatic consequences.

Elsewhere in his video message, Zarif pointed to gradual change of policies and attitude by previous US administrations towards the Iranian nation and said, “I am confident that Mr. Trump’s administration will also reach to a conclusion that such policies will have no impact on determination of the great Iranian nation and the Americans will be obliged to change their policy.”

He emphasized that the world stands against the US administration and no country except for some few states in the Middle East and the Israeli regime would abide by Washington.

The foreign minister added that the hostile US measures were aimed at separating the “Iranian people from each other and from the establishment.”

He expressed confidence that “bad days” are awaiting the US administration which mostly tries to “cover atrocities of the Saudi regime and the Israeli regime instead of pursuing a policy in line with the US national interests.”

Zarif said Washington would be better off rethinking its “longstanding and unconditional support” for Saudi Arabia and Israel, which has “blinded the US to their appalling atrocities.”

He added that instead of relying on its “discredited addiction to unilateralism and sanctions…, the US is better off addressing the catastrophes and crises it has engineered in our region.”

In an exclusive interview over the weekend with USA TODAY, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran would be open to talks with the United States about a new nuclear agreement if Washington changes its “approach” to discussing the 2015 nuclear deal.

He added that Iran would weigh fresh diplomacy if there were “foundations for a fruitful dialogue” on the Iran nuclear reduction deal, stressing, “Mutual trust is not a requirement to start negotiations – mutual respect is a requirement.”

In a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday, Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo said the United Nations must hold the United States to account for its “illegal” move to reinstate sanctions on Tehran.

“The United Nations and its member states, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the international law, should resist against these wrongful acts and hold the United States accountable for such acts,” Khoshroo said in his letter.

Related Videos

Related Articles

Under the Pakistani volcano

Image result for geopolitical chessboard,

Via The Saker

November 04, 2018Under the Pakistani volcano

While Khan plays on a complex geopolitical chessboard, Chinese aid could be a financial lifeline as Islamabad faces off against deadly religious extremism

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

It has been a breathless week, huddled in the shadow of the simmering, bubbling, politico-religious volcano that is Imran Khan’s Pakistan.

And this week’s multi-faceted developments may just signal seismic shifts in Pakistan’s internal and external relations for the foreseeable future.

Before moving on to bloodier matters, let’s start with the “Mr. Khan Goes to China” episode – essential for reviewing all aspects of what is enthusiastically described by both sides as the “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership”.

Xi’s financial lifeline for Khan?

Prime Minister Khan, leading a fresh government elected in July and facing a range colossal challenges, set the tone from the start. He did not mince words.

“Countries go in cycles, they have their high points, they have their low points,” he said. “Unfortunately, our country is going through a low point at the moment with two very big deficits, a fiscal deficit and a current account deficit. And so we, as I’ve said, have come to learn.”

Arguably few teachers beat Chinese President Xi Jinping, praised by Khan as a role model. “China’s phenomenal achievements are worth emulating,” Khan said. “No other country has tackled poverty and corruption the way China has tackled it.”

The lynchpin of the strategic partnership is inevitably the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Road, or Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). Before his stint as guest of honor of the First China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Khan met a crucial player in Beijing for CPEC financing: Jin Liquan, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Right from the start, Pakistan’s new Planning Minister Makhdoom Bukhtiar was confident that Islamabad would not need to reschedule around $2.7 billion in Chinese loans due for repayment in 2018. Instead, what’s in the cards is an improved economic package centered on taking CPEC to the next level.

A financially stable Pakistan is absolutely crucial for the success of BRI. A Pakistani audit of projects approved by the previous Nawaz Sharif administration called for streamlining CPEC, not curtailing it. Now, Team Khan does not subscribe to the notion of CPEC as a debt trap.

With Saudi Arabia and China stepping in with cash, Islamabad may avoid becoming further indebted to the IMF and its trademark “strategic adjustments”- widely dreaded across the Global South for producing a toxic mix of austerity and inflation.

Pakistan juggles China, Iran, Saudi, Turkey

Pakistan is all about its prime geopolitical location, the crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia.

For Beijing, Pakistan as a key BRI node mirrors its new role as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As Khan has clearly identified, this interconnection can only turbo-charge Pakistan’s geo-economic position – under the institutional framework of SCO. The Xi-Khan partnership may actually center around an economic win-win for Pakistan and the SCO.

Of course, myriad challenges lie ahead.

Take for instance Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Lu Kang having to clarify that “all the cooperation between China and Pakistan has nothing to do with territorial disputes.”

Kang was referring to the hoopla surrounding the fact that a Pakistani company launched a bus service from Lahore to Kashgar via Islamabad; essentially the northern CPEC route via the Karakoram Highway, which skirts Kashmir. China does not want any interference whatsoever in the ultra-volatile Kashmir dossier.

Saudi Arabia is also making some not-too-subtle moves. Islamabad’s official position is that Riyadh’s recent financial offer came with no strings attached. That’s unlikely to be the case; Saudi traditionally casts a long shadow over all matters Pakistani. “No strings” means Islamabad should keep closer to Riyadh, not Tehran.

The House of Saud – paralyzed by the fallout of the bloody Istanbul fiasco – will go no-holds-barred to prevent Islamabad from getting closer to Tehran. (Or Ankara, for that matter). A possibly emergent, long-term, game-changing Turkey-Iran-Pakistan alliance was the talk of the town – at least during the first part of this week of weeks.

That brings us to the crucial visitor Khan received in Islamabad before his trip to China: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Last month, 14 Iranian border guards were kidnapped by the Pakistan-based Jaish al-Adl Salafi-jihadi fanatics. Pakistan security forces have been helpless so far.

Khan and Zarif talked about that – but also talked about Khan’s offer to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia in trying to find a solution for the tragedy in Yemen. The fact is, a Tehran-Islamabad rapprochement is already a work in progress.

That is the sophisticated geo-political game Khan must play. Meanwhile at home, he has to get down and dirty as he gets to grips with violent domestic religious turmoil.

‘Go legal – or else…’

I’ve been in Islamabad since Monday – right on the lip of the volcano, and enjoying the privilege of being part of one of the most extraordinary geopolitical conferences in recent times, something that in the current polarizing dynamic could only happen in Asia, not the West. But that’s another story.

While I was parsing elaborate analyses of this geopolitical chessboard, reality intervened.

Or – perhaps – it was a graphic intimation that Pakistan may just be changing for the better.

Street blockades paralyzed key nodes of the nation because Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman laborer, in jail for nine years, was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of spurious charges of blasphemy. There are less than 4 million Christians in Pakistan out of a total population of 197 million.

I was with a small group on the motorway to Peshawar, prior to taking a detour to Taxila – Alexander-the-Great land, where I planned further research on ancient Silk Roads – when suddenly we were halted.

A mullah was blaring his hate through a loudspeaker. A couple of his minions blocked all circulation.

Why the police would not dislodge this small group is the matter of all matters in Khan’s arguably new Pakistan. The highway standoff embodies the high-stakes grapple underway between the state and religion.

Back in Islamabad, as he led me around the campus of the National Defense University, Timoor Shah, a bright young man at the Center for Policy Studies, gave me a crash course on the nuances.

What a global audience should understand is this. On one side stand the state, the military and the judiciary. (Accusations continue to be hurled that Khan was privileged in the July elections by the military – the top institution in Pakistan – and an activist judiciary.) On the other side, stand fringe religious nuts and an opportunistic, discredited opposition.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a minor extremist political party whose only platform is to punish blasphemy, has issued death threats against the three Supreme Court judges. Pakistan could do worse than import a strangle/bone-saw/dissolve-in-acid Saudi execution squad to deal with such groups.

It’s instructive to consider what the director general of the PR arm of the powerful intelligence service, ISI, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had to say: This is a legal matter and the Pakistan Army should not be dragged into it. Ghafoor also stressed, “We are close to winning the war against terrorism and our attention should not be diverted.”

Ghafoor told politico-religious parties protesting against the Supreme Court judgment – quite a few of which were firmly on the lunatic fringe – to go legal or else. Amid this, TLP chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi swears that that the Army has threatened to “destroy” his party.

The military sent a delegation, including ISI officials, to talk to the religious protesters. Ghafoor was careful to stress that the ISI is an intelligence department that reports to the prime minister.

In the end, the government caved in. Despite knowing that Aasia Bibi faces fundamentalist wrath and her only path to safety would be a one-way ticket out, they agreed to put her on something called the “Exit Control List.” Even that did not prevent TLP fanatics from threatening “a war if they sent Aasia Bibi out of the country.”

‘Taliban Godfather’ killed

As if all this were not toxic enough, on Friday evening Maulana Samiul Haq – the fabled “Godfather of the Taliban” – was stabbed to death in his house in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city.

Haq led the sprawling Darul Uloom Haqqania, a madrassa, or religious school, in Akhora Khattak, near Peshawar, founded in 1988. The madrassa graduated none other than Mullah Omar, as well as other Taliban notables.

Haq embodies a torrent of turbulence in modern Pakistani history – including his stints as senator during the Zia ul Haq and Nawaz Sharif administrations. He also tabled a notorious Sharia bill during Sharif’s last term.

But for me, the story was personal. In a tortuous way, Samiul Haq saved my life – courtesy of a letter of introduction he had signed after I visited his madrassa to follow a Talibanesque indoctrination in progress.

When, along with my photographer Jason Florio, we were arrested by the Taliban at a military base in Ghazni in the summer of 2000, we were only released from waiting six months to be tried as “spies” because of Samiul Haq’s letter.

This obviously pales when compared to the high-profile, principled move by the Pakistani Supreme Court to save Aasia Bibi from a death sentence.

But it could be the first salvo in a Khan-era Pakistani war against religious fundamentalism.

MBS Peace Versus Pieces

Image result for Saudi agreement with American President Roosevelt

October 29, 2018

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

Ever since Saudi Arabia signed its agreement with American President Roosevelt in February 1945, it never ever considered, or even contemplated to be outside the American sphere of influence and protection.

In my previous article https://thesaker.is/the-price-of-bin-salmans-head/ I elaborated on some of the personal issues that define the nature of the relationship that Saudi royals have with American lawmakers as men, not as politicians, not as allies, but simply as men trying to understand and deal with each other.

With all the dirt, greed, blood and guts, when one looks into the American-Saudi relationship from the outside, it’s clear that they are very different to each other and couldn’t have worked together successfully whether on good or nefarious projects. Neither of them had any good intentions toward the other or to the rest of the world; they deserved each other.

The Saudi-American marriage “was” at best a marriage of convenience, in which both parties looked at each other with the view of a one-stop-shop convenience store.

To the Saudis, the American one-stop-shop meant a customer with great thirst for oil, wealth to buy it with, and military might and determination to protect its flow.

To the Americans, the Saudi one-stop-shop meant a supplier of virtually endless supplies of a crucial commodity, one that is unable to stand on its own feet and dictate its terms, and one that will bend over and backwards to ensure continuity of sales for and protection.

The marriage was perhaps an epitome of pragmatism, though it was not often perceived as such.

But think about it, just look at the irony; an anti-democratic fundamentalist Muslim nation that sees all non-Muslims as infidels, signing the deal of the century with a nation that is secular, predominantly Christian and allegedly the protector of democracy.

But back in early 1945, pre-Hiroshima America was not technically a superpower yet, and Saudi Arabia was an insignificant and, by-and-large, an unknown kingdom to the rest of the world. Back then, the paradox was not as pronounced as it is now.

And even though by 1945 the Zionist Lobby was well and truly preparing for the creation of Israel, the American-Saudi deal would have gone ahead with or without any Israeli presence and role. It goes without saying though, that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 has, among other things, created geopolitical turmoil which made it more pertinent for the Saudi-American marriage to withstand the ravages of time.

The marriage has lasted, and it’s not time for divorce, at least not yet, but perhaps the time has come for a serious revision; from both ends of the bargain.

If MBS hasn’t yet realized that the Americans can drop him personally like a hot potato, then he must be stupid. Indications are he is ruthless, arrogant, ambitious, megalomaniac, hasty, but stupid he is not.

The manner in which the Khashoggi episode has been manipulated by the media and the whole West is partly to be blamed on the Saudi state, and partly on MBS personally. And when Saudi FM Al-Jubair tries on several occasions to distance MBS from the story, he is actually expressing the biggest Saudi fear and inadvertently putting MBS in the centre court and line of fire.

Saudi Arabia is therefore facing two Western “attacks”; one that is general and centered on the whole regime and another that is centered on MBS himself. It is most hypocritical of the EU nations to suddenly consider enforcing an arms sales embargo on Saudi Arabia. The Khashoggi story did not have any impact on the war on Yemen. The suffering of the Yemeni people has been going on ever since the needless criminal war started. And although the current EU stand can go a long way in isolating Saudi Arabia and perhaps weakening its military ability, it has come, if it comes, too little too late, and for all the wrong reasons.

For MBS, he now has many confrontations to contend with. His money-grabbing November 2017, Ritz Hotel house arrest of his cousins has left him with very few supporters from within the Royal Family. He is the Crown Prince to a throne that no longer has a formal lineage for succession and, it doesn’t even now have a second-in-line to MBS. In essence, every descendant of founding King Abdul Aziz is eligible and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of grandchildren.

His biggest domestic, or rather home battle therefore, is to make sure that the current impasse with America does not generate a strong contender for the throne, one that he is unable to set aside. And given that he has already been blemished by brutality after the Khashoggi drama, any stifling of royal dissent, even revolt, can easily be manipulated by the West again in a manner that portrays him as a new Saddam.

I have used the term “new Saddam” before, and we may need to get used to hearing it.

MBS will then have to tread very carefully with his cousins to ensure his position as Crown Prince is stable and unchallenged. Will he be able to do this? No one knows, especially if one of the challenging contenders suddenly receives bottomless Western support.

The other battle that MBS has to contend with is his diplomatic one with America and the rest of the West. The events of the last few weeks would have proven to him that without the façade of Western impunity, he is finished. He now knows that he doesn’t have a safe haven on the top of the hill with the big boys. And once again, he will have to pay America a price for his survival. He does not seem to have better choices.

But this situation is persuading him to scale down his reliance on America. However, when Saudi officials try to alarm America by making statements to the effect that they can buy Russian weapons instead of American ones, the American position becomes more resolute. Such ploys backfire on the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia cannot replace America with Russia, and for many reasons. If the Saudi-American marriage had its own ideological contradictions which both parties managed to overlook, a prospective Saudi-Russian marriage would have many more obstacles that would make it impossible to come to fruition; especially if Saudi Arabia demands the kind of military protection from Russia as it has demanded from the USA.

Saudi Arabia and Russia can engage in trade, sales of military hardware, etc., but they cannot and will not have a relationship that is akin to the Saudi-American marriage.

For starters, the two nations have never trusted each other, and they are not about to start doing this now. The support of Saudi Arabia to Jihadi fighters in Afghanistan in the early 1980’s and their continued support to Chechen terrorists are still fresh in the minds of Russians. After all, it was only five years ago that Prince Bandar Bin Sultan threatened President Putin with restarting the Chechen war if Putin did not support him in Syria.

And unlike the hypocritical West, Russia would not tolerate Saudi-sponsored fundamentalist religious schools to be spawned all over the Russian landscape.

And let us not forget that Russia does not need Saudi oil like America did, and if anything, to this effect, the two nations are competitors.

Knowing that flagging snuggling up with Russia made MBS’s impasse with America even worse, he seems to be taking a slightly different interim approach based on creating a situation that reduces his immediate need for America’s support, without having to go to bed with its mortal enemies.

An “allegedly” Pakistani initiative has been launched in an attempt to end the war in Yemen https://timesofislamabad.com/27-Oct-2018/yemeni-houthi-rebels-responds-to-pakistan-offer-and-stance-over-yemen-peace-talks .Whilst any attempt to end the war on Yemen is welcome news, the timing of such an initiative now draws suspicion.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have a special and strong relationship despite some serious hiccups in the past. It is alleged that Saudi Arabia has contributed largely towards the development costs of the Pakistani A-Bomb, and in return, it expected to be supplied with A-Bombs, but Pakistan refused. And even though Pakistan also later on reneged on its promise to support the Saudi war on Yemen, neither Pakistan nor Saudi Arabia make any public negative statements about each other. In more ways than one, Saudi Arabia does not want bad blood with the only predominantly Sunni Muslim nation with nuclear arms, and Pakistan does not want bad blood with the richest Sunni nation either.

It is possible, in fact highly likely, that MBS whispered into Pakistani PM, Imran Khan’s ear, to launch the initiative of peace with Yemen. Thus far, the Yemenis have welcomed it (see reference above), and they cannot be blamed. They are suffering a huge humanitarian catastrophe that the world does not want to know about. As yet, there hasn’t been an official Saudi comment, and this implies acceptance. Had this “initiative” been made at a time when the war was winnable or had MBS personally not been under such enormous pressure, the Saudis would have immediately rejected it outright.

If MBS manages to end the War on Yemen, he will be setting aside one huge problem, and without a battle raging, his need for Western weapons would not be as critical as it is right now. Such a move would also preclude his immediate need for Russian weapons to replace American weapons with.

It seems that MBS has finally come to the realization that he is trying to bite off more than he can chew. But ultimately, unless he de-escalates his stand against Iran, he will remain under American stranglehold. On the other hand, if he indeed manages to find a face-saving exit from Yemen and also finds a way to manage less hostile relationships with Iran, he would be putting himself in the cross fire of America and Israel which he is trying hard to normalize relationships with.

Whilst contemplating all options available, MBS must see himself in the position of a dead man walking; with the choice of method of his own execution.

If he holds his ground against America, America can tighten the noose and suspend the arms supplies that he desperately needs for his war in Yemen. His Kingdom of Sand is a country that has a military budget exceeding that of Russia’s, but is unable to manufacture even bullets. Everything is imported, and if the war runs out of ammunition, MBS will have to beg other nations to supply him. This carries the potential risk of having the Houthis encroaching on Riyadh itself. But America can choose another course. With many Saudi princes begrudging MBS and harbouring strong vendettas against him, America can sponsor and support a rival prince who can challenge MBS for the position of Crown Prince. America can even sponsor a number of would-be contenders to the throne instead of just one, and thereby creating a fertile ground for a civil war that lures in other rival factions and not only necessarily royals. This can generate a state of chaos similar to what we now see in Libya. A civil war of this nature can go on for years with no clear winners. Such chaos, however, will not necessarily disrupt the flow of oil because its geographical theater will be centered around the precincts of the royals and their palaces around Riyadh and Jeddah, far away from the oil fields in the Eastern Province.

Knowing Americans and, judging by their history, they may opt to incite strife and prince-vs-prince rivalry. And even if the instability expands to the Eastern Province, the USA can always find a way to enact some resolution or another to put its hands on the oil fields as a measure of “national security”.

Unless MBS magically and miraculously finds a way out, he may have to choose between peace with his cousins plus, much to his dismay, peace with his regional enemies and rivals, or face the prospect of seeing his kingdom sliced into pieces. On the other hand, if MBS gives in to America’s demands, he may be able to keep his head and throne, but he will end up with an empty wallet and oil fields with title deeds in the name of the US Federal Reserve. Painful as it may sound, it is perhaps his only way out of this mess.

It’s a tough one for MBS. He is in a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation, but in reality, he only has himself to blame. He and his evil predecessors have a long history of cruelty, arrogance, criminality and creating mayhem. Karma is catching up with them, and they deserve what they get.

See Also

%d bloggers like this: