Remember: The American withdrawal by the end of 2018 تذكروا: الانسحاب الأميركي نهاية 2018

 

Remember: The American withdrawal by the end of 2018

يناير 15, 2019

Written by Nasser Kandil,

The issue is not related to specific dates, as the end of a year and the start of another, but as we said repeatedly it is related to the linkage between the war on Syria and the fate of the American forces in Afghanistan, which their stay was extended from the end of 2016 to the end of 2018, after the battles of Aleppo and the victories achieved by the axis of the resistance and Russia and within a bet accepted by the Russian and the Syrian Presidents, that would end with the exit of Iran and Hezbollah, and imposed by the Israeli strikes and the US sanctions. The linking between them was the deal of the century that would end the Palestinian cause with a Palestinian acceptance of selling Jerusalem and pave the way for the announced alliance between the Gulf and Israel against Iran. But after the bet fell, the decision becomes between two options either a new extension of a new bet or the withdrawal.

But why to link the withdrawal with the American presence in Afghanistan? Because this presence is no longer useful militarily and unable to lead to political solutions. The Russian-Chinese- Iranian- Pakistani shelter has become the regional environment for Afghanistan. Therefore, the American presence has become no more than to prevent the ground connection across Afghanistan between China and Russia on one hand, and between them and Iran, and between Iraq and Syria and the Mediterranean on the other hand. The withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria is interconnected, because the withdrawal paves the way for the Chinese-Russian connection with the Mediterranean across Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, after Iraq has been turned into a station of supervision, control, and negotiation on the limits of the Chinese-Russian presence on the Mediterranean Sea and the limits of the Iranian movement towards Syria and Lebanon. This is just be used to justify the negotiation on the major compromises, so that the American presence in Iraq does not turn into a target that leads to undesirable confrontation again.

America announces the start of the withdrawal, it grants the others one hundred days to be ready for the gradual withdrawal of their forces. This grants us the logical interpretation of the fall of the American vetoes which the Turkish President wanted to inspire us that he caused their fall through the announcement of his intention to enter the eastern of the Euphrates region, while he is seeing what is allowed in front of the American presence. The Arab presidential visits to Damascus and the search to restore its taken seat from the Arab League and the invitation of its president to attend the Arab Summit in Tunisia have their interpretation in an American equation to the allies in Turkey, the Arab countries, and Israel. We know the new secret of Netanyahu on the borders, the shield of the north and the tunnels’ photos; they are attempts made by the first enemy “America” the owner of the decision of the war on Syria and through it on Iran and Russia to cope with the new situation imposed by the victory of Syria and its allies,.

The fall of the vetoes one by one was striking, the veto on a Yemeni settlement that preserves a pivotal status of Ansar Allah as a resistance, the veto on the ministerial and presidential visits to Damascus, the veto on forming a government that comforts the resistance in Lebanon and Iraq. These vetoes are falling as the domino stones as the fall the source of these vetoes. The command of the Central Forces in the  American armies are no longer here, the General McGurk quitted his job, exactly as when we hear the line is not in service. Is not it the situation of Washington’s allies?

What will the leaders of the Kurdish groups do, those whom we have long asked to bet on their Syrian patriotism, not on external irreplaceable developments. What will the Turks who bet on the mutual benefit between them and the Americans do, and what the Israelis who thought that they have convinced Washington with a permanent partnership in fate regarding the future of Syria will do, and what the Arabs who linked their hostility to Syria, Iran, and the forces of the resistance will do due to the illusions of American military intentions?

Only those in Syria, Russia, Iran, and the resistance forces know what they will do, thee image is clear, there is no revenge, no prizes, but no forgiveness. The forgiveness depends on the announced review and the practical retreat.

Those who argue with us that there will be no withdrawal, they will argue with us today that withdrawal is a conspiracy, so do not listen to them, they misjudge, they talk about the interest of Syria and the resistance, but due to their mission they try to affect the morale and to distort every victory.

Translate by Lina Shehadeh,

 

تذكروا: الانسحاب الأميركي نهاية 2018

ديسمبر 20, 2018

ناصر قنديل

– ليست القضية في تواريخ مفصلية كنهاية عام وبداية عام آخر، بل في ما سبق وقلناه مراراً عن الربط بين مستقبل الحرب على سورية، ومصير القوات الأميركية في أفغانستان، التي مدّد بقاؤها من نهاية عام 2016 إلى نهاية عام 2018 إفساحاً في المجال للبقاء في سورية، رهاناً على ما بعد معارك حلب والانتصارات التي حملتها لمحور المقاومة وروسيا، على تسوية تنتهي بخروج إيران وحزب الله يرتضيها كل من الرئيسين الروسي والسوري، وتستخدم لفرضها الضربات الإسرائيلية والعقوبات الأميركية، وعقدة الوصل بينهما صفقة القرن التي تنهي القضية الفلسطينية بتوقيع فلسطيني على بيع القدس، وتفتتح عهد التحالف المعلن بين الخليج و«إسرائيل» بوجه إيران. أما وقد سقط الرهان، فالقرار بين إثنين، تمديد جديد لرهان جديد أو انسحاب. فالاستحقاق يدق باب القرار.

– لماذا الربط مع الوجود الأميركي في أفغانستان؟ لأن هذا الوجود بات عديم الفائدة عسكرياً وعاجزاً عن توليد حلول سياسية، والحضن الروسي الصيني الإيراني الباكستاني بات هو البيئة الإقليمية لأفغانستان، ولم يعد للبقاء الأميركي هناك سوى حجز الجغرافيا منعاً للتواصل البري عبر أفغانستان بين الصين وروسيا من جهة، وبينهما عبر أفغانستان مع إيران براً، وعبرها مع العراق فسورية فالبحر المتوسط. والانسحاب من أفغانستان وسورية مترابط، لأنه إفراج جغرافي عن فرص التواصل الروسي الصيني مع البحر المتوسط عبر جسر برّي يمتد من افغانستان فإيران فالعراق فسورية، بعدما يتم تحويل العراق إلى مصفاة رقابة وتحكم وتفاوض في حدود الحضور الروسي الصيني على المتوسط، وحدود الحركة الإيرانية نحو سورية ولبنان، مصفاة نظرية لن تستعمل إلا لتبرير التفاوض على التسويات الكبرى، كي لا يتحوّل الوجود الأميركي في العراق هدفاً يستدرج المواجهة غير المرغوبة مرة أخرى.

– ها هو الأميركي يعلن بدء الانسحاب، ويمنح مئة يوم للآخرين لترتيب الأمور يتمّ خلالها السحب التدريجي للقوات، فيمنحنا التفسير المنطقي لتساقط الفيتوات الأميركية، التي أراد الرئيس التركي إيهامنا أنه يقوم هو بإسقاطها بالإعلان عن نيته دخول منطقة شرق الفرات، بينما هو يجسّ نبض المسموح وحدود الوراثة المتاحة أمامه للوجود الأميركي. وها هي الزيارات الرئاسية العربية المتدفقة على دمشق وما يليها من تسارع البحث في إعادة مقعدها المسلوب من الجامعة العربية ودعوة رئيسها لحضور القمة العربية في تونس، تجد تفسيرها هي الأخرى، بمعادلة أميركية للحلفاء في تركيا والبلاد العربية وأولاً «إسرائيل»، رتبوا أموركم خلال مئة يوم فنحن راحلون، وها نحن نعرف سراً جديداً لبهلوانيات بنيامين نتنياهو على الحدود ودرع الشمال وصور الأنفاق، كلها محاولات تأقلم مع الجديد المتمثل بإعلان نصر سورية وحلفائها، بتوقيع العدو رقم واحد، وهو أميركا صاحبة قرار الحرب على سورية، وعبرها على إيران وروسيا.

– تساقط الفيتوات واحداً تلو الآخر كان لافتاً، من فيتو على تسوية يمنية تكرس مكانة محورية لأنصار الله كقوة مقاومة، إلى فيتو على الزيارات الوزارية والرئاسية إلى دمشق، إلى فيتو على تشكيل حكومة تريح قوى المقاومة في لبنان والعراق، حجارة دومينو تتهاوى مع سقوط مصدر الفيتوات، قيادة القوات الوسطى في الجيوش الأميركية ليست على السمع بعد الآن، والجنرال ماكفورك يترك مهامه، تدبّروا أموركم، تماماً كالمجيب الآلي، الخط غير موضوع في الخدمة، راجع الاستعلامات، أليس هذا هو حال حلفاء واشنطن الآن؟

– ماذا سيفعل قادة الجماعات الكردية الذين طالما خاطبناهم بالدعوة للرهان على وطنيتهم السورية، وليس على مستجدّ خارجي قابل للزوال وحاضر للمتاجرة؟ وماذا سيفعل الأتراك الذين راهنوا على الإفادة المتبادلة بينهم وبين الأميركيين من التذرع بعضاً ببعض؟ وماذا سيفعل الإسرائيليون الذين ظنوا انهم أقنعوا واشنطن بصورة نهائية بشراكة في المصير في مستقبل سورية؟ وماذا سيفعل العرب الذين ربطوا عداءهم لسورية وإيران وقوى المقاومة بوهم نيات حربية أميركية؟

– وحدهم في سورية وروسيا وإيران وقوى المقاومة يعرفون ما سيفعلون، فالصورة واضحة، لا انتقام، لكن لا نسيان، لا جوائز ترضية لأحد، والتسامح مشروط بالمراجعة المعلنة، والتراجع العملي.

– الذين كانوا يجادلوننا بأن لا انسحاب أميركي، سيجادلون اليوم بالقول إن الانسحاب مؤامرة، فلا تصغوا إليهم، فهم في كل مرة يسيئون التقدير ويجلسون بيننا للتحدث بلغة المصلحة عن سورية والمقاومة، ولكن بسبب طبيعة مهمتهم أو ضعف بصيرتهم، تراهم ينصرفون لتدمير المعنويات وتنغيص كل نصر.

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Disparity of security necessities among allies America, Turkey, Europe, and Israel تفاوت مقتضيات الأمن بين الحلفاء: أميركا وتركيا وأوروبا و«إسرائيل»

Disparity of security necessities among allies America, Turkey, Europe, and Israel

يناير 15, 2019

Written by Nasser Kandil,

It is surprising that some analysts in the world and the region accept to consider the decision of the US President’s withdrawal from Syria as an expression of the mood of Donald Trump. The issue is not in discussing the presidential powers constitutionally; rather it is the ability of the President to deal practically alone with such decision. The US debate about the benefit of the military presence in Syria is neither new, nor governed by considerations related to Syria alone. The principle of the withdrawal from the whole Asian mainland was in circulation in the US decision-making centers for ten years after Baker Hamiliton report 2006 and after the decision of the President Obama in 2010 to withdraw from Iraq in 2011 and the deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2013, which was extended twice to 2016 and to the end of 2018 according to the requirements of the war on Syria and the new bets to win it.

The absolute American consensus on refusing the engagement in a military confrontation with Russia and Iran led to the thinking of how to manage the failure in wars between narrow equations, their first aspect is the turning into a boxing bag that receives blows respectively without a decision to go to war, while their second aspect is the withdrawal, imposing sanctions, and linking the engagement into settlements with conditions that meet the US interests. This aspect is more effective than the military presence according to many in Washington. Since the Battle of Aleppo and the fall of the bet on the Turkish disruption of the geographical expansion of the Syrian army supported by Russia, Iran, and the resistance forces the US decision of withdrawal has become ready, but it was delayed by another bet entitled Saudi-Israeli bilateral that is militarily capable of blowing in Syria and Yemen, and able to launch a political qualitative path entitled ending the Palestinian cause through the deal of the century that besieges Iran and the resistance forces in order to make a settlement with Russia that ends with the exit of Iran and the resistance forces from Syria as a condition for its stability and the Western involvement.

With the emergence of the limited Israeli ability to protect the aggressive interventions on Syria after the Russia decisions to deploy the S-300 missiles network, the development of the Syrian ability to combat the Israeli raids, the abject failure of Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen and its turning into a burden militarily and politically, the fall of the bet on the credibility of the success of the deal of century in finding a Palestinian partner, the emergence of a collective Palestinian will to refuse it, and the expansion of the popular and military Palestinian resistance movement and its imposing new equations, America had to decide to stay militarily face –to-face against Russia, Iran, and Syria in protecting the project of the Kurdish secession, although this project provokes a crisis with Turkey, the Atlantic ally of Washington, but it wants to protect the Israeli desire to barter the US withdrawal with the Iranian withdrawal.

The years of war led by Washington on Syria and its failure led to disparity in the requirements of security between it and its allies. Europe’s understanding of the concept of security starts with the issue of the displaced and the threat of its targeting through the infiltration of terrorists groups from the burning Middle East, while it ends with the concern about any open confrontation with Iran, whether through its military repercussions or its risks to the energy market. Europe did not hesitate to talk publicly about the US policies as a source of concern, whether through the withdrawal from the nuclear understanding with Iran or in managing the Palestinian cause. Turkey tried to search for new positioning that expresses its privacies; it found in Astana path its target through the cooperation with Russia and Iran and what was called by the Turks as the “Third option”. Therefore, the Turkish role in Syria was linked with a ceiling entitled “the concept of the national security” that considers the American –Kurdish relationship the first danger.

Washington lost its European and Turkish allies, while it stoke to its Saudi and Israeli allies. It found that it has to pay costly bills with imminent benefits, the most prominent of which is the American security which starts from Afghanistan. The American intervention was not as tactical as the American presence in Syria. Moreover, the condition of the Iranian cooperation with the requirements of the American security in Afghanistan in ensuring a secure withdrawal is governed by a political equation that was set at the Russian-Chinese- Pakistani- Iranian- Afghani meeting three weeks ago and which was related to the abandonment of the insistence on the Iranian withdrawal from Syria. This led to a set of American decisions under the title of a new concept of the national security that is not governed by the Saudi and Israeli ceilings, rather it sees that the security of Israel and Saudi Arabia is something and the concept of security according to Saudi Arabia and Israel is something else. The Yemeni settlement was the most prominent outcome of these decisions, because it means the acceptance of Iranian gains in the Gulf. This step has been followed by the withdrawal from Syria under the title of handing over the security in the Asian mainland to Russia to ensure the security of Israel and Saudi Arabia which differs from the concept of security to Israel and Saudi Arabia, this will be illustrated later maybe through the withdrawal from Iraq, and then American strict administration of the  negotiation on settlements and lifting of sanctions  and the moving to fight from inside the political and economic structures resulting from settlements.

It is a new stage in the crystallization of the new concepts of security, where the West is no longer a west and the Atlantic is no longer the Atlantic, rather they are separated issues according to interests, where Europe as Turkey has privacies and where Iran as a European and Turkish necessity it turned into American necessity in Afghanistan despite the Saudi and Israeli reservations. It is important to understand the speech of the Turkish President about the turning of the challenge of the American sanctions on Iran into an opportunity for negotiations between them and where Turkey is betting on playing a role of mediator in.

Translated by Lina Shehadeh,

تفاوت مقتضيات الأمن بين الحلفاء: أميركا وتركيا وأوروبا و«إسرائيل»

ديسمبر 21, 2018

ناصر قنديل

– من المستغرب أن يرتضي بعض المحللين في العالم والمنطقة، إلا لاعتبارات التوظيف السياسي، النظر لقرار الرئيس الأميركي بسحب قواته من سورية، كتعبير عن مزاجية وانفعالية دونالد ترامب، فالمسألة ليست في مناقشة حدود الصلاحيات الرئاسية دستورياً، بل في قدرة الرئيس عملياً وواقعياً على التصرف منفرداً بقرارات بهذا الحجم، والنقاش الأميركي حول جدوى البقاء العسكري في سورية ليس وليد اليوم، ولا تحكمه حسابات مرتبطة بسورية وحدها، بل إن مبدأ الانسحاب من البر الآسيوي برمته ملف مطروح في التداول في دوائر صنع القرار الأميركي منذ أكثر من عشرة أعوام، بعد تقرير بايكر هاملتون عام 2006، وقرار الرئيس أوباما في عام 2010 الانسحاب من العراق عام 2011 وتحديد موعد الانسحاب من أفغانستان في 2013 الذي جرى تمديده مرتين لعام 2016 ثم لنهاية العام 2018، وفقاً لمقتضيات الحرب على سورية والرهانات الجديدة للفوز بها.

– الإجماع المطلق أميركياً على رفض الدخول في مواجهة عسكرية مع روسيا ومع إيران، يحصر البحث الأميركي في كيفية إدارة الفشل في الحروب، بين معادلات ضيقة، قطبها الأول التحول كيس ملاكمة يتلقى الضربات تباعاً دون قرار حرب، وقطبها الثاني الاحتماء وراء الجدار، وهذا يعني الانسحاب، وبناء جدار العقوبات وربط الانخراط بالتسويات التي تزيلها بشروط تلبي المصالح الأميركية، وهو جدار أشد متانة وفعالية من جدار الوجود العسكري، بنظر الكثيرين في واشنطن، ومنذ معركة حلب وسقوط الرهان على التعطيل التركي لمسار التوسع الجغرافي للجيش السوري مدعوماً من روسيا وإيران وقوى المقاومة، صار قرار الانسحاب الأميركي على الطاولة، والذي أخّره رهان آخر عنوانه ثنائية سعودية إسرائيلية مقتدرة عسكرياً في الضرب بقسوة في سورية واليمن، وقادرة على إطلاق مسار سياسي نوعي عنوانه إنهاء القضية الفلسطينية عبر ما سُمّي بصفقة القرن يحاصر إيران وقوى المقاومة. والهدف لهذه المعادلة المفترضة الذهاب لتسوية مع روسيا تنتهي بخروج إيران وقوى المقاومة من سورية كشرط لاستقرارها، وارتضاء الدخول الغربي على خط التسوية فيها.

– مع ظهور محدودية القدرة الإسرائيلية على حماية التدخلات العدوانية على سورية بعد القرارات الروسية بتوضيع شبكة صواريخ الـ»أس 300»، وتبلور القدرة السورية على التصدي للغارات الإسرائيلية، وظهور الفشل الذريع للسعودية في حرب اليمن وتحولها عبئاً عسكرياً وسياسياً، وسقوط الرهان على صدقية نجاح صفقة القرن في إيجاد الشريك الفلسطيني، وتبلور إرادة فلسطينية جامعة في رفضها، واتساع حركة المقاومة الفلسطينية الشعبية والعسكرية وفرضها معادلات جديدة، صار على أميركا أن تقرّر البقاء عسكرياً للوقوف وجهاً لوجه امام روسيا وإيران وسورية في حماية مشروع الانفصال الكردي. وهو مشروع يثير أزمة موازية مع تركيا الحليف الأطلسي لواشنطن، وذلك فقط لحماية الرغبة الإسرائيلية بفرض مقايضة الانسحاب الأميركي بالانسحاب الإيراني.

– بعد سنوات الحرب التي قادتها واشنطن على سورية، ترتب على الفشل ظهور تفاوت في مقتضيات الأمن بينها وبين حلفائها، سواء أوروبا التي باتت نظرتها لمفهوم الأمن تبدأ بقضية النازحين وتمر بخطر استهدافها عن قرب من تسلل الجماعات الإرهابية من الشرق الأوسط المشتعل، وتنتهي بالقلق من أي مواجهة مفتوحة مع إيران، سواء بمترتباتها العسكرية إذا حصلت، أو بمخاطرها على سوق الطاقة، ولم تتردد أوروبا بالتحدث علناً عن النظر للسياسات الأميركية كمصدر قلق، سواء بالانسحاب من التفاهم النووي مع إيران أو بطريقة إدارة الملف الفلسطيني، بينما ذهبت تركيا تبحث عن تموضع يعبر عن خصوصيتها، ووجدت في مسار أستانة ضالتها المنشودة، بالتعاون مع روسيا وإيران وما يسميه الأتراك بالخيار الثالث، وربط الدور التركي في سورية بسقف عنوانه مفهوم للأمن القومي يرى العلاقة الكردية الأميركية خطراً أول.

– خسرت واشنطن حليفيها الأوروبي والتركي وبقيت متمسكة بالحليفين السعودي والإسرائيلي، ووجدت أن عليها دفع فواتير باتت مكلفة مع استحقاقات داهمة، أبرزها الأمن الأميركي الذي يبدأ من أفغانستان، حيث التدخل الأميركي لم يكن تكتيكياً كما هو حال البقاء الأميركي في سورية، وحيث شرط التعاون الإيراني مع مقتضيات الأمن الأميركي في أفغانستان بتأمين انسحاب آمن تظلله معادلة سياسية ظهرت في الاجتماع الخماسي الروسي الصيني الباكستاني الإيراني الأفغاني قبل ثلاثة اسابيع، يرتبط عضوياً بالتخلي عن وهم الإصرار على انسحاب إيراني من سورية، فرأينا حزمة قرارات أميركية عنوانها التموضع على خطوط مفهوم جديد للأمن القومي لا يتبع السقوف السعودية والإسرائيلية، ويرى أن أمن «إسرائيل» والسعودية شيء ومفهوم السعودية و»إسرائيل» للأمن شيء آخر، وكانت التسوية اليمنية العلامة البارزة في هذه الحزمة، وما تحمله من تقبل لفكرة تحقيق مكاسب إيرانية في الخليج، وتبعتها خطوة الانسحاب من سورية بصورة موازية ومشابهة، والعنوان هو تسليم الأمن في البر الآسيوي لروسيا بما فيه ضمان أمن «إسرائيل» والسعودية بغير مفهوم «إسرائيل» والسعودية للأمن، وهو ما ستوضحه المراحل اللاحقة، ربما بالاستعداد للانسحاب من العراق، وبعدها إدارة أميركية أشد صعوبة للتفاوض على شروط التسويات ورفع العقوبات، والانتقال للقتال من داخل البنى السياسية والاقتصادية الناشئة عن التسويات.

– هي مرحلة جديدة في تبلور مفاهيم جديدة للأمن، لم يعد فيها الغرب غرباً، ولا الأطلسي أطلسياً، بل محاور منفصلة وفقاً لحسابات المصالح في كليهما، حيث لأوروبا كما لتركيا خصوصيات، وحيث إيران كضرورة أوروبية وتركية تتحول في أفغانستان ضرورة أميركية، رغم التحفظات السعودية والإسرائيلية، ولعله من المهم قراءة كلام الرئيس التركي عن تحويل تحدي العقوبات الأميركية على إيران إلى فرصة للتلاقي بينهما بمفاوضات تراهن تركيا على لعب دور الوسيط فيها..

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The Infowar On Xinjiang Failed, Now They’re Targeting Pakistan & PM Imran Khan

By Andrew Korybko
Source

The Western Mainstream Media’s infowar about the true state of the anti-terrorist situation in Xinjiang failed after a group of diplomats and journalists were unprecedentedly allowed to visit some of the education and job-training facilities in the strategically located province, after which the weaponized narrative was tweaked to become one of “China buying off Pakistan’s silence”, which dishonestly portrays the Muslim Great Power’s pious leader as a religious hypocrite and dangerously risks provoking terrorist attacks against him and his government.   

2018 was predominantly characterized by four main stories for Pakistan – the rise of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s latest Prime Minister; the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) anti-blasphemy protests and subsequently seditious calls for acts of terrorism against the state; the Hybrid War on CPEC that peaked near the end of the year with the Karachi & Chabahar attacks and the first-mentioned mastermind’s assassination in Afghanistan; and the creeping awareness of the Western Mainstream Media’s infowar narrative about China’s alleged treatment of the Uighur in Xinjiang. It’s therefore not surprising that all four of them are still relevant at the beginning of 2019, but there are worrying signs that hostile perception managers are attempting to weave them together as part of a renewed destabilization campaign against Pakistan.

The Hybrid War on CPEC received an unexpected setback after one of the so-called “Balochistan Liberation Army’s” (BLA) top terrorists was assassinated in Afghanistan right before the New Year, which occurred just a few weeks before China’s unpreceded diplomatic and journalistic opening in Xinjiang when it recently allowed members of both professional communities to visit some of its education and job-training facilities that it constructed there as part of its anti-terrorist operations in the strategically located province. Beijing even announced that UN officials are welcome to travel to the region as well, provided of course that they follow the proper procedures and don’t interfere in the country’s domestic affairs. These two developments are the reason why the weaponized narratives that were unleashed against both countries are now being tweaked.

Recognizing that the BLA terrorists were dealt a mighty blow by the recent assassination of one of their leaders and the growing popularity of Dr. Jumma Marri Khan’s Overseas Pakistani Baloch Unity (OPBU) that peacefully reintegrates wayward overseas Baloch into Pakistani society, and realizing that the world is becoming aware of the fact that the scandalous stories about China’s treatment of the Uighur in Xinjiang are fake news, the forces that are hostile to both multipolar Great Powers are scrambling to adapt their infowar techniques to these changed conditions. It’s with this situational context in mind that one should approach the latest claims coming from the popular American-based financial and business news site Business Insider, which just published a very inaccurate portrayal of Pakistani-Chinese relations.

In an article titled “Pakistan abruptly stopped calling out China’s mass oppression of Muslims. Critics say Beijing bought its silence”, one of the outlet’s news reporters attempted to make the case that China paid Pakistan off so that it wouldn’t use its influence in the larger international Muslim community (“Ummah”) to rally its co-confessionals against Beijing’s alleged mistreatment of the Uighur. The author drew attention to a widely publicized fake news report that the country’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs supposedly brought this topic up in a critical way when meeting with the Chinese Ambassador last September. Bothofficials later denied the media’s reports about their talks, but the damage was already done because few people who heard the fake news were made aware of their response.

The writer then tried to make it seem like PM Khan was sidestepping the Uighur issue after reminding her audience about Chinese support for Pakistan’s economy, with her innuendo being that “Beijing bought its silence”. She then quotes two people to press home this point, the second of whom is Peter Irwin, who’s described as a “project manager” at the so-called “World Uyghur Congress” (WUC). Unbeknownst to her audience and conspicuously left out of her report, that man functions as a spokesman for an organization that many in China and beyond believe to be the political wing of the so-called “Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) which was designated as a terrorist group by the UN in 2002. This makes it very disturbing that his words were included by the author in the article’s title.

After declaring that China was “buying the silence of Pakistan”, Irwin goes on to say that “he knows he simply needs to keep his mouth shut”, concluding that “someone like Khan has a very good idea of the balance of power in their relationship with China.” This dangerously insinuates that PM Khan and his government are being paid to stay silent about the plight of Muslims, which would make them religious hypocrites if it was true and accordingly paint them as targets of Takfiri terrorists (i.e. those who target alleged “infidels”/”apostates”). Dolkun Isa, the WUC leader who China regards as a terroristrecently slammed Muslim countries for not supporting him, so it might be that Irwin was tasked by his boss to weaponize this narrative against Pakistan and PM Khan personally.

This is exceptionally dangerous in the Pakistani context because leaders of the TLP opposition party were arrested late last year on charges of sedition and terrorism after they called on their supporters to commits acts of violence against state officials on the purported basis that they were violating fundamentalist Islamic tenets following the Supreme Court’s acquittal of a Christian woman who was previously convicted of blasphemy during a high-profile case. Some of the group’s most religiously extremist sympathizers inside of Pakistan and abroad might interpret Irwin’s hypocrite/infidel/apostate insinuation that he just spread on the globally famous Business Insider information outlet about the pious Prime Minister as a “call to action”, just like Isa might have planned to happen all along as punishment for Pakistan’s refusal to support his narrative.

The WUC-ETIM’s intention seems to be to rekindle the Hybrid War on CPEC by expanding it beyond its now-contained Baloch “nationalist”-driven acts of terrorism to become an “Ummah”-wide militant jihad against the Pakistani state for its position towards China’s alleged treatment of the Uighurs, which is increasingly being revealed to have been the proper one all along after Beijing’s recent diplomatic and journalistic opening in the province debunked the last year’s worth of fake news about this emotive issue. It’s precisely because it turned out that Pakistan was right all along, and its refusal to fall for this infowar narrative doomed the plans to organize an “Ummah”-wide militant jihad against China, that it’s now being targeted through this desperate Hybrid War scenario.

No one should automatically assume that Business Insider is knowingly acting as an instrument of Hybrid War against Pakistan, and it might just be a coincidence that its news reporter decided to obtain exclusive comments on this topic from an individual representing an organization that Beijing regards as a political front for a UN-designated terrorist group (which she didn’t inform her audience of), but the outlet’s irresponsibly inaccurate portrayal of the country’s relations with China nevertheless advances the aforementioned scenario regardless of its original intent. A globally renowned US-based information platform is openly being used by what many consider to be a terrorist-connected organization to spread its dangerously false innuendo that PM Khan is a hypocrite/infidel/apostate who was paid off by China to remain silent about the supposed plight of fellow Muslims, and that’s extremely alarming.

Pakistan’s Army is a National Umbrella Under Stormy Skies

By Adam Garrie
Source

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In twenty years time when even the last remnants of terrorism are but a distant memory for Pakistanis, when Gwadar rises to be a shining city of modernity and one of the focal points of both trade and tourism in Asia, when CPEC is a multi-cylinder engine driving prosperity from Lahore to Karachi and when economic growth becomes consistent and sustainable throughout the country – people throughout Pakistan will know that this much is true: without the protection of one of the most professional, dedicated and patriotic Armies in the world, there would be no such place as Pakistan.

While a Pakistan that sounds like a giant Singapore with Islamic characteristics might seem like a tall order in terms of forecasting such positive changes over the country’s next 20 years of development, one must remember that even ten or fifteen years ago, few could imagine that the Pakistan of 2019 would be a place where peace is the rule and instability is the exception, where orderly political transitions can be conducted with confidence and without dynastic parties ruling the day, a place where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is province of renewal rather than a ground zero of horror and a place where an unpredictable US President criticises Pakistan one month and then effectively begs its Prime Minister for assistance in Afghanistan the next.

The Pakistan of today is very different than the Pakistan of 2009 and it is the Army that has largely made the difference as in 2009, political institutions of the country were weakened by internal chaos whilst even Swiss style political efficiency would have required an armed forces and intelligence service of supreme commitment to a fight against a wave of terrorism in a battle that to many, seemed to be unwinnable to at the time.

The history of armies leading countries out of dark periods and into those of renewal is well established throughout modern history. At a time when modern Turkey was threatened with western directed colonialism on all sides after 1918, it was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish National Movement that reclaimed Turkey’s dignity and helped to form the modern Republic of Turkey. As it was Atatürk’s army that helped to create the modern state, so too did the army play a major role in shaping Turkey’s politics until very recent years when it became clear that the civilian government had sufficiently modernised itself and was up to the important task of overseeing stable governance. Yet few in the west nor in Asia have insulted the historic role of Turkey’s army in the way that they have done in respect of Pakistan.

In many ways, Pakistan’s 21st century war against a multitude of terror groups has been even more harrowing than the Turkish War of Independence. While for decades India had sponsored terror groups aiming to sever Pakistan’s national unity whilst no Afghan government has ever recognised Pakistan’s internationally acknowledged border along the Durand Line, it was the unleashing of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” that for Pakistan became a war for survival as extremist groups supported by Pakistan’s regional enemies swarmed across the border causing havoc throughout the country, but particularly in the north-west.

While America’s misguided war on Afghanistan after 2001 was supposed to be a war to avenge the 9/11 atrocity, this war unleashed onto Pakistan many micro-9/11s in which civilians were slaughtered by terror groups that were perversely aided by the fledgling Kabul forces that the US had installed. While US drone strikes in Pakistan killed civilians almost as frequently as they targeted actual terrorists, it was Pakistan’s Army that succeeded in turning groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan from a force that threatened to plant the flag of terror in Islamabad into a rudderless, leaderless rump whose power has more or less been totally neutralised.

While today, it is rightly acknowledged that political reforms in KP continue to fight the roots of extremism, while a border fence along the Durand Line has helped to stem the tide of terror from the Afghan failed state, what must never be forgotten is the it was the martyrdom of thousands of Pakistani soldiers upon whose sacrifice the foundation of Naya Pakistan was at long last built.

The choice for Pakistan during much of the 21st century was not between “the Establishment and democracy” as many cynics would have one believe. The choice was one between national life and national death and without the courage of the Army, the terrorist death merchants would have made the choice for Pakistan and the results would have been truly devastating on a grand scale.

2018 saw the second ever peaceful transition of power in Pakistan and one were the old dynastic parties of the past were democratically dislodged from power in favour of a reformist force – PTI. Saying that this peaceful transition of power was orchestrated by “the Establishment” is actually an insult both to the people of Pakistan and to the Army. This is the case because it was on the back of the supreme sacrifices of the Army in the fight against terrorism and extremism that the country was able to hold its second ever peaceful transition of power and it was the people who were able to speak freely because of the safety that pervades in the country, now that the most wicked terror groups are shadows of their former selves.

The American media frequently criticises Pakistan’s Army and yet there is an expression among ordinary Americans that states “if you love your freedom, thank a soldier”. As a country that has faced vastly less terrorism and foreign invasion than Pakistan and as a country bordered by two allies rather than a nation with two clear enemies, one to the east and one to the north-west, the American phrase stating that a soldier should be thanked for national freedom frankly applies far more to Pakistan than to almost any other country in the 21st century. It is therefore nothing less than shameful that some American journalists who live in a country where the soldier is elevated to a position of respect in the media and in much of society, should somehow criticise Pakistan for the role its Army has played in preventing chaos from turning a great Asian nation into a failed state like Afghanistan or like Libya.

Looking to the future, if Naya Pakistan means anything – it means harmony. Harmony between wealth and development, between Pakistan and its all weather friends whether it be China or Turkey or others, between provinces of the country and within provinces of the country and between the Army and the government. In a harmonious state, the government and Army are not in a competition for power but work together to continue securing the nation from its enemies who have been beaten back but who have by no means gone away.

Pakistan’s democracy has become healthy because Pakistan’s streets, mountains, ports and villages have become safe. There can be no freedom without prosperity and there can be no prosperity without peace. This should be the epilogue of any story about the role of Pakistan’s Army in the last decades. It is a universal truth made all the more clear by specific stories of the ultimate sacrifice – one that has risen the flag of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s enlightenment where the flags of extremist barbarism once flew.

A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

December 30, 2018

A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

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

The new Great Game on the Roof of the World

On top of the graceful Baltit Fort, overlooking the Hunza Valley’s Shangri-La-style splendor, it’s impossible not to feel dizzy at the view: an overwhelming collision of millennia of geology and centuries of history.

We are at the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or – as legend rules, the Roof of the World. This is an area about 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) crammed with spectacular mountain ranges and amidst them, secluded pristine valleys and the largest glaciers outside of the Polar region.

The location feels like vertigo. To the north, beyond the Batura Glacier, is the tiny northeast arm of Afghanistan, the legendary Wakhan corridor. A crest of the Hindu Kush separates Wakhan from the regional capital Gilgit. Xinjiang starts on Wakhan’s uppermost tip. Via the upgraded Karakoram highway, it’s only 240 km from Gilgit to the Khunjerab Pass, 4,934 meters high on the official China-Pakistan border.

What used to be called the Russian Pamir, now in Tajikistan, can be seen with naked eyes from one of the peaks of the Karakoram. To the east, past Skardu and an arduous trek that may last almost a month, lies K2, the second highest peak in the world, among a mighty group north of the Batura Glacier (also known as Baltoro), which is 63km long.

Receding Hopper Glacier

The receding Hopper Glacier in northern Pakistan. Photo: Asia Times

To the south lies Azad (“Free”) Kashmir and slightly to the southeast what locals define as Indian-occupied Kashmir. The former King of Kashmir agreed to be part of India after Partition in 1947 but troops were airlifted to the northern state and after a year of fighting, India went to the UN. A temporary ceasefire line was established in 1948 and runs down from the Karakoram towards the Nanga Parbat – the killer mountain, dividing Kashmir into two virtually sealed halves.

Massive mountain ranges

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

original Silk Road, parallel to K’koram hwy

The ancient Silk Road is seen above the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

The Himalayas start in Gilgit and then run southeast through a cluster of high peaks, including the Nanga Parbat, directly on the Islamabad-Gilgit air route (flights by turboprop only take off if weather around the Nanga Parbat allows).

Strategically, this is one of the top spots on the planet, a protagonist of the original Great Game between imperial Britain and Russia. So it’s more than appropriate that here is exactly where a protagonist of the New Great Game, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), actually starts, linking western China’s Xinjiang to the Northern Areas across the Khunjerab Pass.

Karakoram politics

CPEC is the supreme jewel in the Belt and Road crown, the largest foreign development or investment program in modern China’s history, loaded with way more funds than years of US military aid to Islamabad.

And we are indeed in Ancient Silk Road territory. Looking at the millenary trail parallel to the Karakoram, lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Development Foundation, it’s easy to picture the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang traversing these heights in the 7th Century, and naming them Polo-le. The Tang dynasty called it Great Polu. When Marco Polo trekked in the 14th Century, he called it Bolor.

Early last month, I was privileged to drive on the upgraded Karakoram Highway along CPEC all the way from Gilgit to the Khunjerab, and back, with multiple incursions to valleys such as lush, pine-forested Naltar, Shimshal (manufacturers of sublime yak wool shawls), Kutwal and receding glaciers, such as Hopper and Bualtar.

The Karakoram Highway was originally conceived in the 1970s as an ambitious political-strategic project able to influence the geopolitical balance in the subcontinent, by expanding Islamabad’s reach into previously inaccessible frontiers.

Now it’s at the heart of a trade and energy corridor from the China-Pak border all the way south to Gwadar, the port in Balochistan in the Arabian Sea a stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf. Gwadar looks likely to be a crucial springboard to China becoming a naval power – active from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and on to the Mediterranean, while CPEC, slowly but surely, aims to change the social and economic structure of Pakistan.

Previous Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the controversial “Lion of the Punjab”, was an avid CPEC supporter after he won the 2013 elections. At the time current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, winner of elections held in July, had already polled second nationwide and rose to power in the strategic Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province – straddling the area between Islamabad and the tribal belt.

Sharif, in June 2013, when he was about to enter negotiations with the Chinese, was lauding what would become CPEC as an infrastructure scheme that “will change the fate of Pakistan”. So far that has translated mostly into new hydroelectric dams, coal-fired power stations, and civil-nuclear power. The China National Nuclear Corporation is building two 1,100 MW reactors near Karachi for nearly $10 billion, 65% financed by Chinese loans. This is the first time that the Chinese nuclear industry has built something of this scale outside of their country.

More than a dozen CPEC projects involve power generation – Pakistan is no longer woefully energy-deprived. These projects may not be as sexy as high-speed rail and pipelines, which could arrive much later; after all CPEC in its planned entirety runs to 2030.

Of course, monumental business decisions will have to be addressed; the staggering cost – and state of the art engineering – involved in building a railway parallel to the Karakoram; and the fact that oil pumped via a pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang might cost five times more than via the usual sea lanes all the way to Shanghai.

A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

What Imran wants

Imran Khan is way more cautious than Sharif, who had a “China cell” inside his office and commanded the Pakistani Army to set up a 10,000-strong security force to protect China’s CPEC investments.

But Khan knows well about the firepower behind CPEC: the Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), CITIC, Bank of China, EXIM, China Development Bank. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) projects that BRI could mobilize as much as $6 trillion in the next few years. What Khan wants is to negotiate better terms for Pakistan.

China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, never tires to stress that Pakistan’s serious debt problem relates to the initial phase of CPEC, due to the massive import of heavy machinery, industrial raw materials and services.

As I learned in Islamabad in various discussions with Pakistani analysts, Khan actually wants to expand CPEC and prevent it from leading Islamabad towards an unsustainable debt trap. That would mean tweaking CPEC’s focus away from too much infrastructure development to technology transfer and market access for Pakistani products. Financing for agriculture projects, for instance, could come via CPEC’s Long Term Plan, which unlike the so-called Early Harvest Plan does not come with a price tag attached and can be negotiated freely between Islamabad and Beijing.

According to a 2016 IMF report, $28 billion in projects included in Early Harvest will be completed by 2020: $10 billion to develop road, rail and port infrastructure, and $18 billion in energy projects via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with Chinese firms using commercial loans borrowing from Chinese banks.

CPEC though is an extremely long-term endeavor. Other CPEC investments in energy and transportation infrastructure financed by China will be finished only by 2030.

A new CPEC emphasis on industrialization via technology transfer would allow Pakistan to produce some of what China imports. That would imply reneg otiating the Pakistan-China Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), getting to the level of preferential treatment that China offers to ASEAN. Essentially, this is what Imran Khan is aiming at.

Hail the Ismailis

Gilgit-Baltistan is the safest place in the whole of Pakistan. Here, there’s no “terror threat” by the Pakistani Taliban or dodgy al-Qaeda or ISIS spin-offs. Major spoken languages are Shina and Burushaski, not Urdu. The population is overwhelmingly composed of Ismaili Shi’ites – like Karim Shah, an encyclopedia of Central and South Asian history and culture reigning over a cave of wonders in Gilgit where anything from authentic heads of Gandhara Bodhisattvas to 18th Century silk Qom carpets from a Persian royal family can be found.

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

We spent hours talking about Khorasan, the original Kipling-esque Great Game, Col. Durand (who drew the Durand Line separating Pashtuns on both sides of an artificial border), the Kashmir question, the astonishingly complex geo-eco-historical system of the Northern Areas, and of course, China.

Shah imparted the impression – confirmed by other traders – that the local population may see some tangible CPEC-related benefits, but does not know exactly what Beijing wants. Chinese visitors – engineers, bureaucrats – are remote; tourism has not picked up yet, as in the case of the Japanese, who have been Northern Areas enthusiasts for decades. Thus, an improvement in Xi Jinping’s “people-to-people exchange”, a key component of BRI, seems to be in order.

Legend rules that Hunzakuts, the inhabitants of the glorious Hunza Valley, are descendants of three soldiers of Alexander the Great who married beautiful Persian women of high aristocracy. While Alexander campaigned along the Oxus, the three couples traveled across the Wakhan corridor, discovered the marvelous valley, and settled down.

The tolerant Islam they came to practice centuries later is impervious to Gulf proselytizing. When I crossed an austere village by the Karakoram, visibly out of place, my Ismaili driver Akbar noted that these were “Sunni Wahhabis”.

Finding Gandhara art in Gilgit made perfect sense. Gandhara historically formed a sort of fertile and irrigated triangle between the Iranian plateau, the Hindu Kush and the first peaks of the Himalayas. Between the 6th Century BC and the Islamic invasions, it was the crossroads of three cultures: India, China and Iran. And it was here that an extremely original Greco-Buddhist art and culture flourished, way after Greek power had waned.

Gandhara Bodhisattva head, Gilgit cave of wonders

A Gandhara Bodhisattva head in Karim’s shop in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

The Kashmir question

As a new 21st Century crossroads, CPEC faces stern challenges – from geology (constant landslides and floods in Gilgit-Baltistan) to wobbly security in Balochistan, threatened by a combination of separatist and religiously or politically manipulated movements. I was not able to visit Gwadar and the south of CPEC even though contacts in Islamabad supplied military sources with an application for a NOC (No Object Certificate, as it is known on Pakistan) weeks in advance. The military response: too “sensitive”, as in dangerous, for a lone Western journalist, especially in the aftermath of the Aasia Bibi case.

China will need to find a way – perhaps via negotiations inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – to mollify India on CPEC’s route straddling Kashmir.

In 1936 the British made a deal with the Maharaja of Kashmir, getting Gilgit on lease for 60 years. But then came Partition. At the time the Kuomintang – in power in China, before Mao’s victory – was engaged in secret negotiations to restore Hunza’s fabled independence as a new state allied with China. But the Mir of Hunza finally decided to join the newborn Pakistani nation.

Few may remember that, during the 1950s, way before the India-China border war in 1962, there was trouble on the China-Pakistan border, when Beijing seized 3,400 square miles of Kashmir, including parts of old Hunza, whose Mirs always recognized Chinese suzerainty. When the British had first seized Hunza in 1891, the Mir actually fled to China.

Zhou EnLai visits Baltit Fort in early 60s

This puts into perspective some fabulous documents preserved at Baltit Fort, like China-Baltistan trade agreements and a picture of Zhou EnLai visiting the fort in the early 1960s.

It’s also fascinating to remember that at the time Zhou Enlai already thought about Karachi – no Gwadar at that time – connecting to an “ancient trade route, lost to modern times, not only for trade but for strategic purposes as well”. Xi Jinping has definitely read his Zhou EnLai thoroughly.

China Baltistan trade agreements

Historic trade agreements between China and Baltistan. Photo: Asia Times

Nowadays, the President of Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, always stresses that “unlike Indian propaganda”, the Pakistani side is “thriving politically and economically”, and CPEC could also be beneficial for Indian Kashmir. As it stands, this remains a red line for New Delhi.

Once in a lifetime chance

At the National Defense University in Islamabad, I was shown a paper by Li Xiaolu, from the Institute of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University of the PLA detailing how Beijing hopes that “by opening China’s west to Central and South Asia, building better transportation infrastructure, and by encouraging trade with South and Central Asian countries, the development of manufacturing, processing and industrial capacities in Western China can be promoted”.

Now compare it with road and rail infrastructure improved across Pakistan being able to turn the whole nation into an actual trade corridor, while the Pakistani Navy improves its defense in deep-sea waters with Gwadar positioned as a third naval base and offering support for Chinese ships across sea lanes close to the Middle East and Northern Africa.

No wonder Chinese analysts share a virtual consensus about traditional Chinese wisdom favoring unity for prosperity – a key plank of CPEC and BRI – and prevailing over containment and confrontation.

For CPEC to work, Beijing needs three things: a political solution for Afghanistan, which is already being worked out inside the SCO, with China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran (as an observer) directly involved; stable relations between India and Pakistan; and certified security across Pakistan.

Beijing is actively encouraging closer connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the Quetta-Kandahar railway and the Kabul-Peshawar highway. CPEC is actually expanding from the Karakoram to the Khyber Pass, trespassing the artificial Durand line along the way.

In contrast, multiple factions in Washington continue to twist all possible faultlines to thwart these projects, with a propaganda campaign designed to portray BRI as a swamp of corruption, incompetence, a “debt trap” and “malign” Chinese behavior.

Yet among all BRI corridors, material progress across CPEC is more than self-evident. I saw every village in the Northern Areas with electricity and most of them linked by fiber optics, a stark contrast to when I traveled a severely dilapidated Karakoram, twice, two decades ago.

Pakistan now has a once in a lifetime chance to harness its geographical location – with borders intertwining centuries of history and culture with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East – to set itself up as a key bridge between the Middle East and both the Mediterranean and Western China.

Rumors abounded in Islamabad that Imran Khan is aiming for an international standard university in the capital, positioned as a center of study and research tracking the new mosaic of an emerging multipolar world. Young people power will be more than available, like Jamila Shah, currently at the National Defense University, doing a masters in Peace and Conflict Studies, and working with an NGO, the International Rescue Committee. Jamila, from Hunza, in Gilgit-Baltistan, is the face of Pakistan’s future.

Jamila Shah

Jamila Shah. Photo: Asia Times

Still hostage to a corrupt oligarchy, cartelized industries, falling exports (60% of which are textiles), and with almost half of their youths aged from five to 16 out of school, Pakistan faces a Sisyphean task.

Economist Ishrat Husain has correctly noted that Pakistan’s model of “elitist growth” must be replaced by “shared growth”. Enter a modified CPEC opening the path ahead, hopefully like those cargo trucks defying the slippery, snowy Khunjerab full blast.

CPEC trade Pak style

Trade on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Asia Times

Up next: On the road in the Karakoram 

On the road in the Karakoram

On the Pakistani side, a wooden house serves as a small customs office fronted by “the highest ATM in the world” – though you try a foreign credit card at your peril. The Chinese side boasts an intimidating, metal-plated James Bond-esque structure with no humans in sight.

This is ground zero of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the point where the revamped, upgraded Karakoram Highway – “the eighth wonder of the world” – snakes away from China’s Xinjiang all the way to Pakistan’s Northern Areas and further south to Islamabad and Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea.

From here it’s 420 kilometers to Kashgar and a hefty 1,890 km to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. But going south is where the fun really begins.

highest ATM in the world

World’s highest ATM. Photo: Asia Times

Traveling the Karakoram from Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas, to the Khunjerab and back is an exhilarating road trip along CPEC and its spin-offs. And it’s a crazy carousel.

Psychedelic Pakistani trucks, Chinese container road warriors – some trying to subdue the Khunjerab without chains on their tires – packed minivans plying the Hunza-Xinjiang route, Silk Road motels, the smell of curry interfacing with the best apricot juice in the world, roadside butchers, shacks advertising themselves as “Silk Road Investment & Credit Society Ltd,” many a Pak China Gateway Hotel, checkpoints consisting of a roadside table and a bunch of papers kept from flying away by pebbles, stashes of yuan crisscrossing rupees and dollars and messy, multi-level “people to people exchanges.”

Chinese container truck up the Khunjerab with no chains on tires

A Chinese container truck ploughs over the snow without chains on its tires. Photo: Asia Times

It’s one of the greatest road trips on earth. And in geopolitical terms, it may be the greatest.

Mind the yaks

Karakoram North starts at the environmentally protected Khunjerab National Park, where yaks roam freely on the road and ibex and marmots are easily spotted nearby. But there are no Marco Polo sheep, much less snow leopards. (Though local Ismailis insist a few dozen reside in the park.)

The Yak and Sheep Highway

Yak and sheep roam the highway. Photo: Asia Times

The first serious pit-stop in the Karakoram is Sost, which used to be the Pakistani border in the old days – as when I traveled the road, twice, 20 years ago by jeep from Kashgar. Now, the bustling trade entrepot is the HQ of the Silk Road Dry Port Sost. Chinese lorries unload their cargo and Pakistani trucks take up the relay to transport the merchandise all across the nation. It appears modern and well-organized. Everything proceeds smoothly.

entrance to the dry port at Sost

Entrance to the dry port at Sost. Photo: Asia Times

Snaking south, we pass right under the spectacularly receding Passu Glacier. In a nearby village, a funeral is in progress, with the crowd taking over the road alongside yaks and buffalos and interrupting traffic at will.

The receding Passu glacier by the Karakoram

The receding Passu Glacier by the Karakoram. Photo: Asia Times

The upgraded Karakoram is an apotheosis of Pak-China Friendship Tunnels – all exhibiting the obligatory commemorative billboard extolling a geopolitical friendship soaring “higher than the highest mountain.”

One of many Pak-China tunnels

One of the many Pak-China tunnels. Photo: Asia Times

This is CPEC in effect. It is astonishing when compared to the recent past. Between the Hunza and Gilgit rivers flowing parallel to impeccable asphalt worthy of an autobahn, a fiber optic cable runs all across the Northern Areas.

Chinese engineering has performed miracles. Around 160km south of the Khunjerab we drive around Attabad Lake, which totally submerged the road after a landslide in January 2010. For over five years there was simply no China-Pakistan overland trade, although some went via Kashgar-Gilgit flights. The solution by the China Road and Bridge Corporation had to be a tunnel – completed in 2015.

Attabad lake, now negotiated via a tunnel

Attabad Lake, now negotiated via tunnel. Photo: Asia Times

Trade along the Karakoram is bound to pick up – after years at less than 10% of total China-Pak trade, which tends to flow especially from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, not Xinjiang. Some stretches of the highway remain prone to constant landslides, rockslides or floods, which require a number of 24/7 rescue and maintenance teams. These are Pakistani, while the SUVs of the police in the Northern Areas have been supplied by China.

The heart of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects are road and railway lines. These do not cost a fortune per se; the expense is in the construction costs for bridges and tunnels. Russia spent over $4 billion on its Kerch Strait bridge to the Crimea. New Silk Road costs will be exponentially higher. Tunnels can be way more expensive than bridges.

Where the Himalayas rise

From the Karakoram it’s sometimes possible to catch a glimpse of the formidable Nanga Parbat – Kashmiri for “Naked Mountain,” later nicknamed the “Killer Mountain.” It has never been climbed in winter, and is actually a series of ridges which anchors the western Himalaya range, culminating in an ice crest at 8,126 meters above sea level. That is the ninth highest peak in the world and the second in Pakistan after K2.

Glimpse of the mighty Nanga Parbat

Heading into the mighty Nanga Parbat (on the right). Photo: Asia Times

As we approach Gilgit, the road signs – in English, Mandarin and Russian – say 468 km to Abbottabad (site of the Osama bin Laden endgame) and 583 km to Islamabad. Way down south, in less mountainous terrain, I’m told the odd rockslide gives way to occasional floods.

South of Gilgit, the Chinese once again are in frantic building mode, attacking the road starting from the Karakoram to the strategic Mecca Skardu. The road, according to local Ismailis, should be ready before 2020.

meeting of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and Himalayas

Where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas meet. Photo: Asia Times

And then, on a bend of the revamped highway, the intersection of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan mountain ranges – bordering the confluence of the Gilgit River with the Indus, now flowing south all the way to the Arabian Sea – spreads before us. Nearly 85% of the Indus discharge happens between May and September, out of snow and glacial melt, propelling the monsoons. Abdul, the painter of the Karakoram, is applying the finishing touches to a white-clad viewing point.

Abdul, painter of the Karakoram

Abdul: Painter of the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

The China-Pak embrace

The building of the original Karakoram – an engineering tour de force – took no less than 27 years and claimed the lives of over 1,000 Chinese and Pakistani workers.

The Karakoram Highway is much more than a road; it’s a rolling, graphic emblem of the China-Pakistan geopolitical embrace, surmounting all manner of economic, cultural, geological and security barriers over decades to the benefit of a strategic objective. And the strategic objective now is CPEC as the flagship BRI project.

At the recent opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where he was guest of honor, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described CPEC, including the Karakoram highway, as a “vital link” for China and Pakistan with the Middle East and Central Asia. “CPEC is a mechanism to connect China, the Middle East and Central Asia that also opens ways for fresh investment and paves the way for new markets,” he said.

Khan also reassured his hosts – as well as domestic public opinion – that his new government is engaged in deep, meaningful reforms to ensure transparency and accountability; virtual ghosts as far as Pakistani business is usually concerned.

“Pakistan has an array of resources, minerals and renewables amidst the most diverse landscape,” Khan said, adding that his country is a leading exporter of sports goods, medical instruments and IT products, and has promising, 100 million-strong human resources under the age of 35. So, the potential is immense.

Islamabad is all in on completing CPEC up to 2030, with projections of up to 3% added to annual GDP growth, as industrial output is bound to rise with more electricity courtesy of CPEC investments and more production coming from Chinese-style Special Economic Zones.

CPEC’s Long-Term Plan (2017-2030), released one year ago, defines four priorities in Pakistan: Gwadar Port; energy projects; transport infrastructure (as in upgrading of the Karakoram); and industrial cooperation. Imran Khan’s government (see Part 1 of this report) is aiming for Pakistan to position itself, via CPEC, as the key hub uniting the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.

The big plan

This implies, geopolitically and economically, an even stronger, trans-regional, China-Pakistan alliance in contraposition to India and Washington. The US reaction to BRI in 2018 was to unleash a whispering campaign to try to discredit it. Beijing, for its part, expects India and Pakistan to at least discuss their political differences inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

From now on, China’s far west and south – Xinjiang and Yunnan – have to become the top drivers of the Chinese economy. Upgrading their road, rail and energy infrastructure and closely linking them to South Asia and Southeast Asia is essential for China to keep growing – all that boosted by crucial energy connectivity via a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, an oil pipeline from the Caspian in Kazakhstan, further massive gas shipments from Siberia, and, further down the road, a possible gas pipeline from Gwadar port to Xinjiang parallel to the Karakoram.

Will it work? The Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas have seen it all come and all go over multiple millennia. So why not? The upgrading of the greatest geological and geopolitical road trip on earth is a start.

Karakoram checkpoint

Karakoram Highway checkpoint. Photo: Asia Times.

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