Grab of Central Asian Oil Risks Regional Flare-up – Tariq Ali
By Dr Lisette B. Poole
Mr Tariq Ali addresses the gathering (left), Dr Agha Saeed makes his observations (center), and a section of the receptive audience (right)
Newark, CA: US raids over Pakistan will engulf South Asia in unimaginable violence and provoke instability in the region, warns a prominent British-Pakistani historian as he charges the Bush administration of threatening to break up Pakistan in a bid to assert military supremacy in oil-rich Central Asia.
Tariq Ali was speaking at an event organized by the Pakistan American Democratic Forum (PADF). Founded as a grassroots organization in 1982 to support Pakistani people’s Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), PADF is motivated by a principled commitment to institution building, rule of law, due process, equal justice, minority rights (for both ethnic and religious minorities), women’s right, and human rights, transparency, accountability, community development, civic education, and citizen efficacy.
Tariq Ali, and other well informed Pakistan political sources, say that at the heart of the turmoil is the bid to control the oil and gas pipelines. In 2002, an international consortium gathered in London, and agreed to begin construction of the BTC oil pipeline, as well as a natural gas pipeline (BTE) running from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas fields through Baku and Tbilisi to the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. Plans were also made to connect the BTE pipeline to the European market via a pipeline extending from Erzurum to Vienna, the so-called “Nabucco” pipeline. Also, in February 2007 Iran, Pakistan and India resolved to proceed with a joint pipeline project to deliver Iranian natural gas to Pakistan and possibly on to India.
In a wide-ranging analysis of the South and Central Asian affairs, Tariq Ali, a writer, journalist, film-maker and political commentator who recently returned from one of his many regular trips to Pakistan said the Taliban, contrary to popular belief, is now a transformed militant group mounting a resistance to American occupation. He condemned the deadly US air raids over the Pakistan-Afghanistan border which have claimed more than 35 people, accused the new president of Pakistan of complicity with the Bush administration, laid out his analysis of the greater plan behind the raids, and called on his audience to get involved in humanitarian relief acts to save Pakistani lives.
Echoing Michael Parenti, a noted American political scientist, with whom he had shared GTV panel a few hours before his speech, Ali said: “The Empire is beginning to devour the Republic”, alluding to the erosion of civil liberties and human rights in the Unites States. “I am shocked to hear about the COINTERPRO that Agha Saeed has detailed for us.”
“Pakistan needs education, schools, hospitals a Marshall Plan to lift citizens out of their despair -- not more bombs!,” he said passionately. “Bombs make people angry, crazy with anger!” he told the Pakistan American Democratic Forum in California.
He also took the two US presidential candidates to task for intimating they would pursue al Qaeda fighters through sovereign Pakistani territory, and warned that the raids from Afghanistan spilling into Pakistan were similar to the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. In 1966, Ali was sent to Vietnam by the Bertrand Russell Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal to investigate US war crimes.
“Pakistan is in the throes of a new crisis,” he said and he explained that the clashes on its border with Afghanistan would destabilize the new government of President Asif Ali Zardari, but more importantly, could lead to a breakup of the country and consequently open up the area to US military intervention under the guise of seeking to protect nuclear facilities. Such a move would also assert US military influence in Central Asia where two pipelines are being constructed to move Caspian oil and gas to the European and American markets.
Over the past year, Pakistan, a nuclear country, has been rocked by successive political emergencies under the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharaf, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the eventual ascension to power of her husband, Zardari. Throughout these upheavals the administration of President George Bush has openly worried about the safety of the nuclear plants.
“The plants are protected by a half million standing army,” Ali said. “They are safe. The Americans know that, but still they ask to check over and over again!” The military have refrained from involvement in the political turmoil; however, following the US raids on the borders, Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani strongly condemned the actions and warned that his country’s sovereignty will be defended “at all costs.”
Ali said the use of the word Taliban no longer applies to the reality on the ground.
“The British intelligence has started using the term neo-Taliban,” he said and explained that the movement has morphed into the largest resistance to American occupation in the form of Pashtun nationalists. These people are not trying to change the religious character of the society, as did the original Taliban; instead they are trying to expel the American occupiers from their country, he added.
The Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, feel marginalized under the US-installed Karzai regime.
“The West does not seem to understand that people do not like being occupied,” Ali said. “The British tried and failed, the Russians tried and failed, and now NATO and the US forces are trying too.”
He fiercely chided the two presidential candidates –senators Barak Obama, (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) - for their remarks during their first televised debate. “There is very little difference between them on the issue of Pakistan — Obama said if the terrorists were in the sights of the Americans they should go in and take them out, and McCain said the US forces should do it, but not talk about it publicly—that is an outrage!”
Political analysts believe that, in the closing days of the Bush administration, Washington is increasingly aggressive against militant targets beyond Afghanistan's frontier despite possible political fallout with Pakistan , a key US ally in the war on terror.
These analysts say the US believes the tribal belt is a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri. Senior American officials have reported to the International Herald Tribune that Bush secretly approved orders that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government. The move, in July, underscores an American view that Pakistan lacks the will and ability to combat militants.
Ali went one step further — he accused the Zadari government of complicity with the Americans and noted that although they would both benefit from bringing “al Qaeda and the tiny extremists militant fringe” under control, it was wrong of the United States to expect the Zadari government to step up operations in the tribal areas.
In a report to the Congress on US-Pakistan relations, K. Alan Kronstadt, a South Asia specialist, said, “ US officials increasingly are concerned that the cross-border infiltration of Islamist militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan is a key obstacle to defeating the Taliban insurgency.”
Ali criticized this trade-in-stock US position of accusing Pakistan of providing a base for terrorist groups and their supporters operating in Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan.
“It is wrong to blame this war on Pakistan,” Ali said “What effect will happen when civilians die? Only greater tension in the Pakistan army because they don’t want to go kill their own people! American should find an exit plan from Afghanistan — not war and not occupation.”
“Just as the Vietnam war spilled over into Cambodia so we are witnessing the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan spill into Pakistan,” said Ali, who became involved with the movement against the war in Vietnam when he was a student at Oxford University. On graduating he led the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign.
Ali is touring the US to promote his latest book ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the flight path of American power.’ He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio and contributes articles to magazines and newspapers including The Guardian and the London Review of Books. He is on the board of the New Left Review, for whom he is also an editor.
The PADF has held public meetings with a number of public intellectuals including poet Habib Jalib, historian Abdullah Malik, political scientist Eqbal Ahmed, peasant leader Rasul Bux Palejo, labor leader Usman Baloch, artist Saleema Hashmi, progressive activist Mairaj Muhammad Khan, film director Mushtaq Guzdar, and political leaders Afzal Bungush and Abid Hasan Minto.