Central Asia Pipeline Cold War Heats Up

I really admire Stephen Colbert; he used his comic license to make a laughing-stock out of the Bush administration and the mostly compliant press, its stupidity, and its hypocrisy.[1] Unfortunately, we don’t need a Colbert to get comedy out of the US government.

Kazakhstan Map

For example, take Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent visit to the former Soviet Union. At one point in his trip, he lambasted Russia for using hydrocarbon resources as “tools of intimidation or blackmail.”[2] Cheney also said he had a problem with Russia “resist[ing] the development of strong democracies” and backsliding on its own democratic development.

The next day he visited Kazakhstan to promote an oil pipeline route to Western Europe that bypasses Russia, a scheme the Financial Times calls one of many “counters in a geopolitical chess game playing out between the US, Russia and China for control over one of the world’s last undeveloped oil and gas basins.”[3] Glen Howard of the Jamestown Foundation told the FT that Cheney’s visit amounted to “planting a big American flag in central Asia. We are flexing our muscles a little bit.” Russia intimidates and blackmails, America plants flags and flexes muscles.

In Kazakhstan, Cheney reiterated his critique of Russia’s oil policy and (lack of) commitment to democracy, standing next to President Nazarbayev, a man who won 90 per cent of the vote in December elections. According to the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), “the election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” The OSCE report on the elections cited a number of problems, including “undue involvement of the authorities in the election campaign, undue restrictions on campaigning, cases of harassment of campaign staff and an atmosphere of intimidation.”[4] Kazakhstan was described in the US State Department’s 2006 Human Rights Report as a country that places “severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government,”[5]

But the country has strong US backing, and is therefore, by definition, a “democracy.” Cheney expressed his “admiration for what has transpired here in Kazakhstan over the last 15 years. Both in terms of economic development, as well as political development.”[6] Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher explained that Kazakhstan was important because it “is emerging as a world leader in oil and gas production.” It is a country in which “U.S. companies have invested heavily … and would like to do more.”[7]

The best the media could do in response was sadly regret the fact that Cheney’s human rights claims wouldn’t be taken seriously. The International Herald Tribune lamented:

There was a time when a strong statement from Washington in support of human rights and democratic behavior carried real authority. But of late the human-rights record of this U.S. administration has seriously eroded its moral authority, and Cheney is closely associated with some of its most offensive policies.[8]

The IHT agreed with everything Cheney said about Russia, but worried that “spearing Russia while flirting with its even more undemocratic neighbors does confuse the message, to put it mildly, especially when done by a vice president closely identified with oil interests.” In other words, it was OK to hypocritically criticize Russia, but not by Cheney while in Kazakhstan. I agree that the exact combination of overlapping hypocrisies was more farcical than anything Colbert could have written, but I despise this IHT sentiment.

Someone please remind me when Washington ever “carried real authority” when it came to human rights.

The New Protege

Say goodbye to Uzbekistan, say hello to Kazakhstan.

The new US protege in Central Asia doesn’t have US military bases (yet) but it does have plenty of oil and other resources, as well as the largest economy in Central Asia (more than twice that of other Central Asian countries combined). It is also the nexus of Chinese economic inroads in the region, hence a place where US economic power in the former Soviet Union is likely to be challenged in the near future.

And Kazakhstan wants to be a tool of US power. Kazakh Foreign Affairs minister Kassymzhomart Tokaev told the Heritage Foundation in August,

…[W]e stand ready to legally and politically protect interests of the United States in Kazakhstan and the entire region…

…[W]e speak the same language on almost each and every issue in our bilateral agenda…

…[W]e stand for the continuation of operations by the antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan…Kazakhstan [was] the only country in Central Asia and one of the very few Muslim countries to deploy a military contingent to Iraq…Kazakhstan believes that this is not the proper time for debate over the legitimacy of the military operation of the U.S. led coalition in Iraq…

So far as the United States presence in Central Asia is concerned, we view it as one of the important factors of regional stability, strengthening the independence and sovereignty of Kazakhstan as well as that of other countries in the region.[1]

That’s more like it. What more could Washington ask for?

After the Uzbekistan fiasco, nothing less than this kind of outright boot-licking will get a country exalted to America’s regional favorite. US officials bent over backwards for the Uzbek tyrant after he massacred demonstrators in Andijan in May.[2] Despite Washington’s damage control, the Uzbek government of Islam Karimov, paranoid and probably coached by Russian officials, was convinced that the United States was actually fomenting the demonstrations towards his eventual overthrow, as it had done in the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.[3] So he served notice on July 7 that the US airbase, heretofore the largest US base in Central Asia outside Afghanistan, would be closed. After the July 7 warning, US treatment of Uzbekistan took a much more hardline tack, supporting the UN call for an independent investigation of the Andijan massacres.[4]

Now Uzbekistan is distinguished by being the only Central Asian country not visited by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in her recent trip to the region. Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs told the press that the mainly military cooperation between the US and Uzbekistan was not enough to sustain the relationship. “It is clear that a one-dimensional relationship was simply unsustainable in Uzbekistan… We simply could not ignore all the problems on the democracy side.”[5] This rewrites the history of ties between the two nations where for about a decade the one-dimensional relationship was enough, and the “problems on the democracy side” were what cemented the relationship. Karimov repressed dissidents, who he called Islamist terrorists, and Washington equipped his soldiers and police to do it. Uzbekistan was a favorite destination for the CIA to render terrorist suspects for “interrogation,” since Uzbek jailers weren’t bound by the same regulations and oversight.[6]

The State Department’s Fried expressed appropriate indignation for the horrible behavior of the Uzbek government in Andijan:

We were very troubled by Andijan, and not simply the events themselves, but the reaction. But not simply Andijan and the reaction but a whole series of steps which frankly are troubling. Pressure on NGO’s, curtailment of exchange programs, a general climate of fear in the country which I did not find in any other country I went to. These are very troubling.[7]

Troubling. What about Kazakhstan, the new protege?

In a letter to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev dated October 12, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the president’s “commitment to democracy” as the nation prepares for elections in December.

Human Rights Watch has received numerous reports of your government’s continuing harassment of the political opposition and violations of the right to freedom of assembly, legal restrictions and other repressive measures against nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and a crackdown on independent media.[8]

None of this appears to be “troubling” to the State Department. To the contrary, Condoleeza Rice told an audience at Eurasia National University in Astana that Kazakhstan “has an unprecedented opportunity to lead Central Asia toward a future of democracy and to elevate U.S.-Kazakhstani relations to a new level.”[9] Showing the same kind of support for Nazarbayev that Washington once gave to Uzbekistan’s Karimov, Rice expressed the faith that he

is someone who can be persuaded to use his leadership, his considerable stature, his considerable popularity among his people, to move Kazakhstan to the next level, to have free and fair elections, elections that will meet international standards, and then will then lead this region, given what’s happened in Kyrgyzstan, lead this region to stronger elections.[10]

A bit of translation from State Departmentese: “democracy” here means “a US-blessed process that includes elections,” and “free and fair elections” means “elections in which the US’ favorite candidate wins.” Come December we’ll see if Kazakhstan’s elections satisfy the Human Rights Watch definitions or those of the State Department.

The China Syndrome

Imperial rivals to the US are getting more powerful, and more capable of deterring the unfettered trampling of the globe that US policymakers are bent on.

That this is occurring is most obvious in the case of China. The eviction of US troops from Uzbekistan[1] would not have happened if it wasn’t supported fully by Russia and China. The move followed closely on the heels of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s request that the US develop a timetable for withdrawal from all of Central Asia.[2] In general, says a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, the eviction is certain to “put pressure on other central Asian states to turn away from the west, towards China and Russia, because of their reliance on Uzbekistan’s resources.”[3] China is scoring points against the US in its own neighborhood, but those points have global ramifications.

It isn’t just the tilt of one or two small allies that has Washington policymakers concerned. China’s sway in the region includes security arrangements, like the recent Chinese/Russian war games, which may portend a more aggressive foreign policy from Beijing. According to the Christian Science Monitor,

The week-long maneuvers off the Pacific coast are widely viewed as Moscow lending a mail-gloved hand to China’s efforts to warn the United States away from involvement in any future crisis over Taiwan. But preparations to deal with potential unrest in Central Asia may also figure, some say.

Further suggesting the war games may be part of a larger agenda is the presence of defense ministers from the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Some analysts believe Moscow and Beijing hope to transform the SCO, hitherto a Central Asian talking shop, into a NATO-style security alliance to keep order in their increasingly troubled neighborhood.[4]

US policy makers are worried about this development, and they want their allies to also be worried. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made it a point at a Singapore conference of Asian defense ministers in June to “question” China’s military buildup, in a “rhetorical assault” that “underscores a growing concern in the United States over China’s rising military, economic and diplomatic power,” according to Reuters. Some of Rumsfeld’s comments:

China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region…China also is improving its ability to project power, and developing advanced systems of military technology…Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments?”[5]

You mean, why is China acting like the United States?

The comments were made just prior to the intended release of the 2005 Pentagon report on Chinese military capacity. The report was held back for over a month because “earlier drafts…concerned National Security Council officials by painting what they saw as an overly antagonistic picture of China.”[6]

I suppose I understand not wanting to appear too antagonistic towards a government which is emulating your own.

The report was finally released on July 19. Here are some quotes, chosen for their ironic relevance to US behavior:[7]

  1. “China has not renounced the use of force… Over the long term, if current trends persist, PLA [People’s Liberation Army] capabilities could pose a credible threat to other modern militaries operating in the region.” Now, which “other modern militaries” operate in the region around China? Hmmm.
  2. “Forces…that could divert China from a peaceful pathway” include “nationalistic fervor bred by expanding economic power and political influence” and “an expanding military-industrial complex that proliferates advanced arms.” Sound familiar?
  3. “[D]ependence on overseas resources and energy supplies, especially oil and natural gas, is playing arole in shaping China’s strategy and policy. Such concerns factor heavily in Beijing’s relations withAngola, Central Asia, Indonesia, the Middle East (including Iran), Russia, Sudan, and Venezuela.”
  4. “Beijing has described its long-term political goals of developing comprehensive national power and of ensuring a favorable strategic configuration of power in peaceful terms…Nevertheless, China’s military modernization remains ambitious… In the future, as China’s military power grows, China’s leaders may be tempted to resort to force or coercion more quickly to press diplomatic advantage, advance security interests, or resolve disputes.”

China’s military budget ($26 billion) is only about 1/18 that of the US. But just because China isn’t capable of building as gigantic an arsenal as the US, or of invading and creating insurgencies in two of the poorest countries on the planet, it has been able to make modest advances against US power in Iran and Central Asia by working with regional leaders for common goals.[8]

In the short term, a new Cold War might be a good thing. The US will be less capable of invading other countries, or of imposing crippling sanctions or doing anything else unilaterally that might have a serious impact. But for those interested in ending empire, supporting the rise of China as an “anti-hegemon” would be fighting fire with fire. The democratic empowerment of most of the planet will be a lot further away with two superpowers than with none. Perhaps in the space opened up by the weakening of US credibility in the Middle East and Central Asia, and while the Bush and later US administrations are distracted by the rise of China, that third “superpower,” the world populace, will be able to sneak off with the prize.

Overthrowing Uzbekistan?

We may be seeing the seeds of another “revolution” in a post-Soviet state, courtesy of the US State Department.

In what the Boston Globe calls walking the “diplomatic tightrope,” US officials have agreed to consider asylum requests for refugees from Uzbekistan fleeing after the violent crackdown in Andijan in May. Uzbekistan has been an important ally of the US because it allows the use of one of the first US airbases in Central Asia, and because the US renders its terrorist “suspects” to the country’s torturers for interrogation and detention (New York Times). If it decides to validate asylum cases, Washington would be openly working against the govermnent of president Islam Karimov, not to mention publicly admitting that the crackdown contained human rights violations and political persecution.

While the State Department’s human rights reports have been relatively truthful on the atrocious record of Karimov, the US government in general was rather kind to the despot awarding him military aid and apologist rhetoric for his services. Until recently, the State Department’s Background Notes on Uzbekistan called the country “a strong supporter of US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and of the global war against terror….[The US] values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region.” (Reference to the earlier version of the notes can be found in Asia Times.) Now, the notes (updated July) assert:

U.S.-Uzbek relations have flourished in recent years but have become strained over the Uzbek’s actions in Andijan in 2005…The tumultuous events in Andijan in 2005 and the subsequent U.S. condemnation of President Karimov’s actions render the future relationship between the nations uncertain. In June 2005, Karimov refused U.S. demands for a formal investigation of the Andijan massacre, exacerbating the divide between the two nations. To maintain strong relations, the United States urges greater reform in Uzbekistan to promote long-term stability and prosperity. Registration of independent political parties and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would be an important step.

The State Department calling US-Uzbek relations “strained” is more than just an attempt to assuage human rights and congressional critics of Bush’s cozy relationship with Karimov. The revised State Department language reflects a new reality. Karimov has recently said he might “evict” the US from its base at Karshi-Khanabad (ISN Security Watch), and has been showing unusual closeness with regional powers Russia and China (see earlier post). Russia is most openly offering its unconditional support to the Karimov regime, saying that outsiders should avoid “any one-sided assessment [of the Andijan events] which has only political considerations” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). Russian president Vladimir Putin furthermore agreed with Karimov that the Andijan uprisings were staged from “specially prepared bases in Afghanistan.” Karimov asserted that the demonstrations were “prepared in headquarters and centers where there are people who have carried out operations like this before on the territory of both CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] and other states.” In other words, the US fomented the demonstrations, like it did in the Ukraine (the Guardian) and Kyrgyzstan (Wikinews).

There is more than just alarmist talk in these accusations. It may not be the case that the US fomented the demonstrations in Andijan, but the State Department has made it clear that “long term stability and prosperity” can only be maintained in the country if “Registration of independent political parties and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” takes place. It’s not obvious if this is a threat, or just an assessment, but it looks like a little of both. According to the Washington Post,

The administration hopes to reach out to Karimov by month’s end to stress the importance of the U.S.-Uzbek strategic partnership — which has blossomed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — while urging the authoritarian government to make a stark political choice so it does not meet the fate of the three other former Soviet republics [Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia], U.S. officials say.

“We hope one last push will get Karimov to see that repression leads to instability and the only way out is to embrace freedom. Otherwise, he’s on a descending spiral,” said a senior U.S. official involved with Central Asian policy who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy.

This echoes an analysis in Jane’s Intelligence Review (RFE/RL) that “Uzbekistan is now spiraling irretrievably towards violent regime change.”

It is quite possible that the US government is seriously considering supporting the anti-government movement in Uzbekistan, or has done so already, and is using this as a bargaining chip with Karimov. Washington is certainly warning Karimov that unless he does as he is told, the US will do nothing to stop an inevitable regime change.

Regional Powers Challenge US in Central Asia

Just before G8 leaders met in Scotland to make themselves feel good about relieving African debt, and engage in handwringing on terrorism, two of the G8 countries (Russia and China) were busy snubbing another (the United States).

At the latest meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (Russia, China, Kyrgysztan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), the growing US military presence in Central Asia has been seriously called into question. As quoted in an Associated Press article, a declaration of the five presidents reads:

We support and will support the international coalition, which is carrying out an antiterror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilize the situation. As the active military phase in the antiterror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition’s members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents’ presence in those countries.

According to the AP, “A Kremlin foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said the group had not demanded an immediate withdrawal. But he added it was ‘important for the SCO members to know when the [US] troops will go home.’ ”

Indian officials who were present at the meeting told The Hindu newspaper that the push to get US troops out came mainly from Russia, but was backed enthusiastically by China and Uzbekistan.

Apparently Uzbekistan’s leader is less than happy with US lukewarm support for his suppression of the Andijan uprising in June, which killed up to 750 civilians. He also agrees with Russia that Washington is trying to destabilize his and other former Soviet governments. Three days after the SCO declaration, Uzbekistan complained that the US was not living up to its commitments in the country, asking the US to consider withdrawing from military bases in the country. The Uzbek government also suggested the US might start paying overdue takeoff and landing fees for the use of its airfields.

For the first time the SCO meeting included representatives of other regional powers India, Pakistan, and Iran as observers. If a true power bloc develops between these nations, it could even squeeze the US out of the region, or at least sharply constrain its activities.

Further Reading

The Pipeline is Open

The New Energy Wars have begun in earnest. The US-backed pipeline that brings oil from Azerbaijan westward has started pumping. Washington’s main goals are stated as US “energy independence” from the Middle East and political “independence” of the Caspian countries, which separated from the USSR in the early 1990’s. Both of those claims are either bogus, or distract from the real point.

So what’s the real point to these pipelines? First of all, of course, it’s to get the oil and gas under Western control, as opposed to control by regional powers (let alone the countries where the resources are located). It’s not so much the need to reduce US energy dependence on the Middle East in the sense of who uses the resources, but rather who profits by them, can set the price, and can use the spigot to control the operation of the rest of the world’s industrial, military, and social infrastructure. An article in the Middle East Journal from Spring 1995 suggests a reason why a Caspian energy “hub would be attractive to the West.” (I found this about 4 years ago in the library researching the trans-Afghanistan pipeline, so unfortunately I don’t have a link.) The article, entitled “Russia, the West, and the Caspian Energy Hub,” by Robert V. Barylsky, states that the West is frightened by “a hypothetical Russian-led alliance of energy exporters, a super-OPEC…that would wield extraordinary power over energy markets. ” The point here is “power over energy markets” not just access to energy for our own use. US/West European control over the Caspian resources would dilute the ability of this potential “Russian-led alliance” from having a degree of control over energy markets.

Secondly, economic aid to and military alliances with the oil and gas producing countries allow the US to foster dependence on Washington, while positioning its forces strategically throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia. For example, plans for a “Caspian Guard” in the backyard of rivals Russia, China, and Iran. According to the Armenian News Network,

experts in Azerbaijan estimate the cooperation between Baku and Washington against the background of intense relations between the USA and Iran…The USA is interested is airbases, from which it would be good to strike targets in Iran.

The ongoing US posture review makes it clear that one of the major goals in the re-invention of the US basing strategy is a “flexible” deployment in as many strategically interesting countries as possible, especially potential rival powers. Indeed, regarding the Caspian deployment, that’s how Russia and Iran see things:

In late April Russia evidently proposed the creation of a new defense formation, specifically a rapid-reaction force in the Caspian. Iran welcomed the proposal (IRNA, May 3; RIA-Novosti, May 4). Although not much is known about this proposed force, it appears to be intended not just to repulse terrorist threats but also to oppose a foreign, i.e. Western, military presence in the Caspian…Azerbaijan appears to be at the center of this issue.

For an excellent piece on the political, economic, human rights, and environmental issues surrounding the Azerbaijan pipeline, see “Another East-West Faultline,” by K. Gajendrah Singh.

For more on the new US “Empire of Bases” see “Bases, Bases, Everywhere,” by Tom Englehardt.

Jihad Comes Full Circle: US and Pakistan in the Hunt for Bin Laden

Published on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 by CommonDreams.org and by ZNet

In January 2004, the Chicago Tribune cited military sources in Washington planning a “spring offensive” on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan “that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network”[1] That offensive has clearly begun with recent troop deployments in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, also known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). But the troops are not just American, they are mostly Pakistani. In fact, Pakistan seems to be the US’s new best friend, having recently been declared a “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) which would enable it to benefit from defense cooperation and loan guarantees to pay for arms deals. Secretary of State, Colin Powell has already announced new loan guarantees awarded to Pakistan and arms sales can proceed within weeks[2]. But arms sales are a violation of the 1985 “Pressler amendment” to the US Foreign Aid Act which asserts that “no military equipment or technology shall be sold or transferred to Pakistan” unless Pakistan is certified to be free of nuclear weapons technology[3].

Major news media are referring to the current operation in the NWFP as “Pakistan’s Campaign Against Al Qaeda” (New York Times), “Pakistan’s Al Qaeda Offensive” (Al Jazeera), the “Pakistani Offensive” (LA Times), “Pakistan’s Al Qaeda Hunt” (BBC), etc. While Musharraf has expressly denied there any US troops on Pakistani soil, “senior American military officials said that small numbers of [US] commandos . have conducted cross-border operations”[4]. This is not a Pakistani operation – it is Made in the USA. Washington planned the offensive this January, has arranged weapons sales, and is using Pakistani troops as “proxy forces in that area”[5].

The US eagerness to work with Pakistan and even clear arms sales in violation of its own laws seems surprising — it comes on the heels of a revelation that the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had been selling nuclear secrets to countries like Libya, Iran and North Korea. Additionally, only three years ago Pakistan was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, and is widely known as having actually nurtured and sponsored the Taliban.

In fact, US-Pakistan “cooperation” should come as no surprise. The US already pays almost $100 million a month to Pakistan for providing logistical support in the war against terrorism[6]. While transitions to democracy are lofty US goals for Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan is an exception: Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan, is Washington’s close ally and dutifully choreographed an about-turn after September 11th 2001 on his sponsorship of the Taliban. Most recently Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed content with the conditional amnesty that Musharraf granted the nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan. Today Musharraf is doing his part by cooperating with Washington’s current offensive in the NWFP. But the cooperation comes at a hefty price: last December Musharraf was the target of a failed assassination attempt by an alleged Al Qaeda suspect.

The U.S. has convinced Musharraf to contradict himself on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. According to Musharraf in early 2002, bin Laden was dead or possibly “alive in Afghanistan”[7]. By July 2002 Musharraf went further in asserting: “I doubt he is alive, and if he is alive he cannot be in Pakistan”[8] But today, “facing intense pressure from Washington”[9] Musharraf was convinced that “bin Laden and his followers likely were hiding in the mountains along the Afghan border”[10].

Recent excitement in the U.S. over bin Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri has also revealed contradictions in Pakistan. While U.S. and Pakistani troops combed the mountainous South Waziristan district for al-Zawahiri, Pakistani officials now admit they were simply guessing his presence: Mehmood Shah, the head of security in the NWFP admitted “We have no indication [of al-Zawahiri’s whereabouts]. Our guess was based on the amount of resistance we faced and the number of foreign fighters. Later on, many people started guessing names, and that’s how his name came up”[11]. Now underground tunnels in the NWFP reveal escape routes which were probably utilized in response to the US’s announced offensive[12].

President Bush says, “the best way to defend America . . . is to stay on the offensive and find these killers, one by one.[13]” Bush fails to state clearly who “these killers” are. Are they Al Qaeda or the Taliban? What about the primary inhabitants of the NWFP — Pashtun tribals and Mujahadeen warriors? What about their family members, wives and children? According to US military sources, the “spring offensive” is “designed to go after the Taliban and everybody connected with it”[14]. This is a very broad definition which likely includes ordinary Afghan and Pakistani civilians.

With Pakistan visibly taking the heat for the offensive, US troops are poised in Afghanistan with “what the military calls “blocking positions” at strategic junctions along the frontier”. These are designed to “trap and kill militants fleeing the Pakistani attacks”[15]. So far 25 civilians have been killed with half of them women and children[16]. The head of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno praised Pakistan’s terrorist tactics: “I’ve seen some very positive developments from Pakistan, and I’m going to continue to encourage them to do more in those areas.” For example the “destruction of homes and things of that nature…we’re watching that with great interest.[17]” Taken together these facts reveal a picture of a US offensive via Pakistani proxies targeting anyone and everyone in the area, and trapping those that try to flee into Afghanistan.

The locals are not happy. In response to the civilian casualties, tribesman Mukhtar Wazir said “Musharraf is evil, Bush is Satan”[18]. Hundreds of people responded to the civilian casualties with a demonstration in Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP, chanting “Get out FBI” and “Stop the War in Tribal Areas in the Name of Al Qaeda”[19]. Maulan Khalil-ur-Rehman, a tribal leader and a member of parliament, claimed that “The ‘foreign fighters’ living in Wana were heroes of Islam when they were fighting the Soviets, but now we are told by Musharraf and America they are terrorists”[20].

The late Pakistani scholar Eqbal Ahmed went further in clarifying the connection between the US and the mujahadeen or “foreign fighters” of Pakistan and Afghanistan in a 1993 interview with David Barsamian:

All of them are former allies of the United States. All of them have been armed by the United States. All of them were described as “mujahid,” holy warriors, by the United States. The same media which are now calling them fundamentalists called them freedom fighters only four years ago. Those same freedom fighters are now “fundamentalists.”[21].

In addition to Osama bin Laden and his allies it seems clear that the US’s targets include all its old fundamentalist friends and their families. Residents of the NWFP have dismissed the Pakistani actions “as a stunt aimed at “appeasing America””[22]. This puts the Pakistani prime minister between a rock and a hard place: Musharraf is being forced to aim an army nurtured on “jehadi” rhetoric against the “jehadis” themselves[23]. Jihad has come full circle with the U.S. and Pakistan (acting on U.S. orders) terrorizing the very people they nurtured, and these very people turning their terrorist tactics back on their benefactors and their allies. Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid describes his country’s situation best: “Either way, whether Bin Laden is captured or not, there will be serious consequences for Pakistan’s domestic peace and stability”[24].

Sonali Kolhatkar (sonali@afghanwomensmission.org) is the host and co-producer of Uprising, a daily morning public affairs program with KPFK, Pacifica, Los Angeles. She is also the Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, a US-based non-profit that works in solidarity with Afghan women on humanitarian and political work.


[1] Spolar, Christine, “U.S. plans Al Qaeda offensive”, Chicago Tribune, 01/28/04.

[2] “US to Reward Pakistan With New Arms Status”, Los Angeles Times, 03/19/04.

[3] The Pressler Amendment and Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program, US Senate Hearing, 07/31/92.

[4] Schmitt, Eric, “U.S. Quietly Aiding Pakistan Campaign Against Al Qaeda”, New York Times, 03/23/04

[5] Spolar, Ibid.

[6] “Pakistan gets $100M per month from U.S.”, United Press International, 03/22/04

[7] “Pakistan’s Musharraf: Bin Laden Probably Dead”, CNN, 01/18/02.

[8] “Musharraf: Bin Laden not in Pakistan”, BBC News, 08/01/02.

[9] Rashid, Ibid.

[10] Spolar, Ibid.

[11] Lynch, David, “Pakistan: Zawahiri hunt just a ‘guess'”, USA Today, 03/21/04.

[12] Wazir, Ahsanullah, “Did Pakistan tunnel help terrorists to flee?”, Associated Press, 03/23/04.

[13] Spolar, Ibid.

[14] Spolar, Ibid.

[15] Schmitt, Ibid.

[16] Ali, Zulfiqar, “At Least 25 Civilians Die in Pakistani Offensive”, Los Angeles Times, 03/21/04.

[17] Defense Department, “Special Department Of Defense Briefing on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan,” 02/17/04.

[18] “Pakistan to try new tack in al-Qaida hunt”, Associated Press, 03/21/04

[19] Ali, Ibid.

[20] Foster, Ibid.

[21] Barsamian, David, “India, Pakistan, Bosnia, etc.”, an interview with Eqbal Ahmed, Z net, 08/04/93.

[22] Foster, Peter, “Pakistan’s border campaign ‘a stunt'”, The Age, Australia, 03/23/04.

[23] Hoodbhoy, Pervez, Interview with Sonali Kolhatkar, KPFK, Pacifica Radio, 03/23/04.

[24] Rashid, Ahmed, “Musharraf’s Bin Laden headache”, BBC News, 03/17/04.

Why the West Loves Vladmir Putin

A political analysis of Russia’s recent involvement in Chechnya and the reaction of West, written on 27th March 2000

“there are terrorists who kidnap innocent people by the hundreds and keep them in cellars, torture and execute them… Bandits of this kind — are they any better than Nazi criminals?”

—- Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

“Russian forces went on a killing spree in the Aldi district of Grozny, shooting at least sixty-two and possibly many more civilians who were waiting in the street and their yards for soldiers to check their documents. These were entirely preventable deaths, not unavoidable casualties of war. They were acts of murder, plain and simple…And most disturbing of all, there is no evidence that the killing spree has stopped.”

—- Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Researcher

Russia’s presidential elections are over. With most of the vote counted, Vladimir Putin has so far accumulated more than the 50% needed to clinch the Presidency of Russia. Many Western leaders are treating this news with relief. A News Analysis piece in today’s New York Times by correspondent Michael R. Gordon is entitled, “Washington Bites its Nails as Russian Votes are Tallied.” Writing from Russia, Gordon explains why he thinks “The Clinton Administration has a lot riding on a Putin victory.” For one thing, “Mr. Putin and his top aides have talked about overhauling the tax code, protecting the rights of shareholders, phasing out subsidies to money-losing enterprises and tackling politically dicey issues such as establishing the right to own land.” Such talk of economic reforms has so impressed US officials that “Clinton administration officials are already discusing” ways to reward Putin’s efforts to help out foreign investors. Suggestions include, “expanding assistance by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, rescheduling Russian debt and having the United States Export-Import Bank step up its efforts to encourage investment in Russia.”

Unfortunately, things are not entirely rosy for US policy makers, because, “There is also Chechnya.” Putin’s war is making it difficult for administration officials to wholeheartedly embrace him in public. What of Chechnya? In Gordon’s words, “The brutal war has been temporarily pushed out of the news by the Russian election, but it is still raging.”

Extensive investigations by Human Rights Watch continue to reveal a pattern of brutal terror in Chechnya, including war crimes, carried out by the Russian forces. Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Researcher, made it clear that the targets of Russia’s Chechnya campaign were not simply the rebels. In March 1 testimony before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Bouckaert called attention to the Russian forces, who “indiscriminately and disproportionately bombed and shelled civilian objects, causing heavy civilian casualties,” in violation of the Geneva Convention which limits attacks to combatants. “The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya to a wasteland: even the most experienced war reporters I have spoken to told me they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.” Human Rights watch has documented at least three large-scale massacres by Russian forces in Chechen villages. And there is a tremendous refugee crisis. More than 200,000 Chechens have fled the fighting into neighboring Ingushetia, which has a population of only 300,000.

Bouckaert concluded his testimony by urging the US to call for a suspension of World Bank and International Monetary Fund loan payments pending to Russia. He proposed that “the creation of a Commission of Inquiry should be a prominent item for discussion at the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting, and the U.S. must insist on a discussion of the Chechen conflict at the U.N. Security Council, because the conflict in Chechnya has major implications for international peace and security.” (See the Human Rights Watch web site for more information; http://www.hrw.org/hrw/campaigns/russia/chechnya/).

The Senate was shocked by Boukaert’s testimony. Jesse Helms said, “I am ashamed of our government and its comments made in defense of Russia.” But the US has done practically nothing to stop the assault. To some, criticism of Putin’s campaign in Chechnya is considered “skepticism” (“Some Skeptics See Iron Hand in Putin’s Glove”, NYT, 2 Mar 2000).

The US State Department seems to share this point of view. “Instead of using its relationship with Russia to bring an end to the abuses in Chechnya, the Clinton administration has focused on cementing its relationship with acting President Putin, the prime architect of the abusive campaign in Chechnya,” Bouckaert lamented. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Russia for a conference on the Middle East in early February, and was “encouraged” by her long talk with Putin (“A 3-Hour Talk With Putin Leaves Albright Encouraged”, NYT, 3 Feb 2000). She may have warned Putin, but not of loan suspensions or the formation of a Commission of Inquiry. “We did not mince words, either of us, on Chechnya…I said to him…that he’s riding a tiger.” These are not words of anger, excoriating a war criminal. Rather, Albright was warning Putin, for his own sake, to be careful of the political consequences of his war. She also appeared frustrated that the US was powerless to stop the war, “I do not think we are any closer to a political solution in Chechnya.” Today’s New York Times news analysis of the Russian vote reiterates this seeming frustration: “The West has denounced the indiscriminate attacks against civilians [in Chechnya] but has been careful not to link the issue with the question of assistance from the monetary fund or other policy objectives.”

This is strange, since last year Albright did make strong statements regarding foreign aid to Russia after allegations in August that over $4.2 billion had been laundered out of Russia by organized crime. “We have made clear that we will not support further multilateral assistance to Russia unless fully adequate safeguards are in place. President Yeltsin’s Government needs at last to make fighting corruption a priority.” (“Albright Warns the Russians to Battle Corruption, Or Else”, NYT, 17 Sep 1999). Why is the US suddenly careful about making “Or Else” statements to Russia when it comes to the army’s conduct in Chechnya?

Albright’s stance mirrors that of major business interests in the West, which says that so long as Russia’s climate for foreign investment is “transparent” and stable, other issues, such as human rights, are of negligible importance. In a speech to the US-Russia Business Council in April 1998, Michael Camdessus, then Managing Director of the IMF, enunciated the importance of investors. He stressed the need for economic growth in Russia to “gain strength without financial disruption caused by loss of investor confidence,” which requires “firm resolution, commitment, and implementation on the government side, which has not always been there in the past.”

The Clinton administration considers Vladimir Putin “a man we can do business with.” Perhaps it believes that Putin has the “firm resolution” and “commitment” necessary to enact policies which will restore “investor confidence.” “Mr. Putin has regularly argued that foreign investment is essential to economic growth…Western business interests praise his recognition…of the importance of free trade and open markets” (NYT, 22 Mar 2000). His 1997 dissertation from the Mining Institute of St Petersburg was entitled, “Strategic Planning of the Renewal of the Minerals – Raw Materials Base of the Region in Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” The title may be obscure, but those who have read the thesis, such as Professor Mikhail Mednikov of St. Petersburg Technical University, one of Putin’s examiners, recognize that “It’s a paper written by a market-oriented person.” (Incidentally, the Mining Institute refuses to allow reporters to view the manuscript, therefore few people outside Putin’s examining committee have read it.) Putin has many times shown himself to be on the side of foreign investors, and not just in words. He worked for six years as deputy to Anatoly Sobchak, the Mayor of Moscow, where his job was to attract foreign investment to the port city of St. Petersburg. By 1993, Putin managed to create 6,000 joint ventures with foreign companies, half of Russia’s total at the time.

In an interview with Ted Koppel which aired last Friday night, Putin made clear his continued support for investors. He proclaimed the first priorities of his goverment, if elected. “First, we will focus on guaranteeing the full rights of owners and investors. The right of ownership must become a priority in Russia. We will strive to make the position of the state crystal clear in its legislation. We will need to make the state strong enough to guarantee implementation of these rights. And finally, we will do our best to ensure equal opportunity for all the participants of the market.”

It would seem that Secretary Albright’s threat to Boris Yeltsin’s government was taken to heart when Yeltsin picked Putin as his acting successor. Many criticize Putin’s history as a KGB agent, his apologetics for the Stalin era purges, his defense of the KGB, and his continued glossing over of the Russian assault of Chechnya. But it is likely that, so long as he promotes the interests of business, Putin’s “authoritarian streak” will not be questioned by Western leaders. Indeed, it may come to their aid — Putin said he will use friends from his days as a KGB agent, and as director of its successor agency the FSB, to help root out corruption and money laundering, which to him is only “a passing phase” (NYT, 24 March 2000).

On February 5, three days after Madeleine Albright left Moscow, the Aldi district of Grozny saw a glimpse of Putin’s authoritarianism. At least sixty-two civilians waiting in the streets to have their papers checked were shot down by Russian security forces. So far no threats to withold foreign aid have been forthcoming. Instead, Washington “bites its nails” waiting for Putin to be elected, as “the Russian longing for a strong hand” is used in the media as a metaphor for Washington’s own longing for the same.