Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hasn’t travelled the world anywhere as much as his predecessor, Hilary Clinton; she covered almost a million miles! That is why his recent trip to South Asia excited some attention. It also brought into focus the new Great Game being played in South and Central Asia. In this new version, the United States has replaced Great Britain while, in addition to Russia, China has also become a player on the board.
Secretary Tillerson’s trip began at Al Udeid, the US base in Qatar. He and his staff donned helmets and flak jackets, and boarded a military C-17 plane. Flying in less than first-class comfort, they stoically endured the ride, including the standard deep dive onto Bagram airbase. From the plane they were quickly rushed (driving through high concrete blast walls) to the US HQ in a former prison on the base, while helicopters patrolled the perimeter and two security blimps equipped with long-range cameras hovered above.
Unable to risk the short trip into Kabul, Tillerson met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and others, including chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, in a windowless room on the base, while US troops stood guard outside. The communiqués issued by the US and Afghan governments after this meeting included the obligatory picture of the two leaders in their meeting. Unfortunately, these pictures resulted in more attention being paid afterwards to the mystery of the vanishing clock on the wall, than to any substantive results from the meeting.
The picture issued by the US shows a standard US military clock on the wall behind the two men, from which it can be inferred that the meeting took place at the Bagram Airbase. In the one issued by the Afghan presidential office, the clock has mysteriously vanished. It seems Mr Ghani didn’t want it widely known that the Americans didn’t consider it worthwhile for Secretary Tillerson to travel outside the safety of the US base in Bagram.
Finally, duty done (and pictures taken), Secretary Tillerson safely left Afghanistan after a total visit of all of two hours. As the New York Times commented on the visit: That top American officials must sneak into this country after 16 years of war, thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars spent was testimony to the stalemate confronting the United States because of a stubborn and effective Taliban foe that is increasingly ascendant.
Afghanistan is usually referred to as a country, whereas it is, in fact, just a land of tribal groups. The two main ones are the Pashtuns (concentrated in the South and overflowing into Northern Pakistan) and what may be called the Northerners (mainly Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek tribes). The Taliban draw their strength from the Pashtuns, while the Northerners formed the bulk of the force that, with US assistance, ousted the Taliban from power during the US-led invasion of 2001.
What is now being painted (especially in the Western media) as a Taliban insurgency against the legal government of Afghanistan is in fact a civil war between the Northerners and the Pashtuns. The US and NATO are supporting one side in this civil war, while the Pashtuns of Pakistan (unofficially aided by their government) are supporting their brethren in Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani is a Pashtun heading a puppet government in which the real power lies with the Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, a Northerner. The vast majority of the Afghan Special Forces, who are leading the fight against the Taliban, are Northerners. It is these Special Forces that the US is supporting with its SF troops and air power.
Pakistan’s rivalry with, and fear of, India also determine its policy on Afghanistan. Pakistan has no love for the Taliban as such; in fact, it fought and eradicated the movement (with the same name and the same ideology) that spread among the Pashtuns of Pakistan in 2007. But, it knows that the Northerners have the support of India, and their victory in the ongoing Afghan civil war would create the hostile encirclement it fears. Hence it is supporting the Afghan Taliban in their war against the Northerners (even though it does not officially acknowledge this).
After his short Afghanistan visit, Secretary Tillerson stopped for a few hours in Pakistan on his way to India. In meetings with Pakistani political and military officials, he hammered home the need for Pakistan to change its regional policies. According to former Indian ambassador Bhadrakumar, the US wants Pakistan “to leverage its influence with the Taliban to show flexibility” in their demand for US troops to leave Afghanistan, because the US needs to maintain “an open-ended military presence in the hugely strategic region for the pursuit of its containment strategy against China, Russia and Iran”.
The Pakistanis politely heard out these admonitions, but merely reiterated their standard stance of being against all terrorists, and having no links with, or influence upon, the Taliban. Both sides were well aware of the underlying reality, namely, that nearly all of the supplies for US troops in Afghanistan are transported by air or land through Pakistani territory, making the US dependent on Pakistan, rather than the other way around.
Pakistan has for long been an on-again, off-again US ally. But as the US has grown closer to India, it has moved away, and has now become an ally of China. This new relationship has been cemented with the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an important part of China’s Belt and Road plans.
After meeting Tillerson, Afghan President Ghani travelled to New Delhi the very next day, where he met PM Modi, under whom India has been providing both economic and military aid (training and equipment) to Afghanistan. Since Pakistan won’t allow India access to Afghanistan, it had to resort initially to an air corridor until it established a sea-land route through the Iranian port of Chabahar, which it has been upgrading since 2016. A few days after Ghani’s visit, India shipped, through Chabahar, the first of six consignments of a gift of 1.1 million metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan.
The new US strategy for Asia, which has the goal of preventing China and Russia from dominating the Eurasian continent, calls for India to play a key role in these plans. This strategy has become feasible ever since Indian PM Narendra Modi (aka Modi the Hugger) switched India from being an ally of Russia to becoming an ally of the US (even though Modi was banned earlier for almost 10 years from entering the United States because of the large-scale massacre of Muslims in Bombay during his governance of the state).
Ghani was followed in New Delhi by Secretary Tillerson, who reiterated the importance that the US attaches to its alliance with India and its role in Asia. Indian access to Central Asia (where the US already has links) through Iran is critical to US plans. The prize there is the former Soviet republics, especially Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan: securing influence with them and obtaining oil and gas from them.
India’s switch, under PM Modi, to its present alliance with the United States creates problems for those who were comfortable with it as a leading neutral country. Especially Russia, which has long had a close relationship with India, being one of its main military weapons and equipment suppliers. While PM Modi has been at pains to reassure Russia, there is bound to be some rethinking going on in the Kremlin. Already, problems are arising.
Another country reassessing its relations with India is Iran. It has slowed down the paperwork needed for India to develop the port of Chabahar, and has not so far drawn the soft loan that the Indians had agreed to provide it as part of the deal. It is quite possible that Iran may hinder Indian access to the port if the latter starts to adhere too closely to the US agenda in the region. (That was probably why Secretary Tillerson was at pains in New Delhi to try and soften the US’s anti-Iran stance).
Of course, the principal target of the USA in the new Great Game developing in Central and South Asia is China, and its plans for the Eurasian continent. Early on, China began to express alarm, and sound warnings, at the development of close relations between India and the US. To neutralize India, China has chosen Pakistan as its ally in South Asia. It has accorded only a minimal role to India in its Belt and Road plan, while India has made clear that it will not participate, with PM Modi refusing to attend the Peking Belt-and-Road Summit in May 2017, even though 29 other heads of state or government attended.
In Central Asia, the main playing field for this Great Game, all three major powers are seeking trade, influence and alliances with these countries, especially the biggest, Kazakhstan. Not only due to their strategic location, but also because of their natural resources. Russia has an inside edge, having taken the place of the defunct Soviet Union, of which these ‘stans were a part. However, China is now rapidly developing relations, especially economic, with them (its Belt route passes through them). As discussed above, the US is urging and assisting India, as a proxy, to also move into this area, while the purpose of its military efforts and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan is mainly to ensure a role for itself in Central Asia.
So, this new Great Game goes on, with wily Vladimir Putin, tweeting Donald Trump, smiling Xi Jinpeng and creepy Narendra Modi all trying to outwit each other, and rope in the other minor players to their side. However it plays out, I very much doubt it will be as delightfully chronicled as the old one was in the Flashman Papers.
Thanks for this informative and eye opening essay. I’m now even more convinced that we Americans are fools for staying there.
Thank you, general Ali, for your thoughtful and objective summation. An uneducated guess is that the key to the long term outcome is One Belt One Road. If China can appear to be succeeding in the project and can avoid major military conflicts, it will be offering the region peace, prosperity, and a measure of unity, albeit centered on Beijing, while the other powers offer the prospect of something larger coming from outside to feed at the region’s troughs. Of course, Xi Jenping has to thread the needle.
Rare to have such informed straight talk about that area… many thanks. Using India as a proxy (or a spoiler) seems to me a self-defeating program.
and trust me. These games are only fun when you look at them from afar.
It looks like US has given a blank check to India to impose the Indian soft and hard power to the India’s perceived “sphere of influence”. And the Indians has been busy doing it.
But these neighbors (and the populations) are quite unhappy having to bow down to what can be described as a regional power.
Also China’s policy is simple. Easy credit and soft loans through government control banks and companies. India’s is lagging behind its private sector and the bureaucratic red tape.
Thanks FB Ali.
Modi hugs. Several time I have run image searches. With most leaders, Modi lays his head on their chest, like a lover, and the tarrget looks ill at ease and embarrassed. Putin, perhaps because they are they same height, not so, simply returned the hug the same. Putin and Modi look very much at ease with each other in videos. Mutual respect.
In looking up several Hinduvta websites some time back, they hate communism with a passion, idolise the US as a beacon of freedom, and believe they are destined to rule the world. Modi may be more pragmatic as to ruling the world and the US. I get the impression he would fit into the multipolar world.
Taliban and Russia. I do not know enough about taliban and their motives, how pragmatic they are and so forth, but from what I have seen of current Russian leadership and their ability to work with many cultures, perhaps the possibility that the taliban will be removed from Russia’s terrorist list?
Thanks for posting this really interesting analysis of the developing competition in Central Asia.
My question is: what could India actually offer to the “‘Stans” or to Iran that China cannot? Do the Indians have a better offer?
I mean, China promises to integrate most of central Asia into a comprhensive project with the Belt and Road Initiative, with (apparently) very little political strings attached (the Chinese usually do not ask for democracy or political reforma as far as I know).
Can India offer a comparable deal, especially to countries like Iran that seems to be bent on embracing a multipolar world?
I concur with TTG an excellent essay!
The world has not been a more dangerous state since the Cuban Missile crisis. All this occurring as we have arguably an administration inn the US which is the worst and least qualified in decades to deal with the problems it faces. Trumps hostility to intellectualism means you have policy made by intellectual pygmies. Symbolic of It’s ineptness at diplomacy is that an Ambassador to South Korea has still to be appointed
Does anyone really think that Trump would have done a better job than Kennedy in dealing with Cuban Missile Crisis?
We are indeed heading into very dangerous waters.
A very good description of the current state of affairs in Asia. I agree that the US should get out while they can and let the local powers decide how they want to deal with all the actors. Owning the oceans will be more important that having to maintain a road, which I suspect will be more arduous than the builders are considering. Cutting off roads is rather easy.
It is good to have such an inside view of what is an important part of the world. Please keep it up.
This is FB Ali’s piece. pl
An excellent summary. It is fascinating to get an informed overview of the chessboard, thanks Brigadier Ali.
“Indian access to Central Asia.. ..through Iran is critical to US plans”. This would seem at odds with US Iran policy, to say the least. Allowing Pakistan to fall into China’s orbit (ref. CPEC) appears to be a huge strategic error on the part of the US. Afghanistan my be key to the ‘stans, but with the CPEC China would seem to be able to extend it’s mighty economic influence on through Iran and further westward, with or without Afghanistan ‘on side’. I read just yesterday that this process is already beginning in Syria in fact.
Crass “you are either with us or against us” US policy is forcing nations who would not otherwise be natural allies together; Pakistan and Iran spring to mind, in the context of this piece. At best, it seems to me, the US may be able to slow China’s inevitable domination of Eurasia. At worst (and on current trends) it will greatly accelerate the process by the gross geopolitical ineptitude of this administration, or more accurately; “the only one who matters”.
The US comes to the Game with conflicting and confused strategy & threats for non-compliance with it’s will. China offers economic incentives and partnership in a well thought out, joined up strategy. At least the British were good players of the Great Game, the US seems barely able to grasp how the pawns move.
My understanding was that India has dragged her feet in doing anything at Chabahr.
Iran and India cannot have strategic understanding and cooperation, that possibility was destroyed back in 2006 by a Congress government. So I do not think Pakistan needs to be too concerned about what India is doing in Afghanistan – she would be doing nothing of substance.
In regards to Central Asia, we need to be prepared for state decay and failure as the structures created by USSR (another version of the White-Man’s Burden) decay or atrophy. That game is not worth the candle.
In Afghanistan, then US and Russia and Iran are on the same side, supporting the Seljuk remnant against the non-Seljuk. For that unfortunate land, perhaps that would be the most positive thing that could be done – a new country that is no longer dominated by the pernicious and harmful effect of the Pashtun Culture.
Great contribution, not least since we lost track of Obama’s Pivot Asia due to our US/ME focus.
Thus thanks, Brigadier Ali, for opening up our horizon.
The closest I ever got to the peculiar Pakistan-Afghanistan-India triangle was via the peculiar biography of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik:
To not delve into the larger “disputed territories” context between the mentioned power players. I find it a bit hard to wrap my head around. As non-historian, and non-expert on Asia.
I agree, India has nothing to offer.
700 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day and they think they can balance China?
They are themselves contained South of Himalayas. And in Australia, one of the 4 presumed members of their “alliance” against China, Indians are despised quite openly.
Iran and Pakistan are not natural allies since the Seljuk Boundary divides them. Iran and Turkey are natural allies.
The Great Game was a game of empires, pure and simple. There are more complex dimensions to the current situation, some of which were alluded to in the essay. Modi is still adhering to India’s long standing policy of avoiding binding alliances. Modi is still hoping that Chinese investments into his “Build India” program will happen. He does not wish to create a conflict with China. He still maintains ties to Russia. The US is not in a position to invest heavily in India, outside of joint production agreements on military hardware with US companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Modi is more hopeful for Japanese and South Korean investments. The US has told India to butt out of the Arabian Sea region, trying to get the Indian navy to focus on the South China Sea. In a speech at CSIS before his India visit, Tillerson invoked Shinzo Abe’s “diamond” security alliance of four Asia-Pacific democracies: the US, Japan, India and Australia. India is not likely to bite.
Iran may be getting paranoid about Chabahar due to the American courtship of India, but I hear from India friends in the military establishment as well as from Americans that India is not about to abandon the Iran ties, given what Col. Ali noted about the importance of the Chabahar route to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Is there a prospect of India being drawn into the CPEC? This is another piece of the regional picture that I have heard recently from some people in India in the Modi circles. That would be a very smart play for China and Pakistan, given that the CPEC passes through the turbulent Baluchistan region.
Interested in thoughts on these added complexities and nuances.
India’s is lagging behind its private sector and the bureaucratic red tape.
From my as always limited grasp of world matters, there may not be enough bureaucratic red tape concerning the seemingly high percentange of outsourced production of antibiotics for the “Western market” both for the benefit of people living close to the respective plants and long term for the average citizens in the West too. You feel I got into the trap of silly ideologues in this context?
But now that i babbled, straight from the top of my head, what in your opinon are the worst “bureaucratic red tapes” in India?
The consensus, at least in macro analytical circles, mirrors your opinion of China and the role that OBOR will play in creating the new Chinese orbit. Most political and geo-strategic analysis also stress the ascendancy of China as the next global hegemon.
I am a contrarian on China. In my analysis, China will be a source of great global instability prospectively. Politically, Xi continues to consolidate his authoritarian power by eliminating his rivals in purges and shadow trials. This removes any chance for a more inclusive political environment in China. While this may seem to provide political stability under the cult of Xi, IMO, it breeds instability as those factions in the CCP cut out from the benefits of patronage wait for signs of weakness. Couple this with the greatest expansion of credit in history which has exploded Chinese banking system assets as well as Shadow Banking assets. That last time an emerging great Asian power did this was Japan in the 1980s. Many don’t realize that the Japanese banks were the largest by assets in that period. We have seen what happened there when the credit cycle reversed. Chinese expansion of credit over the last 2 decades has been on steroids relative to Japan in the 80s. Chinese banking assets are gargantuan even relative to western banking assets. US banks are so much better capitalized today. While the financial reality of much of their banking and shadow banking is opaque there is sufficient information for intrepid analysts to note that NPLs are much higher than reported and leverage in shadow banking is much higher than claimed. Additionally, much of Chinese external financing in emerging markets for infrastructure development and consequent political influence is in default. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria are all renegotiating debt service with China. Venezuela is a good example of how this is being handled. They are prioritizing payments of their USD debt service while being delinquent on their Chinese debt. The fact that capital controls are steadily increasing in China shows that the propensity for capital flight is higher than many analysts believe. There’s no way that the Chinese Yuan can supplant the US Dollar as a global trading currency, in circumstances where the probability that capital gets stranded is rising. There is a lot of chatter on internet websites on the “petroyuan” supplanting the “petrodollar” and how that will crash US financial hegemony. This is not the opinion of those who understand how trade finance, forex markets and oil markets actually work. Oil and other primary commodities as well as the major currencies of which the Yuan is not, are fungible.
While it is popular analysis today that China & OBOR represent the Chinese ascendancy as global hegemon, my contrarian analysis says not so fast and it certainly is not a done deal in the intermediate term. But even more important, IMO, both financial and political instability is rising in China beneath the facade of strength.
While I certainly have no expertise on military matters and the politics in South Asia and the Middle East, it is my “ordinary citizen” opinion that the US should withdraw completely from those regions. Those regions offer nothing of value to the US.
I would say let the Chinese and Russians meddle there and let the Saudis & Israelis and the Iranians and all the tribes and sects play their ancient games.
While this policy may dent the egos of many in DC who must feel “indispensable” it would free the US from its costly and unrewarding involvement in a region that provides no value to it and only costs. Yes, the oilies will be screaming but the oil, the oil! Oil intensity of the US economy has been declining for sometime and there’s plenty of oil & gas available in the world.
Mr. Ali, thank you for a true expert analysis of this new on going geostrategic grate game in south and Central Asia which IMO is now related and includes the entire northern hemisphere. With regard to Iran’ relation with India and Pakistan, three recent related items worth mentioning. One is, Iran is holding off contracting India with much needed Farzad gas field even wiehen India agreed to go ahead on Chahbhar port. Two Pakistan’ military CoS just visited Tehran in high level talks and third Iran’ SL Ayatollah Khamenie has once agin backed Kashmiris revolt against India competing it to Yemen and Bahrain. My hope is, China could be able to pull away Pakistan from Saudi’ influence and finance. And unfortunately Like Babak I think India is digging for trouble siding with Israel against his own large Muslim population.
You and I find it hard. Yet despite this we try to further our understanding, as we consider this a worthwhile pursuit. Others do not.
re Chinese unstability
Dunno if you are familiar with Chinese history and culture but AFAIK Chinese politics had been ruthless for over 3000 years and with very few exceptions Chinese dynasties were quite stable despite the internal strife and cutthroat competition of elites.
I think the current Communist China has more to do the Imperial Bureaucracy of yore than with Marxism and therefore may exhibit much more resilience to contrary events than you expect.
Contrary to the US they will not overplay the “Global Hegemon” card and will be content to reign inside their borders notwithstanding any predatory practices they deem necessary.
China’s political authoritarianism under Xi may turn out to be resilient. But, maybe not. Analysis is a balance of probabilities.
To paraphrase Warren Buffet – only when the tide recedes does one know who is swimming naked.
Only when the Chinese credit expansion recedes will we know how stable their financial and political structures really are. Will Chinese credit quintuple in the next decade?
How do you know that? That is a statement of certitude.
>>>My question is: what could India actually offer to the “‘Stans” or to Iran that China cannot?
Historically–going back 3000 years or so–India has been a consistent victim of the “‘Stans”, which are called “Aryans” in India, and yes, thos’re the same “Aryans” (though with a different pronunciation–“Are-yans”, vs “Arians”) that the Nazis appropriated for their own pseudoscientific ends.
Nevertheless, the largely vegetarian and agriculturally-based Tamils, which *apparently* once developed–likely in cooperation with other, foreign groups–a vast civilization at Mohenjo-Daro, have been repeatedly invaded and subjugated by waves of Turkic, Persian, Greek, and Mongolic (among other) tribes.
So effectively, over the last two millenia there are three areas above what we today call “India” that have been in what cynical “Political Science” types would call “play.”
A) Tibet. China locked that one down in the 1950s. This was a relatively independent area that exerted vast influence over Nepal, parts of Afghanistan, the current province of Xinjiang, and Mongolia.
B) Bactria/Afghanistan+: This area has always been the most volatile region, and the most susceptible to revolutionary change.
C) Central Asia: This area has, for most of the last two millenia, been mostly patrolled either by Persia/Iran, or–when powerful tribes have arisen–by the most dominant/desperate steppe tribes of the moment. Sometimes, certain tribes have been forced (like the Huns) to move out of their native habitats of power by either China, or other tribes; at other times, certain tribes have simply become so powerful that they have been able to conquer (like the Mongols, or Timurlane) vast swaths of territory.
My point is this: it is not so much what “India can offer.”
It is very much more what India fears.
Exactly to my point Babak.
Thanks for the detailed breakdown.
But I’m not sure I get your point. How will India’s fears impact their political decisions, in your opinion? How can it gain that influence that the post above hints to?
Iran and Pakistan are not strategic enemies either, not even with Saudi money. The issue with Pakistan is, that there is not much she can offer to Iran, or she can pay for to buy or get from Iran. The relationship always was ceremonial nothing more.
China is offering a credible positive vision that Japan had called “Co-prosperity Sphere” a hundred years ago.
Many are buying into that vision without a single bullet being fired in anger because they all need economic development and upgrade of their societies.
Assuming a grand-failure of China’s vision, where would all these states go; to US, to Russia, to EU?
I do not think that is likely.
China does not have to become a high-income country – like South Korea or Japan – to be an attractive economic model.
India turned down multiple opportunities to participate in the Co-prosperity Sphere of China. Consider: Roads could have been built in the extreme Northeastern corner of India as conduit for Chinese trade to Calcutta. Such a road – or roads – would have immediately improved the lot of many of those 500 million people who subsit on 50 cents a day.
Abe’s Diamond is a sick Joke – how could Indians work with Australians and Japanese with their deep prejudices against them?
All he needs to become the Perfect Global Statesman is a Nobel Peace Prize.
Pakistan always looks for patrons, the more the merrier. She will never willingly let go of Saudis without someone replacing the Saudis with a big fat annuity.
Diplomacy and Money go hand in hand.
Thank you for your insights. It is always a treat to read something like this. I read Tillersons speech in India last week, which left me with the impression that it was the sales pitch of a CEO not a high government functionary.
How does the increased influence of India in Afghanistan affect Pakistans strategy?
thought Afghanistan was Pakistans ‘hinterland’ in case of an Indian invasion?
The US and India getting to be closer dance partners is now fairly independent of administrations in DC and New Delhi. It is simply a function of the realignment in South and Central Asia. With Russia shrinking economically to cement its status as a junior partner to the Chinese, and China taking over as the primary patron of Pakistan’s uniformed and ununiformed Jihadis, the coming together of U.S and Indian interests is just realpolitik.
To access the underbelly that is Central Asia, the US will continue to rent the services of Pakistan till the whole enterprise becomes untenable due to Chinese presence there. It will be near impossible for multiple clients to rent Pakistan’s services concurrently for they seek different outcomes in Central Asia.
I do not believe the transition to ‘China #1’ will come at no cost to the region. There is no real economic activity that justifies the infrastructure vision of OBOR. By design, OBOR is a tool to provide captive markets for the excess industrial capacity and exportable manpower in China. And market access will be obtained in lieu of loan writeoffs of unviable infrastructure projects.
A bit odd to read this article and the comments and not one mention of BRIC… is it really only a conceptual grouping?
It was a fantasy that sold news papers and speeches; another one is SCO, yet another is OIC, yet another is RCD.
I’m glad so many readers found this piece worthwhile. Thank you.
There are reports that the Russians are in touch with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Kremlin seems to follow a very pragmatic policy. The Taliban appear to be only interested in Afghanistan; unlike al Qaeda and IS, they are not interested in exporting their ideology to other parts of the world.
India’s role in Central Asia is mainly as a US proxy. Any of the “’stans” that wish to balance the pressure of China can turn to India as a proxy of the US.
Yes, the Chinese are moving into Syria. This is what they have been doing all over Eurasia, eg, Greece, Serbia, the EU, etc. See:
I see no evidence for any possibility of Chinese investment in India, nor for Modi hoping for some. The idea of India joining CPEC is a fantasy. I suggest your Indian friends are telling you fairy tales.
In Pakistan, it is the politicians who are in thrall to the Saudis. The country’s foreign policy is mainly directed by the Army. Its relationship with the Saudis is very different; it is the Saudis who need to keep the Army happy, and willing to help them out in times of need. The Army has decided to move Pakistan into the Chinese camp, whether it suits the Saudis or not.
India doesn’t have “increased influence” in Afghanistan. I suggest a re-read of my article.
I think BRICS doesn’t play any significant role in the internal dynamics of the region. However, it is still a useful grouping on the international scene, eg, its recent role in the attempt to move out from under the hegemony of the US dollar.
India’s fears are already strongly influencing the region, insofar as they are a useful tool for the US/uk alliance. The post makes clear that the Northern Alliance (Kabul leadership) is receiving a lot of support and direction from India. If India, however, decides to withdraw that support, then the war in Afghanistan will become entirely unfeasible for the US to maintain. The simmering war in Afghanistan delivers a powerful means of destabilizing the entire region, from eastern Iran on over to western China, and on up to southern Russia.
I differ with Gen. Ali, here, in that I see what he outlines as a series of baby-steps, rather than definitive moves. I will admit, however, that these sorts of baby-steps by Modi have been quite consistent so far. My understanding, at the time of his election, is that he is a far right-wing populist, so it seems to me that he may not accurately represent the overall mood in India. Gen. Ali, however, will be better able to comment on that.
It seems to me there is a lot that can yet happen, here. Just as the US has used Afghanistan to drive a wedge between India and Russia, so too some other power–China, Russia, Iran–could use the US relationship with Pakistan to drive a wedge between India and the US. Pakistan is close to the Saudis, as is the US. Wahabbism is a deep antagonist to peaceful relations among Muslim and Hindu within India. Perhaps some way could be found to peel Pakistan away from US influence and shift it firmly under Chinese or Russian patronage–while that would threaten to drive India further away from the Sino-Russian economic plans for the area, it would also isolate it from the Central Asian markets, and might also result in bringing the Afghan war to an end.
Personally, I don’t see the US winning this fight, regardless of its relationship to India, regardless of how much money or weapons are used.
>>>I think the current Communist China….
“Communist” in what sense, precisely?
>>>Politically, Xi continues to consolidate his authoritarian power by eliminating his rivals in purges and shadow trials. This removes any chance for a more inclusive political environment in China.
Xi is not “eliminating his rivals;” his campaign is and always has been an anti-corruption campaign, which is of course precisely what is needed to promote greater political inclusion within the Chinese political system. There is
Trials in China are no more nor less “show trials” than are trials in Taiwan.
China’s political situation is very complex, and unless one can first admit that single-party systems are just a lot more opaque and difficult to analyze than multi-party systems, then there really isn’t anything meaningful to say about what’s happening in Chinese politics.
This is an excellent overview of the actual situation:
Just like YOU know they will be a source of great global instability…
They claim it themselves and indeed they kept the “working parts” of Communism (control…) they only ditched the economic silliness 🙂
Regarding credit bubbles…who creates the debt in China, relative to who creates the debt in the U.S? To whom is payback ultimately owed in each case?
It is not easy to overcome the middle income trap.
I agree that China is offering a positive model of economic development through both financing and construction of infrastructure in return for market access to their manufactured goods.
How big do you think the market would be in the Stans, Afghanistan & Pakistan relative to the Chinese investment in infrastructure?
The financial math hasn’t exactly worked out for them in Africa & South America.
Are you asserting that Xi’s faction is not corrupt?
Look at all the politburo members that have been arrested. None belong to Xi’s faction. Many have been part of Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai faction.
China does not have a deep bond market, so the visible credit has been created by the banking and shadow banking system.
In the US, on the other hand the credit markets are large. Student loans, auto loans, credit card debt, municipal debt, corporate debt, mortgage debt are mostly marketable debt.
>>>They claim it themselves and indeed they kept the “working parts” of Communism (control…)….
Yes, they adopted a lot of capitalist reforms, and the economy is today pretty much robber-baron capitalism. But what the Chinese kept was the single-party system, and the legal requirement that all laws, constitutional assemblies, and forms of government may be amended at the party’s will. That’s not “Communism” in any respect that I’ve ever seen attributed to Marx, nor any of the many, many other communist philosophers and analysts that came after him; it’s just a single-party system with a carefully managed capitalist economy. North Korea is a single-party state, and Taiwan was, too (and in many respects still is). More and more people are saying that the US’s “Two Party system” is in fact just a single-party system with two branches, and lord knows the economy in the U.S. is managed, as well.
These same complaints are made of quite a few “two-party systems”–like the so-called “democratic” governments in the Caribbean.
China has a lot of problems, but exactly none of them has anything to do with “Communism”–and most of them are surprisingly like the sorts of problems one finds in the US, UK, and poorer Commonwealth countries.
Barbara, I hesitated for a moment, if I should throw a singular human being and/or his biography into the larger political context.
But then, that was the closest I ever got to the region mentally via local journalist’s curiosity/looks/research. … The larger “professional” security context both regional and beyond was much harder to grasp.
Semi irony alert, a bit of taking a cue and run with it. From my as always limited perspective. This was the most interesting part:
“You were just not supposed to because it was considered bad form. It was not a nice thing to do and I understand that from the standpoint of the president whose place you were taking,” Trump added.
Is there a full transcript?
I’m late to the party but, yes, this was a very informative post. Thank you.
Since China, like the USA, is a sovereign country that issues its own fiat currency, they owe it to themselves. In other words, it’s not a problem. This is per Modern Monetary Theory.
Thanks again for taking the time to write such an insightful and well thought out reply.
I wasn’t sure what you meant but I had a hunch you might mean that India could respond by trying to destabilize the region. After all, what a successful trade route needs above everything else is stability. Creating chaos might slow down its creation or force China to find an alternative route (the recent face off in the Doklam Plateu being an example).
But that in turn would amount to negative influence. It wouldn’t bring India and the central asian countries closer at all. Which would itself look like a sort of defeat for India.
I totally concur with the praise offered to this fine analysis by Brigadier Ali.
I would like to make one point, complimentary I believe, to his analysis.
The motivation for Britain to engage in “The Great Game”
was to protect “The Jewel in the Crown” from Russian domination:
no British “Raj” in south Asia,
no need for Britain to spend its resources defending/protecting it.
And, of course, Britain ultimately bankrupted itself trying to preserve its colonial empire.
Which brings up the question:
Just why is the US now emulating imperial England in worrying about who dominates South Asia?
I.e., with regard to
the question should be asked:
what on earth difference does it make to the US?
As for me, I respect the Muslims, the Hindus, and the Russians, and the Chinese.
If they want to dispute among themselves over power and control in Asia,
this is not a conflict the US should get involved in.
I think we should follow the advice (which I have modified by replacing, in the square brackets, his words with mine) of a certain dead white male slaveholder:
Brigadier Ali: with regard to your comment that
What do you think of the argument that
it is necessary for the US to maintain a military role in Afghanistan
to prevent/minimize future terrorist attacks against the US?
This is the argument that has been, and will continue to be,
used to argue for the US staying in Afghanistan.
And, above and beyond your personal opinion,
how can one offer a convincing argument against that argument?
In my view, there is absolutely no reason why a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan would attack the US homeland. US troops in Afghanistan are, of course, an entirely different matter – the Taliban will fight them as long as they choose to remain there.
However, other Muslims, including from among those already in the USA, may attack the US homeland or assets abroad because they believe that the US is fighting against Muslims.
It is pointless for anyone to bring up any “convincing argument” against US policy in Afghanistan or other Muslim countries where it is fighting. The official reason for this policy is just for public consumption; the real policy has to do with other matters, including the CIA’s goals.
There have been reports of helicopters flying in weapons to the small IS faction in Afghanistan, which is a rival to the Taliban. A typical short-sighted CIA gambit!
Getting defensive, eh!
I noted that my viewpoint on China being a source of global instability prospectively is not consensus. Forecasting is only probabilities not certainty and I provided the rationale for my thesis, unlike YOU.
Destabilization of the region is one alternative, and that is (as Gen. Ali points out, above) what the current policy is.
The alternative is if India’s government shifts, and ceases to perceive the US as a valuable or useful partner; that could arise if its fears reassess the US/Saudi alliance as more dangerous than economic cooperation with China.
China and Russia are focused on ending the regional wars and stabilizing Asia. If India begins to believe a stable region is more in its interest than one at war, then it could very well choose to stop cooperating in Afghanistan. China is currently working hard on developing relationships with Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It’s too early to tell how that will turn out, but the one thing they are NOT doing in any of those places is starting or contributing to wars.
Modi is a right-wing Hindu chauvinist who is still fuming over the rather meaningless losses suffered by the Indian military during the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, where China merely re-asserted control over the traditional limits of the territories in its possession (Xinjiang, Tibet). He is a reactionary currently riding a slowly building wave of economic and cultural advancement in India, and he’s not doing much to encourage or further any of that. He is also an international criminal (genocidaire), a fact which many Indians remain painfully aware of. The geopolitical climate that is currently emerging could yet affect India’s internal politics in significant ways, one of which is a big shift away from Modi’s narrow world view.
>>>Are you asserting that Xi’s faction is not corrupt?
In terms of the Chinese system, no, it is not corrupt.
You perceive it as corrupt because you’re a westerner, viewing it from outside.
Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is targeting things which Chinese view as corrupt. A high-ranking official who positions himself astride an agreement between a foreign corporate conglomerate and a local Chinese client is not corrupt; that’s his prerogative. A high-ranking official who recruits capitalists to stake claim to a segment of industry slated to undergo 1000% growth in 30 years is not corrupt; again, that is her prerogative.
A Chinese official who hires a bunch of thugs to bully and/or murder villagers until they vacate their traditional land-holdings so that one of his buddies can build another useless apartment building there is corrupt. A Chinese official who turns a blind eye to thugs who dig cooking oil out of sewer gutters, cook it and filter it, and then re-sell it as foodstuffs is corrupt. An official who takes a bribe to allow a company to add melamine to baby milk that winds up killing thousands of infants is corrupt.
The Chinese draw a clear ethical line between what they consider is and is not corrupt, and since it’s their country it’s their prerogative to decide what is and is not ethically out of bounds. You have no say in such matters–and even less so since most of the “incorrupt” behavior that is enriching the members of the Politburo and CCP is perfectly mirrored and emulated in the US, UK, France, and Germany. If you want to insist that Xi and his clique are corrupt, then you must also accuse the Clintons, Rockefellers, Bushes, Cheneys, Heinz-Kerrys, Bidens, Cruzes, Christies, and Kochs. While I would agree with you on in that accusation, I would do so based on a strongly principled application of the US Constitution that the vast majority of the US public would not accept.
>>>In my view, there is absolutely no reason why a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan would attack the US homeland.
Yap. On three different occasions in the 90s the Taliban offered to hand over Bin Laden, with the sole demand that the US first acknowledge the government it had established as the official government of Afghanistan and initiate formal state-to-state relations. The US refused on each occasion. The official communiques are all quite easy to view on-line.
There were no Afghanis on those planes; those were all Saudis, other Arabs, and Pakistanis. Nobody in Afghanistan was involved in the 9-11 attacks, and the Afghan government even offered to comply with US wishes, provided they were submitted on a state-to-state basis–which the US flatly refused. Bush issued an ultimatum to the fanatical barbarians, and when they didn’t comply he punished them. In the end, the only reason I can see for the invasion is as an attempt to install a government that would be more compliant with US wishes, and/or deny Chinese access to the resources those peoples sit atop.
My apologies to FB Ali.
I had meant to say I concurred with TTG’s comments in regard to FB Ali’s excellent essay.
America had been attacked and they had to do something.
There are roughly 500 million souls between Hindukush to the Mediterranean Sea. If they spend, on the average, a dollar a year on Chinese tades, that would be 500 million dollars a year. If they spend 100 dollars a year, on the average, that could be 50 billion a year.
The definition of corruption you have provided of land deals with favored developers with kickbacks also apply to several Xi faction appointees. There have been exposes of such deals on Chinese social media on Chen Miner the previous party chief at Guizhou, but he is a close associate of Xi and was appointed as Chongqing party chief last summer replacing Sun Zhengcai who was the youngest politburo member and accused of “ant party activities”. To assert that Xi and his faction are not corrupt is ludicrous. If you follow Chinese social media you can read many threads talking about Xi’s consolidation of power and the cult of Xi. These are not westerners but discussions among Chinese.
BTW, I have not made any claim that the political system in the US is not corrupt. In fact the entire campaign finance system with PACs especially after Citizens United disadvantages ordinary people.
The Taliban weren’t smart enough to turn the SOB over after his associates had killed 3,000 Americans? Too damn bad for the Taliban. Should we get out now? yes.
>>>The definition of corruption you have provided of land deals with favored developers with kickbacks also apply to several Xi faction appointees.
You need to re-read what I wrote. I specifically pointed out that such deals are part and parcel of how the Chinese system works, and are not considered corrupt within that system. Nor are such deals generally considered corrupt–from a legal standpoint–in the US or western Europe.
I think that if you do consider such behavior corrupt, your time would be better spent on discovering and exposing that behavior in The West rather than attempting to cast aspersions on the Chinese system. Then, perhaps, The West might actually have some sort of valuable moral example to offer to the rest of the world, rather than the largely empty rhetoric it broadcasts today.
the “‘Stans”, which are called “Aryans” in India, and yes, thos’re the same “Aryans” (though with a different pronunciation–“Are-yans”, vs “Arians”) that the Nazis appropriated for their own pseudoscientific ends.
Sorry, PA, I am not aware that the “Stans” played a dominant role for the Nazis. But if you like, help me out.
I am aware of the mythical racist theories of the Nazis though.
Below a really really superficial glimpse via Wikipedia. … In a nutshell it’s a pretty simplistic amalgamation of 19th century linguistic with racial theories.
ME Central Asia:
your response feels odd. But maybe I don’t understand where you are heading.
In Afghanistan, then US and Russia and Iran are on the same side, supporting the Seljuk remnant against the non-Seljuk
What parts would that be in your theoretical frame?
Yap. On three different occasions in the 90s the Taliban offered to hand over Bin Laden
In the 90’s? Can I have a link? A little more information on that?
For the record, I disliked the Taliban as female, but was Obama even in Afghanistan in the 90s?
Fred, I deeply disliked the Taliban* but was there ever a definitive prove that Bin Laden was the master mind behind 9/11?
Let me put it differently. If a terrorist group in arbitrarily Greece, Spain, GB, Germany, Norway planned and executed something equivalent to 9/11 would either country have been attacked by the US?
To the extend I paid attention, their demand for evidence seemed sensible at the time…
* as female I would object to be prevented from education, assuming I could watch my brother to be allowed to read and write, or forced to see the world around me through some type of material grid.
>those were all Saudis, other Arabs, and Pakistanis
They were all arabs,no pakistanis, all but 4 were Saudis. Interestingly 3/4 pilot hijackers were non-Saudis
I’m neither a SJW nor an anti-political corruption campaigner. I’m just an analyst that works at a financial firm. My firm has a decent sized stake in China and so we have a decent sized analytical team focused on China. The team has several Chinese analysts born and brought up in China and who live there. Unlike you, they believe that Xi’s “anti-corruption” drive, only targets those who are perceived as potential rivals to his faction and is a campaign to eliminate his political opponents and consolidate more power.
My personal analytical focus in China is their banking and shadow banking system. In general I research financialization of economies, credit & monetary systems, trade finance and sovereign finance. I began my career on an oil trading desk and hence my interest in the ME. My analytical thesis is that the probability of China being a source of great global instability prospectively is rising. This is a non-consensus judgment currently. This has nothing to do with advocacy as you may perceive it. The client of my analysis is our trading desks and they take mine along with other analysis to inform their trading decisions.
>>>My firm has a decent sized stake in China and so we have a decent sized analytical team focused on China. The team has several Chinese analysts born and brought up in China and who live there. Unlike you, they believe that Xi’s “anti-corruption” drive, only targets those who are perceived as potential rivals to his faction and is a campaign to eliminate his political opponents and consolidate more power.
Also unlike me, they work for an American investment firm, and they know full-well on which side their bread is buttered.
I have immense (!) personal experience with American corporate financial entities abroad. I am quite well aware how you and your people interact with “the locals.” The attitudes and habits of your industry’s overpaid “rank and file” is a significant part of the reason so many countries have shifted their estimation of American influence, these last few decades.
Or rather, to state it more bluntly: the locals are telling you what you want to hear.
First, I will uselessly warn you that this is precisely how the British Empire (which I also abhore) was undone. Secondly, I will point out the fact (!) that, in Asia, much as on Wall Street, employees dissemble in this manner ALL THE TIME. The only difference between the US and East Asia is that, unlike WASPs from the US, from the lowest of the poor to the highest paid employees, East Asians all consider such behavior as a condition of their employment. East Asians–like many other cultural regions of the world (the Colonel and TTG can back me up on this)–view the morals of the workplace solely in terms of a zero-sum game, where the mythically elevated “Protestant work-ethic” is entirely absent.
The logic is transparent, and infallible:
* They have a job that pays them huge sums.
* They don’t want to lose it.
* They tell their bosses what they suspect they want to hear, and refrain from telling him/her what she/he might find disgruntling.
As for how they gauge what their bosses want to hear, that too is easy: they watch CNN, CBS, NBC, maybe Fox, read the NYTimes, the WaPo, the Atlantic….
They tell you what you want to hear, and you chew it like a cow, and spit it up in a cud pre-masticated for public consumption in The West.
Without all the pseudo-academic crap about citations I personally know that the Taliban offered to shop bin Laden to the US. A lack of imagination and flexibility on our part prevented the deal. When you are busy trying to make the boss think you are more of a conformist badass than he then little that is new is possible. pl
Pacifica Advocate: With regard to your original statement that
I have taken a look at the link you then provided:
I recognize the possible truth of your claim that
what that link points to has been changed from an earlier version.
However, looking at that page as it currently exists,
it is hard to find anything that supports your position.
In particular, that page provides links to 32 (!) documents.
Which, if any, pray tell, support your claims?
At the bottom of the page,
labeled “New Document: State Department Report, “U.S. Engagement with the Taliban on Usama Bin Laden,” Secret, Circa July 16, 2001, 9 pp.”
there is a link to
which in turn points to a 9-page PDF:
That sounded promising, so I read it in its entirety.
I could find nothing which supported your claims.
But possibly I overlooked something.
So, my questions to you, PA, are:
Is there something in that PDF that supports your claims?
Is there something in one of those 32 documents link to from the main index that supports your claims?
If so, which one(s)?
This is clearly an important issue,
so I hope you can provide clarity and specificity on it.
If you want to get to the truth of the matter, just see Col Lang’s post at 2:51 PM, 12 Nov, below.
As Col. Lang noted in another thread, you sure are pretentious and I will add, very jealous. Living on social security in Taiwan, eh?? Couldn’t make much of your life and bitter about it?? It shows.
“They tell you what you want to hear..” Nonsense. You have no idea how performance driven our business is.
Thank you Brigadier FB Ali for giving us an independent and forthright analysis of the new great game unleashed by USA, sucking in India to a dirty and dangerous role in the region, who are without the economic or political strength to do so in the region. In the bargain USA will all but lose a faithful ally Pakistan. A new alliance will be a foregone conclusion consisting of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan. It makes the world a far more dangerous area unless sense prevails and there is mutual and sensible agreement for all to have their share of the pie, to the riches Central Asia. Who wins at the end is a matter for all the powers in the region to decide, particularly USA, Russia and China.
“Without all the pseudo-academic crap about citations
I personally know that the Taliban offered to shop bin Laden to the US.”
Is it possible for you to tell us when that occurred?
Under whose administration was this offer made?
“A lack of imagination and flexibility on our part prevented the deal.”
Wait a minute.
If the offer was made during the Clinton administration,
there was another little factor that surely would have opposed, and likely prevented, such a deal,
namely, the de facto co-president Hillary Clinton.
Would she have okayed a deal
which did not change the way the Taliban treated women?
Would the Taliban have accepted a deal
which did mandate such change?
Both seemed implacable in their views,
and to have the ability to veto
a “bin Laden for recognition and aid” deal.
But beyond Hillary,
there was (and is) the overall power of the feminist movement in the U.S.
As evidence of the power of the feminist movement,
and its interest in (actually, obsession with) Afghan women,
see Senate Resolution 68, passed on 1999-05-05 with unanimous consent!:
S.Res.68 – A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the treatment of women and girls by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The relevant part of that resolution (emphasis added) is:
I am firmly convinced the obsession of American feminists with Afghanistan
is the immediate cause of our long-term involvement there.
Now precisely why American feminists are so obsessed with Afghanistan,
that is another question, and a good one.
How much harm are they willing to do to the U.S.
for the questionable goal of achieving feminist goals in Afghanistan?
“Is it possible for you to tell us when that occurred?” Within a year before 9/11. I don’t think feminism had anything to do with it. We had been subsidizing the Taliban suppression of opium production. The refusal was all about bureaucratic inertia and ass covering in case something went wrong. Tell me, Keith, what would we have done with them? Article .45? pl.
It is not just the feminists. The US government has always claimed to know and do what’s best for the Afghans.
It appears no one in the USA (barring a few people here and there, including our host) have a clue about what the past history and present situation of the people of Afghanistan is.
Then there is the US establishment, which uses this claptrap about defending women’s rights etc as a means of keeping everyone happy while it pursues its own agenda there.
Is it such a surprise that Afghanistan has been such a total mess for the last 50 years or so?