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The current curious alignments in Central and Southwestern Asia may best be understood as the result of a number of sometimes competing, sometimes complementary rivalries and processes that do not lend themselves to simplistic analysis.

The Cast in Afghanistan

The Taliban

they are, first and foremost, a Pushtun movement, almost entirely drawn from that ethnic group. Despite their purported origins among religious students, their vision of Islam is not that of trained scholars, but of traditional villagers, with a patriarchal and rather xenophobic view of the world. The Taliban are not an Islamist movement in the usual sense, but a Pushtun traditionalist movement seeking to restore a romanticized version of the tribal village.

The Pashtuns - 42%
The Tajiks - 27%  
The Hazara - 9%
The Uzbeks -9%
The Aimak - 4%
The Turkmen - 3%
The Baloch - 2%
Others - 4%

Is this a conflict between secularists and religious fundamentalists?

The Taliban are usually described in Western media reports as "Islamic fundamentalists." Yet no neighboring country is more opposed to their progress at the moment than Iran, while the United States has been studiously quiet about their successes. In fact, Iran has found itself part of an operational anti-Taliban alliance with Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, all of whose governments were, just a few years ago, boasting that they were the last bastion of secularism against an Iranian thrust into Central Asia. And one country, Turkmenistan, which is every bit as secularist as its Central Asian neighbors, is much more tolerant of the advances of the Taliban and has not joined the curious alliance which includes both Russia and Iran.

Who are the warlords and how have they become so powerful?

In parliament, 65 percent [of the lawmakers] are warlords. There is no question. A few of them are ordinary Afghans or politicians. But most of them are warlords. They are much stronger than they were six years ago or five years ago, because now they get more money, more security from the international community, more bodyguards. They get stronger and stronger.

The Cast in Pakistan

The Punjabis - 45%
The Pashtun - 16%
The Sindhis - 14%
The Sariaki - 8%
The Mohajirs - 8%
The Balochis - 4%
Others - 6%

Why did/does Pakistan support the Taliban in Afghanistan?

...one of the nightmares of Pakistan has always been the danger of ethnic division and disintegration, and one of the most potent movements challenging the unity of the state has been the old Pushtun dream of a "Pushtunistan" uniting the Pushtun regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Why then would Pakistan back a Pushtun movement?

...there were indications of second thoughts by Benazir Bhutto's government before her fall. But clearly, one reason was the desire by Pakistan to see a unified Afghanistan, which would permit a reopening of the Salang Road to Central Asia, allowing Pakistan to become an outlet for Central Asian commerce and, perhaps, for a proposed natural-gas pipeline from Turkmenistan. Those who see tacit U.S. toleration for the Taliban, at least initially, would suggest it was for the same reason: it is in the U.S. interest to encourage a reunited Afghanistan, because it could make Pakistan an alternative (to Iran) as an outlet for Central Asian oil, gas and trade.

Other Players in the Region not to be forgotten
Russia
China
India
The 'Stans
Iran
Turkey
United States
Saudi Arabia (via al Qaeda / OBL)

Interest in Oil and Gas

HR 1152, The Silk Road Act of 1999, SEC 499B(c) [p.9]

ACTIVITIES SUPPORTED.—Activities that may
4 be supported by programs under subsection (b) include
5 promoting actively the participation of United States com-
6 panies and investors in the planning, financing, and con-
7 struction of infrastructure for communications, transpor-
8 tation, including air transportation, and energy and trade,
9 including highways, railroads, port facilities, shipping,
10 banking, insurance, telecommunications networks, and gas
11 and oil pipelines
.

Silk Road Strategy Act of 2006, S. 2749, introduced by Senator Brownback

SEC 101(e) Development of Infrastructure- It is the policy of the United States to aid in the development of infrastructure in Central Asia and the South Caucasus for energy and energy transit, communications, transportation, and health and human services.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 201(b)(5) The Governments of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which have contributed to United States military deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo, are key United States partners in diversification of energy sources and transportation routes, enhancing and contributing to United States energy and security interests.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 201(b)(7)In recognition of security cooperation from the Government of Kazakhstan, including deployment of the Kazakhstan contingent in Iraq, progress toward a market economy, United States business participation in energy and infrastructure development in Kazakhstan, and an ongoing Government of Kazakhstan policy of ethnic and religious tolerance, a relationship with Kazakhstan is of high importance to the United States.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 201(b)(13)The pressing need for diversification of energy resources makes access to Central Asian and Caspian Sea oil and gas resources a high energy security priority of the United States.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 202(2)Stability, democratic development, protection of property rights, including mineral rights, and rule of law in countries with valuable energy resources and infrastructure, including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, are important to safeguard United States energy security.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 202(3)Preventing any other country from establishing a monopoly on energy resources or energy transport infrastructure in the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus that may restrict United States access to energy resources is important to the energy security of the United States and other consumers of energy in the developed and developing world.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 202(4)Extensive trade relations with the energy-producing and energy-transporting states of Central Asia and the South Caucasus will enhance United States access to diversified energy resources, thereby strengthening United States energy security, as well as that of energy consumers in developed and developing countries.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(b)(5)Calling on the Governments of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to resolve the outstanding debt issue, which is hindering cross-border cooperation and development, and to jointly develop the Kyapaz (Serdar) disputed offshore oil field, which would contribute to the peace and stability of the Caspian region.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(b)(7)Assistance in the removal of legal and institutional barriers to continental and regional trade and harmonization of border and tariff regimes, including improved mechanisms for transit through Pakistan to Afghanistan and other countries in Central Asia, and the recognition of Turkey as a crucial energy transit and consumer country, vital for the successful development of large-scale energy infrastructure and cross-border projects.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(d)(2)Promotion of the development of the Trans-Caspian Oil and Gas Pipelines (TCOP/TCGP), while encouraging the Governments of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and particularly Turkmenistan to improve their business climate and investor confidence by fully disclosing their internationally audited hydrocarbon reserves.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(d)(7)In conjunction with increasing transparency of energy-related payments and revenues by the governments of, and companies in, the Central Asia and South Caucasus region, encouraging geological data on all energy resources and assets in the region to be made available to better understand remaining reserves, which would stabilize the global energy markets.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(e)(2)Support for activities that promote the participation of United States businesses and investors in the planning, financing, and construction of infrastructure for communications, transportation, and trade, including aviation, highways, railroads, port facilities, shipping, banking, insurance, telecommunications networks, and gas and oil pipelines.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(e)(4)Support for the addition of a crucial rail link in Kazakhstan from Almaty to the port city of Aktau, which would allow tankers and cargo ships to transport crude oil and other goods across the Caspian to Baku, and from there to Europe through Georgia and Turkey; this east-west corridor, which is already partially financially supported by the European Union within the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) initiative, would greatly increase and accelerate cargo and container traffic across the Caspian Sea and from the greater Central Asian region.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(e)(5)Support for the construction of energy transit infrastructure, including the Trans-Caspian Oil Pipeline (TCOP) in Kazakhstan, from Aktau to Baku, which would carry oil from the Karachaganak field, and the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP), from Turkmenistan or neighboring areas of Kazakhstan to Baku, which would carry natural gas.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
SEC 203(g)Additional Mechanisms for Implementation of This Act and Achievement of Its Objectives- It is the sense of Congress that the United States Government should, for the purpose of further implementing, and achieving the objectives of, this Act, promote and support establishment of one or more of the following:
(2)A specialized private sector energy consultancy, tasked with coordinating business community projects and promoting investment opportunities in trade as well as infrastructure for the production, transportation, and refining of energy and petrochemicals.
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Secularists vs. Fundamentalists
Tribe vs. Tribe
Ethnicity vs. Ethnicity
Warlords vs. Their Own People
Oil and Gas Companies vs. Everybody

I've seen a lot of people here say that oil and gas has nothing to do with the conflict in Central Asia or why we are there. Brownback's bill quoted above did not pass in 2006. Some of the parts I didn't quote included lots of neoliberal "free-trade" shock doctrine malarky about privatization and deregulation. But I have to wonder if the bill didn't spell out a little too clearly what our interests in that region actually are.  After all, it's hard to claim that we're doing it for the women, or for the children, or because of 9/11, or for democracy when we've explained exactly how important the oil and the gas and the transport routes are.  Still, I agree with the quote above -- there's not one reason. It's an overlapping mosaic of reasons.

Given how much we like nice, tidy, simple explanations, that's not very satisfying.

Source quoted but not linked above
Dunn, Michael Collins. Great Games and Small: Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the New Geo-Politics of Southwest Asia, Journal of Middle East Policy, Vol. 5, 1997, p.143.

Originally posted to LibrErica on Thu Dec 03, 2009 at 01:26 PM PST.

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