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Friday, May 22, 2009

Pepe Escobar: Slouching towards balkanization

Happy Days are here again. It's as if the George W Bush years in Afghanistan had never left, with Washington still wallowing in an intelligence-free environment. A surge is coming to town - just like the one General David Petraeus engineered in Iraq. A Bush proconsul (Zalmay Khalilzad) wants to run the show - again. A hardliner (General Stanley McChrystal) is getting ready to terrorize any Pashtun in sight. A new mega-base is sprouting in the "desert of death" in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. And as in Bush time, no one's talking pipeline, or the (invisible) greatest regional prize: Pakistani Balochistan.

Bush's "global war on terror" (GWOT) may have been rebranded, under new management, "overseas contingency operation" (OCO). But history in Afghanistan continues to repeat itself as farce - or as an opium bad trip. Zalmay does PipelineistanIt was hardly stunning that Bush's pet Afghan hound Zalmay Khalilzad, a US citizen born in Afghanistan and former envoy to both Afghanistan and Iraq, would now be angling - via his pal President Hamid Karzai, who tried to get President Barack Obama on board - to become the unelected CEO of Afghanistan, or a sort of "unofficial" prime minister. Any Afghan that believes the West is not behind this racket must be a stone statue in the Hindu Kush.

Karzai has always denied - including to this correspondent - he was a minor Unocal employee plus entertainer of Taliban delegations visiting Houston and Washington in 1997. Khalilzad's relationship is less murky: he was a certified Unocal advisor. The "prize" - from president Bill Clinton to Bush and now Obama - is still the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline, then known as TAP and now known as TAPI, with the inclusion of India (See Pipelineistan goes Af-Pak Asia Times Online, May 14, 2009). Khalilzad was a key player in setting up the Afghanistan-America Foundation in the mid-1990s, a lobby that during the Clinton administration became very influential because of its spinning of TAP, hyped as a key pipeline to bypass both Iran and Russia
The geopolitical secret is not to antagonize but to court them, and offer them total autonomy. In an evolving strategy of balkanization of Pakistan - increasingly popular in quite a few Washington foreign policy circles - Balochistan has very attractive assets: natural wealth, scarce population, and a port, Gwadar, which is key for Washington's New Great Game in Eurasia Pipelineistan plans. And it's not only oil and gas. Reko Diq (literally "sandy peak") is a small town in the deserted Chaghi district, 70 kilometers northwest of already remote Nok Kundi, near the Iran and Afghanistan borders. Reko Diq is the home of the world's largest gold and copper reserves, reportedly worth more than US$65 billion. According to the Pakistani daily Dawn, these reserves are believed to be even bigger than similar ones in Iran and Chile. Reko Diq is being explored by the Australian Tethyan Copper Company (75%), which sold 19.95% of its stake to Chile's Antofagasta Minerals. Only 25% is allocated to the Balochistan Development Authority. Tethyan is jointly controlled by Barrick Gold and Antofagasta Minerals. The Balochis had to have a serious beef about that: they denounce that their natural wealth has been sold by Islamabad to "Zionist-controlled regimes".


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