The War on Terror – America’s ‘Great Game’, and Pakistan’s ‘Extremists’ Card
“Whoever controls the flow of Persian Gulf oil has a stranglehold not only on our economy but also on the other countries of the world as well.
Dick Cheney, 1990 (testimony to the US Senate Armed Forces Committee)
This paper makes five points:
1. The war on Afghanistan was started primarily as preparation for an attack on Iraq. Bush and his closest advisors (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz) wanted to invade Iraq within hours of the attack on World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 but the final decision was to attack Afghanistan because the public opinion would not have supported an immediate attack on Iraq.
2. It is a tragedy that Pakistan became a part of this great deception and now faces the worst insurgency of its history in its northern areas. Pakistan’s rulers have every reason for the so-called war on terror to continue because, (a) it is not in their interests to eliminate Taliban, and (b) it is too lucrative a war to end. The current Republican administration has to demonstrate success here because Iraq being a complete disaster, its credibility and the next elections are at stake if it does not succeed here. Sandwiched between the Bush administration and the militants up north, Pakistan could end paying a heavier price if it continues to slavishly follow the US policies.
3. It is incorrect and illogical to assert that Pakistan did or does not have strategic choices or room to maneuver. (See article: http://www.stateofpakistan.org/?p=60#more-60 ).
4. The whole argument about extremists versus moderates or a takeover by Islamists is as ridiculous as the “strategic depth” theory was. The latter destroyed Pakistan’s civil society and the former may lead to the breakup of Pakistan itself or a complete alienation of the NWFP and Baluchistan to the point they would become largely ungovernable.Equally importantly, most of Pakistan’s extremists are the creation of the establishment and its agencies. They represent a tiny segment of the population and can be isolated if there is no support from inside the establishment.
5. The establishment’s use of the extremists card and the involvement of its senior members has been highly damaging for Pakistan to the extent that it has come to be identified as a nuclear-armed failed state that is at risk from a takeover by the militants. The real danger is from the megalomaniacs within the establishment, who dreamt of ‘strategic depth’. They cannot be eliminated by a military regime. (See article: http://www.stateofpakistan.org/?p=82 ).
Let me start with a quote from an article by Samuel Huntington, published by International Security in its summer 1981 issue:
“…. the function of the ‘soviet threat’: you may have to sell intervention or other military action in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has done since the Truman Doctrine.”
Students of international politics should be quite familiar with Truman Doctrine. It simply means that the US had used smokescreens to justify its military interventions so that the real objectives were hidden. That had been a typical function of ‘the soviet threat’ in its military interventions during the cold war. One can say that nothing has changed much except that the ‘soviet threat’ has been replaced by the ‘war on terror’ in the new millennium. With that caveat, let us discuss the ‘war on terror’, its background, and its implications for Pakistan.
The War for Oil
Pakistan faces a serious shortage of energy and has been desperately seeking to conclude an agreement with Iran to build a gas pipeline. It is unfortunate that no attention was paid to formulate a comprehensive energy security policy since 1999 with the result that Pakistan faces a serious electricity shortage. It is even more surprising that a government so close to the United States did not pay much attention to the energy until recently. Energy security is one of the most important issues of global power play.
There is now little room for debate that Bush administration’s war on terror is really about oil especially after Alan Greenspan’s disclosure in his recently published book that Iraq war is about oil, although he has tried to soften the blow to the Bush administration in subsequent interviews. But how does it relate to the specific actions of the administration in the aftermath of 9/11.
In the White House on September 11, 2001
The most damning evidence comes from no less than the man who was in charge of the White House on 9/11 – Richard Clarke, and his account of what happened in his meeting with President Bush on September 12, 2001 in the White House. He was President Bush’s top adviser on counter-terrorism and in-charge of the situation room in the White House on September 11, 2001. The following is a quote from the official transcript of CBS News of March 21, 2004:
[“Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq and we all said … no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it. “Initially, I thought when he said, ‘There aren’t enough targets in– in Afghanistan,’ I thought he was joking.“I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we’ve looked at this issue for years. For years we’ve looked and there’s just no connection.”
Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.“The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, ‘I want you to find whether Iraq did this.’ Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.”]. In his book, Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke has described in detail how the Bush Administration was not interested in attacking Afghanistan but decided to do so due to public opinion considerations. This has been so well documented that it hardly needs a detailed explanation.
However, for the benefit of those who have not followed the developments closely, it is useful to recount some key events.
On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001].
Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ [ABC News, 9/17/2001].
On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/19/2002].
Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 01/10/2002].
Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.”[US President, 3/18/2002].
The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002]. In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Within a few weeks of 9/11, the Bush White House had moved on to the real agenda.
Cheney’s Energy Task Force
The Bush administration started formulating its strategy on the Middle East oil immediately after assuming power in 2001. The most powerful man in the Bush administration, Dick Cheney led this project. On his 10th day as vice president, Dick Cheney established a secret “Energy Task Force,” formally known as the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), for the purpose of making recommendations to President Bush on energy policy. Cheney is an expert of oil and a former CEO of Halliburton, which is one of the largest oil services companies in the world and the largest constructor of defense bases as well. The task force formally convened 10 times between January 29, 2001, and May 16, 2001.
Two private organizations in the US; Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in federal court in December 2001 to obtain the release of all of the task force records. A federal appeals court ruled in July 2003 that Cheney must supply all the information requested in the lawsuit. Cheney filed an appeal against this ruling in the US Supreme Court.The full report has not been released yet as the lawsuit continues in the US Supreme Court. In July 2003, after two years of legal action through the Freedom of Information Act, Judicial Watch was finally able to obtain some documents from the task force.
The key findings can be summarized as follows:·
- By 2020, Gulf oil producers are projected to supply between 54 and 67 percent of the world’s oil. Thus, the global economy will almost certainly continue to depend on the supply of oil from Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members, particularly in the Gulf.This region will remain vital to US interests.
- The world’s proven crude oil reserves remain relatively concentrated. The Middle East holds 664 billion barrels, or roughly two-thirds of the world’s conventional oil reserves.
- China is a critical player in global energy security issues, since its net oil imports are expected to rise from approximately 1 million barrels of oil per day at present to possibly 5 to 8 million barrels of oil per day by 2020, with a predominant (over 70 percent) dependence on Middle East imports.
- By any estimation, Middle East producers will remain central to world oil security.
Just to make the point about future oil reserves, another reference might be useful for the reader. The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a think tank whose board includes James Woolsey, a former CIA chief – had concluded in a separate study in 2002:
“Because reserves in non-Middle East countries are being depleted more rapidly than those of Middle East producers, their overall reserves-to-production ratio — an indicator of how long proven reserves would last at current production rates — is much lower (about 15 years for non-Middle East and 80 years for Middle East producers). If production continues at today’s rate, many of the largest producers in 2002, such as Russia, Mexico, U.S., Norway, China and Brazil will cease to be relevant players in the oil market in less than two decades. At that point, the Middle East will be the only major reservoir of abundant crude oil. In fact, Middle Eastern producers will have a much bigger piece of the pie than ever before.”
An inside view on Saudi oil reserves
A key member of the task force was Matthew Simmons, energy adviser to President Bush. He is a billionaire investment banker with specialization in the energy industry and runs his own firm. According to Mathew [Twilight in the Desert, 2006], Saudi oil reserves are deliberately overstated. The last time ARAMCO reported its field-by-field reserves was in 1977 at 100 billion barrels. This figure jumped to 150 billion in 1979 and to 250 billion in 1988. Thus, ARAMCO boosted its proven oil reserves by almost 150 percent in the first nine years after Saudi Arabia assumed full control of the company after the Iranian revolution in 1979. He argues that almost all Saudi oil output comes from seven giant and super-giant fields.
All the seven giant fields [Ghawar, Abqaiq, Safaniya, Berri, Zuluf, Marjan and Shaybah] are located in the Eastern Provinces. These fields were found four to six decades ago and have been producing almost that long. Only Shaybah among the major oil producing fields came on-stream within the last 10 years, and it was discovered in 1967. The rest of the major fields are mature, and as they age further each year, they present new challenges to the engineers and managers charged with sustaining their high production rates. As time goes on, the ratio of water to oil in these underground fields rises to the point where further oil extraction becomes difficult, if not impossible. To top it all off, there is very little reason to assume that future Saudi exploration will result in the discovery of new fields to replace those now in decline. Although there are many who have disagreed with his conclusions about the peak oil theory, Matthew had direct access to a lot of privileged information about Saudi fields. He is unique in that he is the only insider in the Bush’s circles to talk openly about this, perhaps because he is a businessman and he wanted to sell his book.
Matthew Simmon’s views were endorsed by Bill Clinton. In a [June 17, 2006] speech to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) convention in Little Rock, Arkansas, Clinton said that at current consumption rates the world could be out of “recoverable oil” in 35 to 50 years, elevating the risk of “resource-based wars of all kinds.” During a question-and-answer period, Clinton was asked if he believed that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates had exaggerated claims about their proven oil reserves. The four Persian Gulf states are among the six nations with the greatest listed proven reserves. “I don’t know if they’re overstating their reserves,” Clinton replied. He added, “everybody I know who knows anything about this business believes it’ll be $100 a barrel in five years or less.”
At the AAN convention, Clinton delivered a detailed scientific explanation of some of the problems with the Ghawar oil reservoir.Clinton echoed Simmons’s claim that massive amounts of water have been injected into Ghawar to maintain oil pressure. “It implies less oil than we previously thought,” Clinton said.
Iran’s rise as a global energy player
On the other hand, Iran’s oil reserves increased by 47% since 1995. It has the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Russia respectively. Its combined oil and gas reserves make it the second largest hydrocarbon power after Saudi Arabia. Iran is producing only a small share of its gas reserves, about 105 billion cubic meters per year. Between 1993 and 1999, it doubled its natural gas production.
Iran is one of the few major gas producers capable of supplying much larger amounts of natural gas in the future and is becoming a major supplier of oil and natural gas to China, India, and Japan. Iran is building strategic energy alliances with China and India and has signed multi-billion dollar long-term supply agreements with Chinese and Indian oil and gas companies.
Additional source of anxiety for the US has been that nearly 90% of Saudi oil is produced in the shia-dominated eastern provinces; just across from Iranian shores. Seven Oil fields (within a few thousand square miles area) in the Eastern Provinces produce 90% of Saudi Oil and just two produce 75%. One oil field, Ghawar alone accounts for 50% of all Saudi production. This has not changed in the last thirty years. Given the importance of Iraq and Iran, it was considered the most opportune time to occupy Iraq and tighten the circle against Iran in the name of the war on terror. But what about Afghanistan?
Pakistan, strategic depth, and power games
Here it might be instructive to reproduce a part of a Carnegie Endowment July 2007 paper, Rethinking Western Strategies Toward Pakistan, written by a French former diplomat, Frédéric Grare:
“The risk is real that an Afghanistan totally or partly controlled by the Taliban could again become a sanctuary for international terrorists. For the United States, the problem goes beyond Afghanistan’s stability alone. Central Asia was included in the portfolio of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, with the idea of working toward the integration of Central Asia with South Asia through energy corridors and trade. A return of the Taliban would not only spoil the reconstruction effort of Afghanistan and threaten US and European lives but would also put an end to any hope of integrating Central Asia with South Asia, pushing it instead into closer relations with Russia. Islamabad’s position vis-à-vis Washington is further strengthened by the Bush administration’s tense relationship with Tehran and Uzbekistan. If the United States were to normalize its relations with Iran, that could create a different situation [emphasis added]. It might allow, for example, ISAF supplies to transit through Iran. Competition between Tehran and Islamabad would undoubtedly make Islamabad more susceptible to US pressure. But Washington and Tehran are unlikely to reconcile soon. An attempt at normalization would conflict with other major US interests (regardless of which party holds the majority in the United States) such as preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or protecting Israel. There is also no guarantee that Iran would not reject proposals for rapprochement, especially because it is in a position of relative regional strength thanks to the US failure in Iraq. In the short term, Pakistan has been able to take advantage of the conflict in Afghanistan to maintain its leverage with the West [emphasis added].”
One may be accused of cynicism but it appears that perpetuation of conflict in Afghanistan with periodic demonstration of threats from the ‘Islamists’ is in Islamabad’s interest. But this is a dangerous game; a game that may be getting out of hand. Islamabad has played on the Western fears of a takeover by the Islamists to (a) to consolidate its hold on power and (b) to indulge in an arms shopping spree that has broken all previous records. While the power argument does not need much elaboration, it is a matter of official record that Pakistan, with purchases of $5.1 billion, was not only the largest arms buyer in the developing world in 2006 but also set a new record in that its arms purchases in 2006 exceeded the total value of the arms delivered to her – $4.6 billion – during the eight-year period from 1999-2006.
The biggest part of the Military Inc. is no longer the local businesses but the armaments purchases that exceeded the total federal spending on highways, power generation, higher education, and health combined, in 2006. Seasoned US diplomats do understand that Islamabad is playing the ‘extremists’ card.
Here is what Marvin G. Weinbaum [who served as an analyst on Pakistan and Afghanistan in the State Department from 1999 to 2003] said in response to a question [October 3, 2007] from the Council on Foreign Relations, a conservative think tank:
Question: … what percentage of Pakistanis are “extremists”?
Answer: “Not a great many, and we should make the distinction between the fact that Pakistanis may want sharia law. They are very concerned about their religion and they don’t see a separation between church and state or anything like that; they are not seculars. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean they buy into the kind of behavior that we associate with the extremists, with the militants. But it also means they are susceptible to those appeals if there are no other appeals of a more moderate nature, and while the mainstream parties have been sidelined that has been the case. Those who lost their respect for the military, and this has been increasing, have seen the religious parties and some of these religious groups as standing up for them, even though they might deplore the kind of tactics they use.”
Political solution; time is running out for games
Criticizing Zia-ul-Haq’s Afghanistan policy, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wrote [If I am assassinated] in 1978:
“The military regime talks tough one day and soft the next day. This is to be expected, it is operating without a mooring. At this rate, the repercussions are bound to spill over into Iran and India. Just as there are Muslims on both sides of the Durand line, so also there are Muslims in Iran and India. Wrong and faulty steps accompanied by defective judgment will turn the light music of the Horn of Africa into a symphony.”
This was rather subtle for Zia to grasp. Pakistan has burnt its fingers in the great game before. The General [Musharraf] may wish to read this book if he wants to expand his knowledge beyond what his elder brother told him about Bhutto and learn a bit about how cavalier decisions of the past military rulers led to subsequent disasters. With now even Karzai willing to talk to Talibans, there is only one sensible option left for Islamabad. It must seek a political solution. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Taliban need a grand reconciliation before it is too late.
Note: Readers who wish to find out more, can also read BBC report of March 17, 2005: Secret US plans for Iraq’s oil: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/4354269.stm