Political Economy of Occupation

The question is why at this point of time when American forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, they are so anxious about the region’s economic development and well being of its people? U.S. business giants, investment firms and construction industries are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. The Silk Road will use their expertise in exploring and transporting natural resources from Central Asia to the American shores.

Imperialism has a brand new outfit these days with the same centuries old mission. Colonialism came to India to do business and trade in 1612 in the form of the East India Companyand the British army followed to invade the whole subcontinent later. In the 21stCentury, however, the American military came first in Afghanistan and its multinationals are now planning to build a giant network of economic infrastructure under the rubric of transforming the centuries old trade route to a modern day Silk Road, as they call it.

The process has reversed historically but intentions are the same: explore and exploit natural resources including oil and gas, build a delivery system to the imperialist center, search for new business and trade ventures and establish economic markets for its multinationals. All of this, however, is under the guise of economic emancipation for the region that includes South Asia and Central Asia which is expected to have a huge impact on trade and business in the Middle East, Far East and Europe.

This gigantic network of roads, railway lines, oil and gas pipelines and electricity power-lines will assumingly connect Afghanistan to Central Asia on one side and to Pakistan and India on the other. The project, as they claim, would transform the Afghan economy and connect it to the whole world one day.

The question is why at this point of time when American forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, they are so anxious about the region’s economic development and well being of its people? Why this change of heart after abandoning Afghanistan for a decade following the Soviet defeat? And finally, why not leave the economic emancipation to the regional powers instead of the American Empire itself taking a leading role in the venture?

It was clear from the beginning that the military invasion of Afghanistanthat began after 9/11 was not an end itself. It actually openedup the initial path leading to a longer, profound and deep American presence in the region economically and politically supported by its military might.

The process began just after the American invasion. As it was announced, the overall goal for the first UN Donor Conference held in Tokyo in 2002 was to have stability and end the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. By the time the donor group met in London in 2006 the focus was more on security as the U.S. allies terribly failed to achieve security and stability after a four year military campaign. When the group met in Kabul in 2010 the members watched the Afghan ministers complaining that only one third of the allocated $40 billion funds reached the identified projects in Afghanistan.

For the last 10 years there have been several paradigmatic shifts in American strategies on how to deal with the Afghan quagmire. More recently, the American administration has been searching for an exit plan that can also provide a face saving strategy to pull out from Afghanistan by 2014 as announced by the Obama administration.

Nation building was the first top most strategy which ultimately disappeared with the untimely death of its inventor Richard Holbrook. Although nation building became the magic mantra for USAID for some time that devoted its funds and efforts to develop agricultural infrastructure in Afghanistan, President Obama does not leave a chance now to pronounce the strategy dead.

The new strategy supported by Secretary Hillary Clinton focused on exploiting natural resources of Afghanistan where unexplored resources including gas, metals, and hydroelectric power are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars. The process, however would take a substantially long time and a huge amount of investment which the current U.S. economy and political pressures would not allow.

With this backdrop of half-cooked development strategies, the most recent initiative became a transnational, global, economic and practical plan to establish a sophisticated infrastructure of transnational roads and railway lines which will transport oil, gas and goods from Central Asia to the world through Afghanistan.

It is transnational in the sense that China, Iran and the U.S. are expected to work collaboratively to connect Afghanistan in the north and India and Pakistan will work together to bring gas from Turkmenistan to their cities. They have already signed an agreement on the proposed Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India Pipeline (TAPI). Further routes will open avenues of trade through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, to the Middle East, and Europe.

The plan will assumingly revitalize the centuries old Silk Route that will connect Afghanistan to the Middle East, Far East, South Asia and Central Asia. This trade and transport based plan intends to turn around economy of Afghanistan using its geopolitical location. Supported by the newly installed trade and tariff regime, the project will ease transborder transportation in the region which is the main cause of delays.

On the financial front, America will not be alone in making investment in the project this time as Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, China, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Islamic Development Banks, all are onboard to make investment in the project. Besides it global approach and regional partnership, the vision of creating a huge infrastructure of transit system to revitalize the Afghan economy seems to be as ambitious as complex.

Coming back to the fundamental question: what America has to gain from this new initiative? First the U.S. business giants, investment firms and construction industries are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. The project will not only involve them in construction of railway and road system, it will also use their expertise in exploring and transporting natural resources from Central Asia to the American shores.

Hillary Clinton reiterated in a ministerial meeting on the project last month how the project will benefit South Asian countries: “Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan’s and India’s growing energy needs and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond.”

However, she never talks about what America will gain from the deal? In fact,the American dream of building oil and gas pipelines is not new. It was well and alive when the Taliban were ruling Afghanistan and talks were underway between UNOCAL, the American oil company and the Taliban government to build a pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan. A Talibandelegation also visited America to further negotiate the project.

Ahmed Rashid in his book “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002)” estimates huge reserves of oil and gas in the region. To him Kazakhstan has the largest unexploited oil fields in the world with an estimated 100 billion barrels of oil and 85 trillion cubic feet of gas on its Caspian Sea shores. Turkmenistan also has proven reserves of oil and gas with the seventh largest gas reserves in the world.

It is this oil and gas wealth which will make the Central Asia the next center of political wars and rivalries in the near future. There have been several attempts to develop a delivery network for these natural resources but now the U.S.presence in the vicinity of Central Asia offers a rare opportunity to materialize its plans.

Despite lofty claims to uplift the Afghan economy through the glorious project, no one in the group knows how the common men and women of Afghanistan will benefit from the New Silk Road. They can only predict that the trickle down theory will magically change the life of people on the streets of Kabul and Herat but that is not the real goal anyway.

The new strategy also lacks a political strategy to implement the plan which could be a major threat to the project. Without a long term peace in the country establishing a delivery network of roads and railway lines is only a wishful thinking. The U.S. allies have to think about establishing long term peace in Afghanistan before even thinking about creating a safe and secure route to deliver oil and gas to their shores.

American mass media, educational institutions, researchers, think tanks and multinationals, all are busy in providing new fuel to this initiative with a full force. Political and diplomatic activities on a global level are diverted toward providing financial and moral justifications for the New Silk Road campaign.

All the carefully crafted announcements, press releases and agreements on the project talk about a new era of economic development in Afghanistan but they never mention the underlying objective of the U.S. grand plan.

Welcome to the “New Silk Road” to neo-imperialism in 2011!

(From Viewpoint Online)

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