by M B Naqvi
(IPS) KARACHI --
the speculation about 'After Iraq, Who?' has served to hide a bigger story. This is the renewal of the 19th century struggle for power in much of Asia between an Imperial Britain and Tsarist Russia, known then as the "Great Game," although many thought that demise of the Soviets meant that one side had finally lost.
The game is still alive, though the 'dramatis personae' are slightly different.
The British and the Russians signed treaties concerning Baku oil, Afghanistan and spheres of influence in Iran. The areas of the Central Asian republics were considered Imperial Russia's sphere. Most of these were country-specific detentes to limit needless friction and respect each other's national interests.
The game began in earnest from 1860s. But the players have constantly changed.
Imperial Russia became Soviet Russia in 1917. The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1989 and a new Russia now carries the burden of challenging the West in Central Asia. On the other side, the British role in Asia was gradually taken over by the United States after the end of World War II in 1945.
Both Boris Yeltsin's and Vladimir Putin's Russia adhered to those treaties. But the United States, in accordance with neo-conservative thinking, began disregarding those detentes after the terror attacks of Sept. 11.
The first daisy cutter that the U.S. government dropped was on Afghanistan, a devastated country after the 1992 withdrawal of the Russians who had come to the aid of a rebellion- besieged leftist regime in Kabul in the 1980s.
The United States, who had financed the revolt, along with Saudi Arabia and other countries, declined the task of micro-managing a chaotic Afghanistan in 1992 and entrusted the job to Pakistanis.
After Sept. 11, the United States took the matter in its own hands after the Pakistani choice, the Taliban regime, proved to be too inflexible and fanatical.
The U.S. initiative was a direct military attack to snuff out the Taliban, believed to harbor the Sept. 11 terrorists, in October 2001. Although Washington promised democracy and a grand reconstruction program -- the reality on the Afghan ground now is rampant warlordism, lawlessness and a growing armed insurgency.
It is notable that the United States is content to let paid-off warlords try to keep what order they can while U.S. military occupies the capital and tangles with Taliban remnants in the countryside. It is not bothered about the minutiae of running a poor, oil-less country.
The U.S. gaze is fixed on Central Asia and its oil, natural gas and other resources.
The American plan boils down to a safer, more malleable and rearranged Middle East as a sort of giant military span sustaining new U.S. military bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Georgia and facilities elsewhere in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
In essence, the U.S. is trying to nudge Russia out of what used to be its backyard. Not only is the U.S. militarily present in so many places, the location of the bases puts the Far East and Chinese and Russian heartlands within easy range of U.S. military force.
The Chinese, latter-day, friendly intruders in Central Asia, are also being preempted. The encirclement of both Russia and China -- along with the expansion of NATO into Bulgaria and Romania -- can now be visualized.
The U.S. government calls this leadership but it is mainly unilateral, though Washington constantly persuades or pressgangs others to assist in its non-military chores. Only three powers can claim any say in their own affairs: Israel, India and Japan.
All the old understandings that Britain had given in Asia, and had respected then, are no longer valid, because the U.S. methodology is different. It recognizes no equal. All of Asia has to be explicitly 'dominated.'
It does not matter if the Arabs oppose this, if the Pakistani establishment is aghast over the Afghan fallout. Japan's elevated status does not injure any Asian state's sensibilities. South Koreans are a special case, like Pakistanis, whose services are needed at most times but who also cause headaches at other times.
Among these, the Pakistanis are more unpredictable. Their ruling establishment, despite its misgivings, will always do what the U.S. government demands. That is how it has survived in power for 50 years.
But the Pakistani people, frequently fobbed off with a bogus democracy as the military retains a veto over the political system, remain an uncertain factor. To the U.S. government, this offers no obstacle. They can ignore the whole lot.
Russia is not the enemy of choice for the U.S. unilateralists. But it still gets in the United States' way in Central Asian, behaving as if it remained Central Asia's suzerain.
The United States is off to a glorious start, and may be well on its way to achieving control over the regions' key resources.
But the U.S. unilateralists are paying a big public relations price, with the region's hostile populations discounting what U.S. leaders say and looking for their real motives.
Internationally, there is the Shanghai Six, now the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has been talking of an Asian security architecture, aimed at rolling back the U.S. advance.
For their part, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg are creating their own economic and defence structures, another counterforce to U.S. moves.
Russia sometimes joins the French-led quartet, but is not part of it. Since it is also a key member of the Shanghai Six, the chances of SCO cooperating on the world stage with the European quartet may not be fanciful. The Russians also recently formed a military grouping of some of the former Soviet Central Asian states.
The U.S. drive for world hegemony may be creating its own roadblocks.
June 2, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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