Albion Monitor /News

Clinton Shifts Global Power With Iran Deal

by Franz Schurmann

"U.S. strategic interests along with U.S. investment could come to dominate Central Asia in the years ahead"
At some point in July, the White House changed the flow of world history. It decided not to oppose a 2000-mile pipeline project that will carry natural gas from Central Asian Turkmenistan to Mediterranean Turkey. That pipeline will cross Iran -- until now perhaps America's most demonized country.

With this move President Clinton is openly beginning to align the U.S. with Iran, the emerging superpower of the Middle East, much as President Nixon in July 1971 began to align the U.S. with "Red China," the emerging superpower of East Asia. Now, as then, a new set of "winners" and "losers" in global geo-politics are emerging from this seemingly passive move. It looks like the immediate big winner is the U.S. and the big loser is Russia.

"The shift in U.S. policy appears to be another major step forward in undercutting Russian influence (in Central Asia)," notes Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid, who has long followed the "Great Game" in Central Asia. Rashid predicts "U.S. strategic interests along with U.S. investment could come to dominate the region in the years ahead."

Another big loser could be the Taliban, Afghanistan's new ultra-Islamic revolutionary rulers. Last May, the Taliban appeared on the verge of taking over all of Afghanistan. Today, they are battling to survive on the outskirts of Kabul.

Two months ago, terrified of a fundamentalist Islamic surge in the region, the Taliban's many enemies got together to launch an anti-Taliban counter-offensive: Uzbekistan began backing Afghani Uzbeks, Tajikistan backed Afghani Tajiks; and Shi'a Iran backed Shi'a Hazaras. But the power most determined to thwart a total Taliban victory is now Russia which sees not only the threat of Islamic fundamentalism making headway all over Central Asia but of the U.S. suddenly emerging as an outright enemy there.

The Russians had earlier welcomed U.S. oil companies into Central Asia in the hopes of promoting a U.S.-Russian partnership. But suddenly they began to worry that the U.S. was going for broke to wrest control of the region's abundant fossil fuel resources for itself. Russian suspicions had been fueled by Washington's discreet backing of the Taliban. What convinced them the partnership was over was the announcement last May by UNOCAL that it was preparing to build a pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Western Afghanistan (a plan now preempted by the new pipeline across Iran). UNOCAL's announcement was premised on an imminent Taliban victory.

The counter-offensive against the Taliban may not be as successful as many Western observers hope. The Taliban see themselves leading a real revolution in the country, not just fighting to gain power. The broad based appeal of the Taliban's ideas, far more than their battlefield prowess, gained them two thirds of Afghanistan.

United by Islamic ideology, the Taliban in the long run have a good chance of holding together -- far better than their opponents who consist of two warlord-led factions and the minority Shi'as who are under the strong influence of Iran. If Iran decides it has more to gain from its rapprochement with the U.S. than from eliminating the Taliban, it could well instruct the Hazaras to opt out of the counter-offensive.

The big winner along with the U.S. is Iran
Another major loser is Pakistan. Sensing a new wind blowing from its old American ally, Pakistan started waffling in its support of the Taliban some weeks back by calling for a coalition government in Kabul. But if the Taliban succeed in holding onto Kabul, they can then claim they did so on their own, without support from Pakistan. And the longer the Taliban endure, the more likely Pakistan will have to face revolutionary Islamic waves coming in from Afghanistan.

The big winner along with the U.S. is Iran. There is a good chance the new pipeline will actually be built. Iran negotiated their side of the pipeline deal with Turkey's then prime minister Necmettin Erbakan last year. Last year they also completed a railroad link with Turkmenistan. Their ties with the Gulf states have been steadily improving.

If the Taliban's Islamic revolution turns out to be as superficial as all the other political forces that have been battling in Afghanistan since 1974, it will not only seal their defeat. It will be a major setback for an Islamic revolution that has been gaining force from the Atlantic right through much of Asia for two decades.

If, on the other hand, the stalemate around Kabul persists, the fate of the world Islamic revolution will remain unresolved. But if the Taliban should break the stalemate and go on to take all of Afghanistan, they will end up as history's biggest winners.

Pacific News Service

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Albion Monitor August 31, 1997 (

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