by Zia Sarhadi (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 9, Safar, 1438)
Three countries in South Asia—Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan—have between them enormous mineral and energy resources. This makes them the special target of predatory powers.
Wars occur for many different reasons: to acquire territory; to establish hegemony in the region; to grab the natural resources of a targeted country and now more frequently, to build pipelines for oil and gas. In some cases, more than one reason may be at play: both to grab a country’s natural resources as well as use it for building pipelines or establish regional hegemony.
Palestine and Kashmir fall under the first category where alien invaders — the Zionists and Indians respectively — have illegally occupied others’ lands and are perpetrating horrible crimes against indigenous populations to hold on to territory. Hegemonic ambitions also play a role in such belligerence and aggression.
Coveting the natural resources of target countries is a much more common practice these days. The era of direct occupation with resultant costs in manpower — soldiers getting killed, which leads to discontent at home — has given way to the destabilization of targeted regions. Again, numerous excuses are offered for what is essentially naked aggression: fighting terrorism, humanitarian intervention under the rubric of the “Right to Protect” or bringing to power a “representative regime” — euphemism for a regime that would do the predatory power’s bidding. Afghanistan, Iraq, and several countries in Central Asia fall under this category.
Building oil and gas pipelines are the latest reason for destabilizing or occupying other countries. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are victims of this phenomenon. Notwithstanding the US’ claim that it attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 because Osama bin Laden was somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks — he was not and the US has offered no proof whatsoever but that is a moot point now — and the Taliban refused to hand him over to the Americans for trial. The real reason was that the Taliban had refused to agree to the proposal to allow the American company, UNOCAL, to build oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan. There was and is another reason as well: Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources, especially cadmium, estimated at some $4 trillion. This was also the reason why the erstwhile Soviet Union had invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979. That adventure, however, turned disastrous and crashed on the arid rocks of the Hindu Kush.
Refusing to learn from the Soviet experience and suffering from imperial hubris, the Americans blundered into Afghanistan. It has turned out to be America’s longest war with costs exceeding $1 trillion so far, but the country is nowhere near being subdued. The Taliban, for all their faults, have not been defeated. Instead, they have made an incredible comeback and have occupied large swathes of territory. The rural areas are virtually under their control and they are also pressing against major urban centres in Afghanistan.
Two of Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors — Iran and Pakistan — have also been deeply affected by America’s war. The Central Asian Republics have escaped largely unscathed because these are considered Russia’s area of influence, the “Near Abroad,” and Moscow has worked hard to keep these regions shielded from the destabilizing influence of Washington. In addition to the destabilizing impact of war, both Pakistan and Iran are also targeted for their natural resources. Both are extremely rich in mineral and other resources.
Iran has suffered decades of Western, primarily US-imposed sanctions because it broke out of the stranglehold of the Western-crafted system that was imposed in the aftermath of the Second World War. Only two countries in the world — Cuba and Islamic Iran — have managed to withstand the US-led onslaught despite paying a heavy price.
The question that must be asked is: what do Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan possess that have made them special targets of predatory powers? Let us call these three countries the triangle of resources and begin with Islamic Iran. In addition to breaking out of the Western stranglehold and, therefore, refusing to allow the predatory powers to pillage its resources are the reasons that have so aroused their wrath.
Iran is ranked as the second largest economy in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) and North Africa in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2012, it was estimated at US$549 billion (it is much higher today). Apart from oil and natural gas, the country’s other natural resources include coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, and sulphur. Iran has the second highest gas reserves in the world and coupled with its highly educated manpower, it is the engine of growth for the entire region.
Its strategic location enhances its importance serving as gateway to Central Asia and the region’s vast oil and gas riches. Iran links with Central Asia both via land and sea. There is a rail link between Iran and Turkmenistan. Further, Tehran has entered into an agreement with its Central Asian neighbor to use its oil in the north of Iran and load oil tankers for export on its behalf at the Persian Gulf terminal, thus avoiding freight costs and the risk of accidents. The Caspian Sea links a number of countries to Iran: Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Azerbaijan directly and several others indirectly.
The third side of this resource-rich triangle is Pakistan. Like the other two, Pakistan is also extremely rich in natural resources. These include coal, gas, gemstones, copper, minerals, and gold reserves. Other resources included oil, iron, titanium, and aluminum.
As an agricultural country, Pakistan has numerous rivers and dams (water reservoirs) that irrigate its fertile plains. Pakistan has the capacity to produce enough grain to feed not only its own people but the entire region. Similarly, Pakistani fruits, especially mangoes, are known worldwide. There are also large forests and timber although these resources are not properly utilized. Pakistan’s dams on its mighty rivers — Indus and Jhelum — not only provide water storage but also generate electrical power.
The three countries’ natural resources and strategic locations have made them targets of external powers. While Afghanistan languishes under direct occupation, Iran and Pakistan suffer the fallout from that war. But that is not all; both are targeted and being destabilized because Iran and Pakistan have the potential to lead the Muslim world in meaningful ways. Pakistan remains the only Muslim country to have mastered nuclear technology, a fact that has caused much angst among imperialists, Zionists, and their Hindu allies. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb was dubbed the “Islamic” bomb. The bombs possessed by predominantly Christian countries — the US, Britain ,and France — never earned the epithet of a Christian bomb nor has Israel’s bomb been called a Jewish bomb or India’s a Hindu bomb!
Pakistan’s nuclear prowess alone is sufficient reason to lead the Western powers and their regional allies to destabilize Pakistan. Take the example of Balochistan. The Baloch people reside on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border. External powers — the US, Britain, Israel, and India — are stoking irredentist tendencies on both sides of the border. There is ample proof that the Baloch insurgency in Pakistan’s Balochistan province is being directly financed and instigated by Pakistan’s archrival India.
In March, an Indian intelligence agent, Kulbushan Jadhav was captured in Balochistan. He had sneaked into Pakistan from Iran and was planning sabotage activities. Under interrogation, he admitted to being a serving Indian naval officer and had already carried out sabotage activities in Karachi. His latest assignment was to coordinate terrorist activities with the Baloch insurgents as well as carry out terrorist attacks in Karachi and at the Gwadar port.
Far from showing any contrition for one of its spies being caught red-handed, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi openly admitted in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2016 that Delhi was instigating trouble in Balochistan. Modi was addressing a crowd in front of the Red Fort, a massive structure built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1648 that served as the Mughals’ administrative building for 200 years. Successive Muslim rulers built most of India’s great monuments. All that the Hindus have managed to produce are busty statues of their multiple goddesses (Hindus believe in millions of gods including monkeys, elephants, snakes, and an assortment of other ludicrous things!).
In his August speech, Modi vowed that India would continue to undermine Pakistan by instigating terrorist activities in Balochistan. This makes India a state-sponsor of terrorism as well as a terrorist state. Yet there has hardly been a whisper of protest from the self-proclaimed champions of peace and human rights in the world. This should not surprise anyone since Hindu India is the latest poster child that the West wants to use against the emerging global superpower China.
For Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the future direction is clear. They should forge closers links economically and politically. It will not be easy given divergent views and outlooks but nothing is impossible if goodwill exists on all sides. The larger powers — Iran and Pakistan — should assure Afghanistan that its long term interests would be best served by working with them rather than looking further afield. Both countries should help to stabilize Afghanistan so that its dependence on the US, and to a lesser extent on India, is reduced.
The future trend is for closer relations between these three that could later be expanded to incorporate others as well. The success of this project, however, will depend much on how their leaders and decision-makers utilize the emerging potential.