Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Canadians can learn from challenges to India's Middle East policy

Aynak and the Tectonic Zones of Afghanistan
from "Minerals in Afghanistan" © Afghanistan Geological Survey

As is often the case, M K Bhadrakumar's latest analysis—this time of the implications the new US National Intelligence Estimate holds for India and Afghanistan--is full of information Canadians will wish we knew more about.

He reckons that India's decision to protect “key nuclear facilities” in Mumbai and Chennai by denying permission for China's cargo carrier Great Wall Airlines to land is less important than the news that Chinese companies had won the tender for the Aynak copper deposit in Afghanistan's Logar province between Kabul and the Pakistan border.

That will come as a surprise for more reasons than one. Although geologists understand Afghanstan as a source of mineral wealth because of its location in the west of the Himilayan mountain building regime, most of us feel that Afghanistan isn't supposed to have world-class resources.

Still, Aynak and nearby Darband and Jawkhar have seen copper working since ancient times, including excavations, pits, and the remains of smelting furnaces. In 1974, ancient deposits were rediscovered by Soviet geologists. Nowadays, the Anyak deposit is widely believed in specialized circles to be one of the largest undeveloped copper mines in the world.

Predictably, Canada's media rarely reports on the activities of Canadian companies abroad especially when they are losing bids on multi-billion dollar contracts. That's not news, is it?

China Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper Co's plan to invest some $3.7 billion in developing a large copper mine in Afghanistan won against bids by other front-running companies: Hunter Dickinson of Canada, the London-based Kazakhmys Consortium, and the U.S. copper-mining firm Phelps Dodge, and Strikeforce Mining and Resources (SMR), a subsidiary of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element investment group.

Radio Free Europe sees the Chinese project as a “litmus test” for other investors in Afghanistan. That would be good news, wouldn't it?

Hunter Dickinson is a private Vancouver mine developer which operates around the world in many parts of the mineral industry, from copper and zinc to gold, diamonds and platinum group minerals.

The 22-year-old Vancouver firm manages a stable of publicly traded Canadian companies, ranging from Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO), Detour Gold Corp. (TSX:DGC), Northern Dynasty Minerals (TSXV:NDM) and Great Basin Gold (TSX:GBG). (CANOE Sep 21 07)

Aynak is the subject of a report by the British Geological Survey and published by the Afghanistan Geological Survey. MineWeb quotes the BGS report in brief.

In a new study, Integrity Watch Afghanistan says transparency and the inclusion of community input are essential to the success of the planned project. The 70-page report entitled, "Aynak Copper Mine: Opportunities and Threats for Development from a Sustainable Business Perspective," was compiled through interviews and document reviews. (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX Dec 17 07 Link added -jlt)

This episode branches into larger questions about why we are in Afghanistan and what resources other than copper may be there and in particular whether or not there is uranium. It also branches into another large question about the performance of Canadian companies abroad. Is Canada an imperial power? Is it appropriate to talk about a Canadian Empire? Or is Canada part of the American Empire?

But Bhadrakumar's discussion addresses the issue of multipolarity from a progressive Indian viewpoint, and that is a subject of which economic globalization—now in decline—forms a significant part.

Bhadrakumar goes on to identify Sinopec's $2 billion contract with the Iranian Oil Ministry for the development of the Yadavaran oil and gas fields in southwestern Iran as a second important move. Oil Minister Gholam-Hossein Nozari was quick to point out that the deal with China flies in the face of Washington's attempts to block foreign investments in Iran. (ATol Dec 15 07)

[Bhadrakumar has written about Russian-Iranian relations elsewhere. The re-publication of the Asia Times online by Japan Focus contains some useful photos and maps. -jlt]

The Canaian media have reported politely about Bush's attempts to play down the significance of the US National Intelligence Estimate conclusion that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program. Bhadrakumar believes that the NIE “conclusively debunked any conspiracies hatched by the neo-conservative coterie within the George W Bush administration for launching a military strike against Iran.” In his view, the prospect of war with Iran is a dead letter.

Bhadrakumar cites an anonymous scholar from the Institute of Asia and Africa under the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations. Writing for the People's Daily this scholar writes openly about the steady decline of US influence in the Middle East.

In this view, Iran has no geopolitical competitors in the Persian Gulf region.

Since the US has fallen into the Iraqi quagmire, Iran concludes that the United States dare not use force against Iran. Therefore, it maintains strong strategic determination and refuses to make concessions on the nuclear issue. ... The United States cannot reverse its current downhill trend in the Middle East. Iran's rise and its challenging gestures will further accelerate the decline of the United States' presence within the region. (ATol Dec 15 07)

We would not expect this kind of discussion from the American administration. Governments cannot say that the war is not going so well. They cannot say If things keep up the way they are going, we will have to concede defeat. Governments are constrained to cheerlead for the wars they have decided to fight. This can result in the fight carrying on long after the final outcome has been decided.

When he visited Canada and the US in 2006, Musharraf tried repeatedly to let his allies know that the war in Afghanistan was over. What the military would be able to accomplish had been accomplished he said. Now (Summer 2006) it was time for the diplomats to go to work. Everyone agrees that the results were not good. The British and the Pakistanis didn't get the kind of support--or persistence, or even serious determination (see Annapolis)--from the NATO/US coalition that diplomacy required, and Canadians were ready to go in whatever direction the wind seemed to be blowing. Hillier was caught saying that Canada was trying to negotiate with the Taliban, but that position didn't last long in the restrictive media regime the Harper government has established. The interview disappeared quickly from the CBC website.

Why the CBC has chosen to position itself as Bush's megaphone on this issue is a question that concerns us all. Traditionalist war fighting culture will hold that this is the appropriate role for all media, whether they are owned by the government or not. That is pretty much a maple-leaf variation of Bill O'Reilly's position in the US. Once the war starts dissenters are expected to Shut Up.

Others viewpoints differ fundamentally. Some hold that the media has an important democratic role to play in informing the public even in wartime. Others actually believe that it is the proper role of the media to challenge the government line and break down barriers to the full disclosure of information relevant in public decision making.

Can the press do anything but PR if it is completely embedded with the military? Certainly the military sees the press as playing a vital role in Fourth Generation Warfare, a view which constitutes part of what the establishment thinks it learned from the Vietnam War.

Needless to say, these positions imply ideas about democracy that the ruling elite in our country does not hold.

Has our media gone the way of the Americans? What is the proper role of the media when the country is involved in a war of choice far from its national boundaries. The last wars on nominally Canadian territory were the War of 1812 and the Riel Rebellion.

For many Canadians the First and Second World Wars stand as archetypal expressions of the view that our soldiers sacrifice their lives to protect liberty, human rights and other democratic values.

Since the end of the second war, Canadian Forces have been deployed in numbers roughly equivalent to those currently in Afghanistan only twice before: during the October Crisis of 1970 in and during the Oka crisis (July 11, 1990).

The nation's public radio stations have some history in dealing with unpopular wars, and it's not pretty.

All this makes the remarks of the anonymous Chinese scholar all the more welcome because they provide relief from the unremitting propaganda we get from the US and, sadly, from our own news organizations. Expanding the field of view from the Persian Gulf to the Middle East region generally, the Chinese scholar concludes that “the United States cannot reverse its current downhill trend in the Middle East.”

By contrast, Bhadrakumar thinks that “the Indian strategic community was shell-shocked by the NIE.” Delhi had just imposed banking restrictions on Iran even beyond what was required by two Security Council resolutions. It was not that long ago that India voted against Tehran in the IAEA. Alienating the Iranians and losing out on oil development projects to the Chinese has left India all too hungry for the energy boost implicit in the US-India nuclear deal which is now in the stage of developing a 123 (implementation) Agreement.

Bhadrakumar expresses his disappointment most clearly when he observes that India is “facing collateral damage” from American policy fumbles in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

He criticizes Delhi's belief that “it was always safe to hitch its diplomatic wagon to the US-Israeli caravan in the Middle East” and warns that “playing poodle to Washington” hasn't advanced any but short term Indian interests.

Bhadrakumar's meditation concludes with a well-informed reflection on this folly. Delhi has swallowed whole the American delusions about Israel's importance as a determinant of Middle Eastern security. Indian business interests waited for the Israeli-American interests to squash Ahmadinejad before concluding any serious arrangements with Iran.

For example, talk about the "north-south transportation corridor" connecting India to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia was suspended. Strategic dialogue with Iran on regional security issues was put on hold. The 25-year gas pipeline project from Iran via Pakistan to India is in deep hibernation, and the new banking restrictions “will discourage even normal trade and investment.”

Meanwhile, Bhadrakumar conveys a unique view of the US-Israel bloc that includes Indian vulnerability to American influence because of the pending nuclear deal.

The Israel lobby, he says, “gave a big helping hand canvassing support for the nuclear deal on the Capitol Hill.” Clearly, Israel expects to be next.

Has India's new strategic partnership with the US gone too far too fast? How far should India go in harmonizing India's regional policies with the US's global strategies?

Bhadrakumar concludes that India's policy toward the Persian Gulf and the Middle East is “simplistic,” “one-dimensional” and “untenable.” However, he recognizes that it is “difficult to jettison” as long as it continues to be “dovetailed to the US regional agenda.”

The same might be said of Canada since the Liberals moved to join the Americans against the rest of the world in its position on certain key UN resolutions related to Israel-Palestine. The Conservatives were only too happy to jump on the bandwagon. Even before he was officially sworn in, Prime Minister-elect Stephen Harper rejected the election of Hamas and re-iterated the famous three demands: affirm previous agreements with the PLO; recognize Israel; and give up violence and/or terrorism.

The demand that Hamas should affirm previous agreements with the PLO as representatives of the Palestinians is particularly interesting in light of Harper's refrain that “the liberals did it.” This he repeats at every opportunity, including most recently the re-opening of the Chalk River NRU reactor despite 2-year-old safety concerns.

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Charles said...

Well, Jim, this is a deep analysis. I certainly would not argue that our economic investments abroad are much news in Canada, unless we get some huge success.
Yes, we are "imperialists" in the sense of Lenin's terms, a weak capitalist power trying to reach the "highest stage of capitalism" by our reach into territories and economies beyond Canada. We enjoy that when it makes us rich, as shareholders or employees of the companies who invest.

As for the link between our military interventions and our investments, historically we have let the big imperialist powers who have the big military/ naval reach, to set up the perimeter and then we go where they have established order so we can do business. We take what they will let us invest in and we don't push if they insist their own national industries get first chance at profits, since they did the fighting. We repay them by our diplomatic support at the UN or kind treatment in our media, etc.

We are thought of in poor nations as nicer than the USA or UK, and that is an asset to the empires. We can act the cat's paw for them.
As for how the CBC etc. act to keep us numbed on our losing wars abroad, well, that is of course my main pain in the Afghan mess. We have US and UK history to teach us these imperial wars are about profit for a few well connected people in whatever imperial state, who invest and make themselves rich for awhile -- until we get tired of the deaths and withdraw calling it peace with honour. "Savage wars of peace" as Kipling called them, and we did not engage unless as part of the British Empire.

In wars vs. big powers, with lots of sacrifice, we use the big words of defending eternal values. I know the latter type are likely again, but I entertained the illusion we would not get sucked into the type of wars of colonial/imperial counter-insurgency. Wrong again.

India has such a great position as an ancient civilization, skileed armed forces, huge resources in territory and population,an English language elite and links to the UK, and the fact her people still seem to hold America in high regard as a place to live a dream. Once upon a time, a real leader of the Third World and a balance vs. China and Russia. Now? Crisis on every side. inside and outside.

Orwell may still have got it right in "1984" ... There will be 3 power blocs over the whole globe. Ours (Euro-Amer)will be the one more like A. Huxley's brave new techno-hedonist land, W. Asia and Africa harsher, and... ? what is #3, I forget.
c h j