Road to Kabul ‘runs through Kashmir’

Sometime in the last year, secret back-channel talks between India and Pakistan over Kashmir restarted, Newsweek magazine reports in its latest edition, quoting unnamed US and Indian sources.

The countries last held such talks under Gen Pervez Musharraf, and were reportedly on the verge of a breakthrough when the military ruler was ousted in August 2008.

Then the Mumbai terror attacks that November badly frayed relations. For negotiations to resume now – open talks are also being discussed -would represent a huge development for the region.

And not just there. The payoff would stretch all the way to Washington. Peace between India and Pakistan could unlock another conflict with even higher stakes for the US: Afghanistan.

“Indeed,” says the journal, “a growing chorus of experts has begun arguing that the road to Kabul runs through Kashmir, that the US will never stabilise the former without peace in the latter. Suddenly, bringing India and Pakistan together seems to be very much in America’s interest, which makes the Obama administration’s determination to avoid the issue increasingly hard to fathom.”

To understand why Kashmir is central to Afghanistan, start with the fact that the US can’t defeat the Afghan insurgency without Pakistan’s help.

Pakistan midwifed the Taliban and continues to allegedly provide it with shelter. And that won’t change until Pakistan resolves its rivalry with India, says Newsweek.

“Pakistan’s entire Afghan strategy is based on the idea that it needs a pliant regime to its West to give it ‘strategic depth’: room to retreat in case of an Indian invasion. Fear of India also keeps Pakistan from putting enough troops on its 2,250km-long Afghan border, which the Taliban cross at will,” the report says.

As Strobe Talbott, Bill Clinton’s envoy, says, “The Pakistani military is so obsessed with India that it hinders their ability to deal with other real threats.”
The only thing that might ease that obsession is peace with New Delhi.

Given this, you’d expect the Obama team to be pushing the peace process forward. Instead, it has studiously avoided the issue. On one level that makes sense: US has its hands full, and India, thanks to its bad experience with past mediation and America’s Cold War tilt toward Pakistan, erupts with rage whenever the US hints it might get involved; in 2008, when Obama said he might include India in the mandate of his Af-Pak team, New Delhi raised such hell that the matter was dropped. Thus Richard Holbrooke, the US Af-Pak envoy, refuses to consider US involvement today.

Yet even he concedes that Kashmir makes Afghanistan “more difficult to resolve,” and Washington simply can’t afford to avoid it if it hopes to leave the region any time soon.

Now it may not have to. The possible resumption of India-Pakistan talks suggests there may be a growing constituency for peace. India, preoccupied with its economic boom, is especially eager to make the issue go away. A hard push from Washington could make the difference -especially if handled in a way that assuages India’s fears.

Obama has been much cooler toward New Delhi than Bush was.

“Were he to symbolically elevate the US-India relationship now to the level of the US-China dialogue, it could give Washington greater leeway on Kashmir. So would pressing Pakistan to be more co-operative on the Mumbai terrorists and helping New Delhi secure prizes it desperately covets, such as entry into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or a permanent seat on the UN Security Council,” Newsweek says.

As Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University puts it, “If that were to happen, India would roll over on any issue. (Gulf Times)

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Yemen and The Militarization of Strategic Waterways: The New Great Game

Securing US Control over Socotra Island and the Gulf of Aden


By Michel Chossudovsky:

“Whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene.” (US Navy Geostrategist Rear Admiral Alfred Thayus Mahan (1840-1914))

The Yemeni archipelago of Socotra in the Indian Ocean is located some 80 kilometres off the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres South of the Yemeni coastline. The islands of Socotra are a wildlife reserve recognized by (UNESCO), as a World Natural Heritage Site.

Socotra is at the crossroads of the strategic naval waterways of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden (See map below). It is of crucial importance to the US military.
MAP 1

Among Washington’s strategic objectives is the militarization of major sea ways. This strategic waterway links the Mediterranean to South Asia and the Far East, through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

It is a major transit route for oil tankers. A large share of China’s industrial exports to Western Europe transits through this strategic waterway. Maritime trade from East and Southern Africa to Western Europe also transits within proximity of Socotra (Suqutra), through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. (see map below). A military base in Socotra could be used to oversee the movement of vessels including war ships in an out of the Gulf of Aden.

“The [Indian] Ocean is a major sea lane connecting the Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.” (Amjed Jaaved, A new hot-spot of rivalry, Pakistan Observer, July 1, 2009)
MAP 2

Sea Power

From a military standpoint, the Socotra archipelago is at a strategic maritime crossroads. Morever, the archipelago extends over a relatively large maritime area at the Eastern exit of the Gulf of Aden, from the island of Abd al Kuri, to the main island of Socotra. (See map 1 above) This maritime area of international transit lies in Yemeni territorial waters. The objective of the US is to police the entire Gulf of Aden seaway from the Yemeni to Somalian coastline. (See map 1).

Socotra is some 3000 km from the US naval base of Diego Garcia, which is among America’s largest overseas military facilities.

The Socotra Military Base

On January 2nd, 2010, President Saleh and General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command met for high level discussions behind closed doors.

The Saleh-Petraeus meeting was casually presented by the media as a timely response to the foiled Detroit Christmas bomb attack on Northwest flight 253. It had apparently been scheduled on an ad hoc basis as a means to coordinating counter-terrorism initiatives directed against “Al Qaeda in Yemen”, including “the use [of] American drones and missiles on Yemen lands.”

Several reports, however, confirmed that the Saleh-Petraeus meetings were intent upon redefining US military involvement in Yemen including the establishment of a full-fledged military base on the island of Socotra. Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh was reported to have “surrendered Socotra for Americans who would set up a military base, pointing out that U.S. officials and the Yemeni government agreed to set up a military base in Socotra to counter pirates and al-Qaeda.” (Fars News. January 19, 2010) Read more of this post

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