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WEST ASIAN CHESS: PIECES, PAWNS & PLAYERS

Paper No. 1054                                                                                12/07/2004

Guest Column-by Gaurang Bhatt

PIECES

Turkey:

Turkey was dragged kicking and screaming into secularism and modernity by Ataturk, after the defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. His heir was an army that became a self-appointed monitor of his legacy and periodically overthrew elected governments if they didn’t toe the line. Islam was politically marginalized and even the Arabic script was abandoned for the modified Roman one. The corrupt and inept governments with increasing disparities of wealth, aggravated by nouveau riche guestbeiters working in West Germany who had faced discrimination, led to a resurgence of Islam. The army dismissed the first Islamic elected government and carried out aggressive and violent military suppression of the Kurds. The history is partly reminiscent of Pakistan, whose Musharraf was trained under the Turkish military. The poverty, inequality and corruption of the secular parties led to the birth of a new Islamic party currently ruling Turkey. Prior governments extended trade and military co-operation with Israel and were an integral members of NATO. The present aim is to join the EU and the Common Market. 

The internal and external tug of war is creating problems. The new Islamic sympathies of the population and the devastating past economic losses of Gulf War 1 were responsible for the decision to deny passage to American troops to attack Northern Iraq. The American bullying and overt advertisement of bribes through the IMF didn’t help. Israel, which often smartly anticipates US policy and acts as a scout for it, has allegedly started training Kurds causing some friction between the two allies. Turkey on its part has taken a more accommodative stance against the Kurds and is openly stating its displeasure at the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. This may partly be the reflection of the rising Islamism or to fall more in line with the concerted EU view, since it is desperately trying to get in. The American and British pressure on the EU at the recent Istanbul meeting met strong opposition by Chirac, who delivered an overtly scathing rebuke. The rising fear of Islamic terrorism, the antipathy of the Europeans to their already significant Muslim populations and the possible further swamping of the EU by cheap, plentiful Muslim hordes of Turkey, is likely to delay, if not deny membership on some pretext or the other. The recent spate of Islamic terrorist bombing may indicate further domestic radicalization, thus causing increasing EU hesitation, but are more likely to be a combination of sharp strategy by Al Qaeda and the ease of entry, mingling and logistics for Muslim terrorists. By making it difficult for Turkey to join the EU, the terrorists hope to promote an anti-Western backlash and bring the prodigal Muslim Turks back into the fold. 

Iran Shiite Strategy

Iranian mullahs know that they have to protect the country from Israeli pre-emptive strikes like the one against Iraq’s Osirak, deter American air attacks and grow their economy by obtaining technology and creating jobs. American sanctions and EU hesitation have deprived them of trade and technology. Their first concern was military defense. This is why the clerics have forgotten their anti-communist ideology and obtained arms from Russia and missiles from China and North Korea. They have a formidable number of anti-aircraft guns and missiles but still lack sophisticated radar and AWACS. Their second objective is nuclear weapons and thanks to Pakistan and clandestine Western sources, they are well on their way to nuclear weaponry. Russia for financial and strategic reasons (countering American influence) is willing to establish a civilian nuclear reactor to familiarize the Iranians with the technology. Iran’s recent announcement of resuming Uranium enrichment is a smart calculated move. First it neutralized domestic dissidents by forbidding them from participation in elections. Then it came to terms with Britain, France and Germany by agreeing to co-operate to avoid harsh condemnation and UN sanctions. When it saw the American misadventure in Iraq failing and oil shortages and high prices persisting despite Saudi Arabia’s promise to increase production together with rising terrorism in Saudi Arabia, it realized that it could renege on its moratorium without suffering loss of its clients for oil in the short run. This is why it is thumbing its nose at the West. 

While its military strategy is smart, its energy strategies have been hesitant and half-hearted for lack of finances and vision. It had good relations with Turkmenistan and built a railway line to, and a station at Ashkabad. It made some agreement for gas pipelines but never exploited it fully. It could have taken gas supplies from Turkmenistan for its Eastern region and exported its own gas by setting up an LNG facility on its Gulf side. This would have made Turkmenistan economically totally allied to it and weaned from outside influence. A similar arrangement with Azerbaijan would have prevented Western oil companies from obtaining a stranglehold on Azerbaijan, which will now be dependent on the pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan via Georgia. 

PAWNS

1) Kurds

Kurds were the historical losers after WW 1, as they never got their promised land. The Shah of Iran and Israel used them as pawns against Saddam’s Iraq. They were used and partially abandoned by America after Gulf War 1. The no fly zone and current favorable treatment by America leaves them vulnerable to be used as a wedge to divide Iraq, if it looks about to break apart. Their problem is the area around the northern oil wells has sizable Arab and Turkoman population and Turkey has clearly warned that it will use military measures if necessary, to thwart Kurdish independence. Thus American support could backfire in alienating Turkey. Turkey on its part has floated the idea of assimilating Iraqi Kurdistan and has taken a new and a less antagonistic approach to the Kurdish language, culture and captured rebels. The recently denied report of Israeli agents training the Kurds is a cause of worry for Turkey, Iran and Syria. 

2) Iranian Azeris and Azerbaijanis

Iran’s northern province and nearly 20% of its population consist of Azeris who speak Azerbaijani and were separated from their ethnic cousins in the old Soviet Union and the now new Republic of Azerbaijan. They together with the Kurds in the northwest and the

Baluchis in the South form Iran’s three ethnic minorities. A mischievous outside big power could create unrest in Iran and inflame fissiparous tendencies. America has already established a financial and military presence in Azerbaijan. 

3) Georgia

The American inspired coup in Georgia with the election of a pro-American president and Western financial aid are a means to deprive Russia of its influence in the former Soviet Republics, now labeled near abroad. Georgia is to serve as an outlet for energy supplies from Azerbaijan. 

4) Armenia

The sacrificial pawn in this game is likely to be Armenia. It has no oil or gas and is not only landlocked, but shares no border with Russia and divides Azerbaijan into two after capture of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. There is historical animosity with Turkey, which has currently closed its border with Armenia. Its relations with Georgia are

less than friendly due to the agitation by Georgia’s Armenian minority’s demand for greater rights and autonomy. 

PLAYERS

1) Russia refuses to withdraw its troops from Moldova and supports Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists in Georgia. It is fighting a war in Chechnya and keeps troops in Tajikistan and Kirghizstan, the states bordering China. Kazakhstan with a large Russian minority in key positions is unlikely to escape its orbit. Russia is self-sufficient in energy and in the largest exporter. 

2) America has control over Georgia and troops in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It may foment Kurdish and Azeri insurgency to pressure, weaken and destabilize Iran. It already has reliable energy sources like Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and West Africa besides a sizable domestic oil and gas output and coal reserves. 

3) EU will ultimately sign a pact with Russia and place its bets on Russian gas and oil in the long run. 

4) Japan is also on the verge of agreements to get oil from Russia’s far east and is investing in Iran. 

5) China also will get energy from the Russian Far East and Kazakhstan. It has invested in Sudan as well and may work out a deal with Vietnam, if the offshore islands produce oil. It has a sizable Chinese minority in Indonesia that is in a commanding economic position. 

6) India has limited domestic oil and gas reserves but a lot of coal, It has invested in Sudan but needs to solidify relations with Iran and Indonesia, as there is some ethnic and historical commonality. Furthermore it needs to utilize its newly acquired large foreign exchange reserves to allow its smart industrialists to acquire technology and companies in the Western world to make the relations firmer and somewhat more interdependent. It also needs to develop massive insurmountable air defenses and an air force, combined with land and sea based nuclear missiles to reduce its vulnerability to unpredictable aggressive behavior by big powers. 

ENDGAME ANALYSIS & PREDICTIONS

There is a simple principle of human tissue reaction to adverse conditions that states that any tissue has its own limited reaction to challenges that is determined by which genes are switched on during its differential formation and embryological development.

Thus the EU has chosen conservation by high taxes on gasoline with development of alternative sources of energy like wind power by Netherlands, nuclear power

by France and Belgium and hydroelectric power by Scandinavian countries. Its approach is based on accommodation without confrontation due to its economic power to pay high prices and the clear knowledge that the oil producing nations will be compelled to sell their natural resources to feed and pacify their radicalized but rapidly growing Islamic populations. In addition the EU is mending its fences with Russia and financing Russian oil and gas production in Central and Western Russia and have Norway as a reliable source. 

Japan and China are also using a non-confrontational approach diversifying their oil source from Iran, Sudan and Nigeria respectively and have a dynamic rich economy with huge reserves to weather the coming storm. They are both vying to build pipelines from

Siberia and China is also wooing Kazakhstan. America has refused to increase taxes and lurches from one quick-fix expedient solution to another, but has the privilege of its currency being a reserve one and unsurpassed military might. It follows the pattern of supporting kleptocratic dictators in Iran and Indonesia in the past and Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Guinea, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan at present and falling back on Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. It persists in short-term solutions, oblivious of long-term disasters. It is openly talking of occupying Saudi oilfields if an insurgency threatens an ousting of the ruling clique. Its aggressive conquest and occupation of Iraq was meant to control oil and keep Japan and EU beholden and dependent. These shooting from the hip are reflex measures consistent with its violent responses in, reaction to a Brownian buffeting without planning or premeditation. It will in the long run fan the fires of Islamic radicalism throughout West and Central Asia. 

India lacks the resources, military might and even the will to confront, as our craven tolerance of Pakistan’s bullying threats and terrorism has shown. Kissinger has predicted that in a decade, the infiltration from Bangladesh and Pakistan, the increasing conversion by money of discrimination against Dalits, and the high birthrate of the native Muslim population, will increase the Muslim population to 500 million and be a fertile milieu for radicalism and alter national policies. The coming shortage of oil with resultant higher prices, a disintegrating Pakistan, a submerged Bangladesh due to global warming, a Maoist Nepal, all bode an ill future. For India to take a nonchalant attitude without future contingency plans or to follow the unthinking hubris of America, is foolhardy and a certain prescription for disaster. Energy is a matter of national security and economic necessity, as are international policies and military strategies without regard to any asinine principles in this amoral world based on the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest!     

(The author is a retired neurophysician and an occasional writer. The views expressed are his own. Email-  gpbhatt1@yahoo.com  .)

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