Military & Aerospace

The Great Game: 21st Century Version-III
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Issue Vol 22.3 Jul-Sep2007 | Date : 16 Dec , 2010

Both China and Pakistan are getting ready for an economic boom that will include transit trade to Central Asia. The Pakistan Army’s National Logistics Cell, which has a near monopoly, will handle this freight traffic all the way up to Kazakhstan and Xinjiang. There is money to be made. Thus development of both Gwadar and control of Gilgit and Baltistan are interlinked and the Pak Army will gain financially from both. In fact, it is going to be a financial bonanza for the already huge corporate interests of the Pak Army.

Also read: The Great Game: 21st Century Version-I

The Chinese are also going to construct 12 new highways into Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan as part of their plans to extend eastwards along the old Silk Route into Europe and access to warm waters. The longest one will stretch 1,680 kilometers from Urumqi, capital of the autonomous region, to Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, Iran’s Mashhad, Turkey’s Istanbul and finally reach Europe. The road will be completed before 2010.

“¦development of both Gwadar and control of Gilgit and Baltistan are interlinked and the Pak Army will gain financially from both. In fact, it is going to be a financial bonanza for the already huge corporate interests of the Pak Army.

There is a problem though that is more intrinsic to the Central Asian republics are constructed than to any external factors. It is the problem of abundance in the three oil and gas producing countries—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan accompanied by distorted and uneven growth as well as unstable undiversified economies leading to corruption and wasteful/fanciful schemes that are counterproductive. Political instability is inbuilt in autocratic systems. Despite these problems the Europeans and the Chinese have been looking at Central Asia for their energy requirements. Oil flows to China are still dependent on Russia and there is not enough gas potentially available in Central Asia that would change European dependence on Russia.

The fear in the West also is that long-term bilateral arrangements would knock out the spot market mechanism at the New York and London stock exchanges, while also undermining the production sharing arrangements that had benefited western oil conglomerates. The Russians are back in business and US advances have been halted. Putin gets no popularity points in Washington for this but he does in Moscow, which is important.

Also read: The Great Game: 21st Century Version-II

The new version of the Great Game includes trying to ratchet the fear of a rising Shia Iran among Sunni Arabs to create a Shia-Sunni schism. The danger is that this will merely succeed in generating anger in West Asia that will give birth to more Al Qaeda and its variants. Vali Nasr, a professor at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California, says that violent anti-Shiism was the domain of radical pro Al-Qaeda clerics, websites and armed groups in the Arab world and Pakistan. Sectarianism — especially among Sunnis — was a driver for radical jehadi ideology.

India, whose buoyant economy has a 70 per cent dependency on imported fossil fuels and weaponry for its security, is disadvantaged as it has neither the deep pockets of the Chinese and the Americans, the military power of the Russians and the Americans and nor the single-mindedness of the Chinese or the Russians.

Former American National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has warned that if the US remains bogged down in Iraq it would inevitably lead to a conflict with Iran and the rest of the Islamic world. Unless the Americans and the Iranians engage in dialogue, there is a very real danger that we are marching towards an unimaginable disaster fought with tactical nuclear weapons. There is already speculation about the likely date of attack but when US Air Force tankers move to remote air bases to refuel B-2 bombers then it will be time for the world to take cover.

Although the US is still the primary global economic, military and technological power, American actions have given room for others to walk into the space being yielded. Obviously, US ability, or perhaps willingness to reconstruct as it did immediately after world war II, no longer matches its ability to deconstruct. The second is the rise of Russia — Vladimir Putin’s speech at the last Munich security conference was like a punch in the Western solar plexus where he spoke of “one single centre of power, one single centre of force and one single master” and the dangers of this situation. This was evidence of an angered Russia on the rebound. Not for nothing does Putin have a 70-80 per cent approval rating in his own country. His speech was not in isolation but comes after the Russian economy with its vast energy resources has shown signs of revival.

Putin followed this with a visit to Saudi Arabia that has the potential to be as epochal as Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Not many years ago, the Saudis had been enthusiastic members of an alliance that sponsored and financed a jehad against the god-less Soviets. During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar, Putin spoke of a ‘GAS OPEC’, offered military assistance to Saudi Arabia as well as nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. A GAS OPEC may still be some years away and is only a concept but the very thought of such a cartel has sent shivers down the Western spine as this would leave the producers of gas as the controllers of prices and production and not the consumers.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Vikram Sood

Former Chief of R&AW.

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