Wednesday Night #1476

Written by  //  June 16, 2010  //  Afghanistan, David Mitchell, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Two Wednesday Nighters who have recently returned from a trip to China sparked the discussion of the signs of seemingly unstoppable development in Beijing and Shanghai with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see – many are condos built (and still empty) in anticipation of the rising middle class market; incredible infrastructure, roads and high-speed trains near the cities; the length of the ring-road around Beijing – it would take five hours to drive all the way around the city -; but also the incredible disparity between rich, middle class and the grinding poverty of the poor, recently highlighted by the series of suicides at the Foxconn factory. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the 13 attempted suicides in a workforce of 800,000 is well below the national average.
It was also noted that nowhere could one drink the water, except in The Cube at the Shanghai expo.
One surprising aspect of the “new” China, is the development of a narrative that re-incorporates the concept of the Middle Kingdom emperors, and historical figures, that bypasses the Mao years – whose 42-year length represents only a footnote in Chinese history – and providing the lead-up to global capitalism. … creating an image for themselves and the world – a new concept that is being promoted very strongly.
Sine the early 1990s China has pursued a policy of enticing expatriate Chinese scientists to return to China, which has been only somewhat successful, as scientists who have settled in western universities of the caliber of UCLA or MIT are reluctant to accept inducements to return to what they view as weaker science centers lacking the critical mass of research and infrastructure. On the other hand, there is much the West can learn from traditional Chinese medicine and other practices.
The authorities of the Shanghai expo decreed special access for visitors over 70 and in wheel chairs. Our friends were able to take advantage of this thoughtful provision on the last day that it was in effect (sadly, too many people discovered it and suddenly everyone was over 70 and had purchased a wheelchair – would that be a run on wheelchairs?). Particularly memorable (perhaps not for its tastefulness) was the Saudi pavilion in the shape of an oil tanker and covered in palm leaves.
Several Wednesday Nighters noted their parallel involvement with the Bethune biographical film that starred Donald Sutherland.

The announcement of natural resources in northern Afghanistan valued at approximately three trillion dollars, has caused some cynicism. Even in the primitive north, it would be difficult to imagine that this wealth could be hidden from the world, especially from presumed protectors and invaders over the centuries. Indeed, the wealth of the deposits has the potential to greatly surpass that of the opium trade and to raise Afghanistan to the status of countries, not unlike Canada, blessed by nature. Afghan geologists and engineers will have to be trained.

The news of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is not really news. However, the addition of this information in the present geopolitical context shines a light on what may emerge should the Chinese move quickly to seize the opportunities in China.
If one lays down a map of the region and considers historical political relationships between Pakistan, China, India, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan a colourful image of political intrigue and guile emerges. The news of Afghanistan’s mineral resources and the potential windfall that this offers a country (that is so far dependent on opium and international aid) new options present themselves to shift domestic politics and regional political status quo. Northern, eastern and western regions in Afghanistan will gain strength from new-found wealth and attract new attention from state and private investors eager to get in first to secure titles to mineral rights. The South, also blessed with mineral deposits, will no longer be the sole proprietor of Karzai’s family’s political strength as new wealth strengthens rival Pashtun [also known as Pathan] clans. Pakistan’s long standing friendship with China will be augmented with increased traffic to sea ports that are yet-to-be-built in Baluchistan. India’s long standing adversarial relationship with Pakistan and to a lesser extent, with China will be brought into focus with increased Chinese investment and infrastructure development in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition there is a less well known trading block that has existed since the 1980s between Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mineral wealth in Afghanistan brings into focus geopolitical relationships, contiguous borders, port facilities, rail infrastructure, human resource development, migrant workers, transportation grids and development opportunities related to resource extraction.

Inevitably, the question arises as to why the West has failed to bring peace, wealth and happiness to this otherwise disadvantaged, victimized, country. There can be no doubt that the coalition has done an incredible service in building infrastructure and educational opportunities, especially for women in this war ravaged country but possibly, in the consideration of the impact of religion and of religious clashes, one should include, perhaps, the secular religions, in this instance, democracy and tribalism. Afghans, especially Pushtuns, are tribal, a secular religion apparently much less understood by the west than by the Chinese who are said to be more skilled at negotiating with tribal leaders who are basically good refugee camp managers who have  earned the unerring support of their followers by fulfilling their perceived physical and emotional needs. Among other problems, the leaders in the south of the country may believe, not without reason, that their personal influence may be adversely affected by the potential developing importance of the mineral economy over the opium economy. Thus, the West’s attempt to develop infrastructure and education, especially among women, however important, may very well be being trumped by the apparent failure to secure, financially and influentially, the position of the tribal leaders who may very well greatly outnumber those who adhere to the secular democratic religion. This may have been a source of frustration to General Petraeus in his attempt to modernize the country.
Although the success or failure of the operation is much dependent on the gestalt, there is good reason for Canadians to be there. We are rebuilding, electrifying, educating and physically protecting Afghanis against those whose own place in the pecking order is at least partly dependent on maintaining Afghanis subservient.

As the rule of Hamid Karzai comes to an end, the uncertainty of a stable successor remains. What does remain certain is that the presence of the Americans (and Canadians)  is essential to future success in Afghanistan. What is also certain is that China is seemingly better at dealing with tribal chiefs than is the U.S. thanks to differences in their particular secular religion. Chinese intervention has so far worked fairly well in Africa, although some population is resentful as the local talent find it impossible to compete with the Chinese.


The Prologue

How many headline stories can we worry about at one time?

Presumably, because the dénouement is most imminent, we will devote part of the evening to the G8/G20 – starting with the Liberals’ take on the fake lake and other costs (World Cup-sized cost.  To put the $1.1 billion dollar-cost of hosting the 72 hour G8/G20 in perspective, the month-long World Cup in South Africa will cost FIFA $1.2 billion to put on, but it will also generate a billion dollars in tourism revenue for South Africa – when all Canadians get is a fake lake.) and Mr. Harper’s reactions to the pressures on him to do an about-face on the “side issue” of climate change Harper pressured to put climate change on G8, G20 agenda. What is the form for adding something to the agenda at the last minute? Where do you put it? How do the sherpas put together a statement at this late date? As of 10 days ago, a leaked draft of the final communiqué for the upcoming G8 summit suggested “Canada has dodged a bullet on the thorny issues of abortion and climate change”. Today, we are informed that the prime minister was on (the telephone) with Chancellor (Angela) Merkel [Monday] morning and they discussed the fact that this issue, climate change, will be raised at both summits.” [We will refrain from comment.] The Liberals are having a field day, launching ads. And, speaking of afterthoughts, note the announcement on Monday evening that 10 more countries have been invited to the G8.

A domestic issue that has had short shrift at WN lately is the establishment of the national securities regulator, but Alberta and Quebec are in full cry stating that the plan will create turmoil and uncertainty in Canadian financial markets, pointing out that there will be a prolonged period during which the question of whether Ottawa has the constitutional right to set up a single securities watchdog will be before the courts, and that will have a negative impact on capital markets. John Evdokias wonders what will be the effect of the MOU signed between the SEC, Quebec Autorité des marchés financiers and Ontario Securities Commission.

The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill news is more and more depressing. Reports that the spill may be contained but cannot be stopped at least until August, when relief wells are due to be completed are not new, but the increased estimates of the amount of spill continue to shock. According to our morning Foreign Policy brief, the spill is now equivalent to one Exxon Valdez disaster every five to thirteen days. President Obama is back in the Gulf area reassuring everyone that someday life will be back to normal and will be addressing the nation on Tuesday night – but like everyone else including BP, he is at the mercy of the process. Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor (among others) is asking
Will Gulf oil spill cleanup suffer if BP makes dividend payments?

After months – years – of depressing news of bombings, corruption, death, destruction and similar evils, what to make of the announcement that the U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan … nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself. Maybe that was what the Russians were after, but never wanted to ‘fess up to?
Don’t ignore the down side of the story as highlighted by the Independent:
“The discovery of the minerals is likely to trigger a commercial form of the “Great Game” for access to energy resources. The Chinese have already won the right to develop the Aynak copper mine in Logar province in the north, and American and European companies have complained about allegedly underhand methods used by Beijing to get contracts.
The existence of the minerals will also raise questions about the real purpose of foreign involvement in the Afghan conflict. Just as many people in Iraq held that the US and British-led invasion of their country was in order to control the oil wealth, Afghans can often be heard griping that the West is after its “hidden” natural treasures. The fact US military officials were on the exploration teams, and the Pentagon was writing mineral memos might feed that cynicism and also motivate the Taliban into fighting more ferociously to keep control of potentially lucrative areas.
Western diplomats were also warning last night that the flow of money from the minerals is likely to fuel endemic corruption in a country where public figures, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President’s brother, have been accused of making fortunes from the narcotics trade. The Ministry of Mines and Industry, which will control the production of lithium and other natural resources, has been repeatedly associated with malpractice.”
And just in case it escaped your notice, the LSE has published a  (not surprising for those of us who have paid attention to some of WN’s geopolitical analysts) report that Pakistani ISI has an “official policy” of support for the Taliban.

Israel, Gaza, Turkey – and now Iran and Egypt
Before the dust has settled, as it were – or more accurately, before the videos purporting to be the definitive accurate account of the Freedom Flotilla have all been viewed, interpreted and hurled around the Internet, and before the establishment – or not – of commissions of enquiry, there’s a troubling new development as Iran is sending in aid ships – one sailed on Sunday. It’s not clear whether the ships will attempt to break the Gaza blockade by sea, or will go to Egypt, where they could precipitate another type of crisis because of the alliance between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood Regarding the Tirkel Commission announced by Israel (has anyone noticed that the average age of the Israeli participants is 84.5 years?), David Mitchell wonders about the participation of Canadian Ken Watkin and how this relates to Mr. Harper’s cozy relationship with Mr. Netanyahu (excoriated by Linda McQuaig)

While our eyes have been focused on all of the above, ethnic violence has flared up (again) in southern Kyrgyzstan to the consternation of both the U.S. and Russia (remember they both operate military bases in the country). As Stratfor notes in its usual excellent geopolitical analysis of the situation: Since 2005, Russia has clearly reasserted itself as the dominant power in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ukraine, and has intimidated places like Georgia and Turkmenistan into a sort of silent acquiescence.

For all of us news and media junkies, two recent items of interest.
John Moore: Fox to ‘balance’ Canada’s right-wing media bias?
Balance isn’t what a new conservative news network will be seeking. They’re more interested in sealing the bell jar around the alternative reality of the Conservative base. During an exchange with me on CTV’s question period this weekend Ezra Levant declared The Nature of Things host David Suzuki to be a “propagandist.” Of course Levant is not insisting that Suzuki is undermining conservative fiscal policy when he describes the breeding habits of dung beetles. His complaint is that Suzuki is on side with the overwhelming majority of his fellow scientists on the matter of climate change.  |
Newspapers finding new sources of revenue, OECD says that newspapers, despite facing declining readership and advertising revenues, aren’t headed towards oblivion. Sadly, the OECD report adds that Canadian newspapers will be among the top five hardest-hit among major western industrialized countries in the tally of damage wrought by the recession in 2009.

We always strive to end on a happy note. Kudos, applause, etc., to our OWN Mayor Peter Trent for resolving the Cinq Saisons problem, apparently to everyone’s satisfaction.

Finally, we could not resist this recommended cure for insomnia Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is offering parents a cure for children who don’t want to go to sleep. Have them watch his televised speeches. … our only question is why is it limited to children?

We promise not to air any of El Presidente’s speeches this or any other Wednesday, so you need not fear dozing off.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1476"

  1. Sam Stein June 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm ·

    As you indicated, the analysis of the Kyrgyzstan situation in Stratfor is excellent and spot-on regarding Stalin’s “creative cartography” and the artificial nature of the country, but omits a few nuances I noticed when Mike Vicanek and I spent some time there in 2000-2002 (i.e. about 10 years after the split-up of the old USSR and the birth of the so-called “nation” of Kyrgyzstan).
    1. Despite the independence of the country, most of the business of government and other economic activity seemed to take place in the Russian language – 10 years later.
    2. This said, the ethnic Russians we met were almost all rather eager to leave, feeling unwanted and discriminated against by the locals despite having in many cases spent their whole lives there.
    3. The entire country was apparently a “restricted” area within the old Soviet Union, since the only industrial activity of any importance was the production of military equipment. Of course, with the break-up of the empire and the obsolescence of the equipment being produced, the plants were all shut down – leading to very high unemployment in the industrial sector. In fact, the plants were not only shut down but, from what we could see, were pretty well looted by the departing Russian military personnel of anything of value: machinery, copper wiring, window glass…… I understand that this was typical of much of the former empire; I observed the same thing in the former East Germany at around the same time when we prepare plans for converting a former Warsaw Pact forward air base to civilian use.
    4. The country was home to a fairly large number of ethnic Uyghurs who had emigrated (fled) from Western China.
    5. And now for the surprising good part. The capital, Bishkek, was one of the greenest cities I have seen – large parks, wide boulevards, tree-lined streets, monumental public architecture and attractive water courses running through the parks in the downtown area, channeling the clear run-off from the Tien Shan mountains. Of course, the city was built pretty much from scratch by the Commies, probably as some sort of showcase. And then – in contrast to the rather pleasant urban planning and monumental public buildings – the residential construction at that time consisted almost entirely of ubiquitous depressing run-down socialist apartment blocks. Sam

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