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Afghanistan Issue- USA Interest in Afghanistan

The term “The Great Game” is usually attributed to Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry. It was introduced into mainstream consciousness by British novelist Rudyard Kipling in his novel Kim (1901). “The Great Game” was given to the intrigue of the various European powers of Great Britain, Germany, Turkey and Russia in Transcaucasia, which guarded the strategically vita) “Silk Road” route to the East. Azerbaijan Azerbaijan, which is situated on the Caucasian isthmus between Armenia and Georgia and the Caspian Sea, is of course, a major oil producing country, and Dagestan which immediately adjoins Azerbaijan on its northern frontier, is another of the former autonomous Soviet republics. It is strategically vital to Russia’s ability to influence the Caspian’s future development. Dagestan and Chechnya Dagestan and the adjoining territory of Chechnya, have a combined area of approximately 27,000 sq miles. This is almost the size of the state of Maine. Chechnya itself is of course one of the major oilfields of the former Soviet Union. Turkmenistan Immediately across the Caspian from Azerbaijan, lies the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan, an area of 488,000 sq. miles, bigger than the whole of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma combined. It has enormous oil, gas, coal and other natural resources and significantly, directly adjoins Afghanistan to the south. Uzbejistan Uzbekistan, which covers an area of 172,000 sq. miles, roughly equivalent to the combined states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, has vast resources in oil, gas, coal, copper and gold as well as being a huge cotton producer. It too, has a frontier with Afghanistan to its south, as does Tajikistan. Tajikistan Tajikistan is over 55,000 sq. miles, an area slightly bigger than Illinois, It too has very rich deposits of oil, gas, coal, lead, zinc, uranium, radium and many other minerals. Kyrgyzstan Adjoining Tajikistan is Kyrgyzstan, with a territory of more than 76,000 sq. miles, which is roughly the same size as Nebraska. It does not appear to have the same richness in natural resources but has a relatively well- developed industrial and agro-industrial base. Its particular strategic value lies in the fact that it has a frontier to the east with China. Kazakhstan But the biggest plum in the Central Asian pie is Kazakhstan, a country of more than 1,000 000 sq. miles. It has absolutely vast reserves of coal, oil, gas, manganese, copper, bauxite, gold, uranium and many other minerals as well as a high degree of industrial and agricultural development, including much of the former Soviet aerospace and defence industries. It is bound to the west by the Caspian Sea and on the south by Uzbekistan, through which it can be reached from Afghanistan. It also adjoins Kyrgyzstan and is of strategic importance not only as the largest country in the region but also by reason of its common frontiers with Russia and China.

Strategic Importance of Afghanistan

The strategic importance of Afghanistan is therefore the route into a vast region covering almost 2 million sq. miles with vast untapped natural resources and other than through Iran or China, which are not options available to the U.S., it is the only feasible bridgehead to America’s principal major markets in the Pacific Rim. U.S. economic expansion in such an inherently unstable and hostile region, hemmed in as it is by Russia, China and Iran, where the only real opposition to the authoritarian regimes that characterise the states of the region is Islamic fundamentalism, necessarily demand a strong military presence on the part of the United States. History in any event shows that economic ascendancy in foreign markets ultimately depends on a strong military and naval capability and the assumption of an implied or actual threat of coercion underlying such a capability.

Afghanistan

The supposed international war against terrorism and the pretext for invading Afghanistan, installing and suborning a compliant government and establishing U.S. military bases throughout the region, has provided a perfect pretext for the advancement of U.S. economic interests in Central Asia. Such a viewpoint is surely more credible than ever, now that Russian complicity has become evident, together with the reasons for it. The development of the Russian oil industry in Salkhallin, an island almost the size of Japan and other areas of the Russian Far East, combined with Central Asia’s oil reserves, will be more than sufficient to replace Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other OPEC producers of the Middle East in their entirety as far as future U.S. strategic energy requirements are concerned. And this is certainly what Russia itself has in mind.

By invading Afghanistan, the United Sates has accomplished for Russia and its future economic interests, what the Red Army failed to achieve under communism and the American taxpayer and those of its allies, has so far funded it. With Turkey (a key U.S. ally in the region) determined to restrict any use of the Bosporus as a route for Caspian and Central Asian oil to Europe via the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, with the distinct possibility in any event, of such a route being affected by a fresh outbreak of hostilities between Greece and Turkey, that could be easily provoked at any time by a skilful foreign power with the resources to do it. And even if the sheer geopolitical and logistical nightmare involved in constructing and operating Transcaucasian pipelines through Azerbaijan and Georgia can be overcome, the use of small sea/river tankers into Europe via the Danube, at least for the time being, is currently not feasible, since the river has been blocked to navigation as a result of the U.S. bombardment of Belgrade. This, along with the disintegration of the former Republic of Yugoslavia itself, logically and logistically compounds the difficulties of any ambition by the EU to develop a sphere of influence in Central Asia of its own.

This is “the Great Game” of the twenty-first century. 9/11, provided a convenient pretext for a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, just as civil war in Kosovo seems to have been a perfect excuse to ensure that the Danube cannot be used as a route to Europe for oil from Central Asia via the Caucasus and the Black Sea. Setting aside the usual accusations of anti-American sentiment, cynics should surely be forgiven for thinking that things might well have been deliberately planned that way.

Opium Production in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is, as of March, 2008, the greatest illicit (in Western World standards) opium producer in the world, before Burma (Myanmar), part of the so-called ‘Golden Crescent”. Opium production in Afghanistan has been a significant problem (or a significant business) for Afghanistan, especially since the downfall of the Taliban in 2001. Based on UNODC data, there has been more opium poppy cultivation in each of the past four growing seasons (2004-2007), than in any one year during Taliban rule. Also, more land is now used for opium in Afghanistan, than for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 93% of the opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan. This amounts to an export value of about $4 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers. In the seven years (1994-2000) prior to a Taliban opium ban, the Afghan farmers’ share of gross income from opium was divided among 200,000 families.

Production and Distribution Regions

The following areas of Afghanistan play a role in the drug traffic:
  • “Southern region” of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, on the border with Pakistan, which are the highest-volume areas for drug transactions. There is a traditional route from Helmand, through Pakistan, to Iran.
  • Herat, in Herat Province, the Northern Alliance stronghold, which borders Iran .
  • Faizabad, in Badakhshan province, which has borders with Tajikstan, Pakistan, and China.

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