Why sit and play chess with Iran at all?
PAKISTAN – A LONG PREAMBLE:
The genesis is Afghanistan and the increasing exponential of risk parameters in moving goods through Pakistan. Pakistan is the primary channel through which U.S. and NATO supplies travel to support the war effort in Afghanistan. The reason for this is quite simple: Pakistan offers the shortest and most logistically viable overland supply routes for Western forces operating in landlocked Afghanistan.
In late 2008, as Pakistan continued its downward spiral, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. David Petraeus began touring Central Asian capitals in an attempt to stitch together supplemental supply lines into northern Afghanistan. Soon enough, Washington learned that it was fighting an uphill battle in trying to negotiate in Russian-dominated Central Asia without first reaching a broader understanding with Moscow. With U.S.-Russian negotiations now in flux and the so-called “northern distribution network” frozen, the United States has little choice but to face the reality in Pakistan.
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This reality is rooted in the Pakistani Taliban’s desire to spread south beyond the Pashtun-dominated northwest tribal badlands (where attacks against the U.S.-NATO supply lines are already intensifying) into the Pakistani core in Punjab province. Punjab is Pakistan’s industrial heartland and home to more than half of the entire Pakistani population. If the Taliban manage to establish a foothold in Punjab, then the idea of a collapsing Pakistani state would actually become a realistic scenario. The key to preventing such a scenario is keeping the Pakistani military, the country’s most powerful institution, intact. However, splits within the military over how to handle the insurgency while preserving ties with militant proxies are threatening the military’s cohesion. Moreover, the threats to the supply lines go even further south than Punjab. The port of Karachi in Sindh province, where U.S.-NATO supplies are offloaded from ships, could be destabilized if the Taliban provoke local political forces.
In league with their jihadist brethren across the border in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban and their local affiliates are just as busy planning their next steps in the insurgency as the United States is in planning its counterinsurgency strategy. Afghanistan is a country that is not kind to outsiders, and the overwhelming opinion of the jihadist forces battling Western, Pakistani and Afghan troops in the region is that this is a war that can be won through the power of exhaustion.
Key to this strategy will be an attempt to make the position of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan untenable by increasing risk to their supply lines in Pakistan.
For an excellent interactive map on the supply routes - click here for the Stratfor interactive page.
As the pre-eminent global maritime power, the United States is able to sustain military operations far beyond its coastlines. Afghanistan, however, is a landlocked country whose inaccessibility prevents the U.S. military from utilizing its naval prowess. Instead, the United States and NATO must bring in troops, munitions and militarily sensitive materiel directly by air and rely on long, overland supply routes through Pakistan for non-lethal supplies such as food, building materials and fuel (most of which is refined in Pakistan).
The deteriorating security situation in Pakistan now requires an effective force to protect the supply convoys. Though sending a couple of U.S.-NATO brigades into Pakistan would provide first-rate security for these convoys, such an option would be political dynamite in U.S.-Pakistani relations.
The sight of Western forces operating openly in the country would be a red line that Islamabad simply could not cross. Even if this were an option, U.S.-NATO forces are already stretched to the limit in Afghanistan and there are no troops to spare to send into Pakistan — nor is there the desire on the part of the United States or NATO to insert their troops into such a dicey security situation.
WHY DOES NOT NATO / US ENLIST PAK MILITARY TO ESCORT SUPPLIES?
Enlisting the Pakistani military would be another option, but the Pentagon has thus far resisted allowing the Pakistani military to take direct charge of protecting and transporting U.S.-NATO supplies through Pakistan into Afghanistan. The reasons for this are unclear, but they likely can be attributed (at least in part) to U.S. distrust for the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus, which is heavily infiltrated by Islamist sympathizers who retain links to their militant Islamist proxies.
Instead, CENTCOM’s logistics team has given the security responsibility to private Pakistani security contractors.
Inadequate security allows for easy infiltration and manipulation by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which is already heavily penetrated by Islamist sympathizers. Drivers will often strike a deal with the militants allowing raids on the convoys in return for a cut of the proceeds once the goods are sold on the black market.
One indication of just how porous U.S.-NATO security arrangements are in Pakistan is that the commander of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), is allegedly a former transporter himself now using jihad as a cover for his criminal activities.
MUSHARRAF in on the business of NATO logistics?
Many of the private Pakistani security companies guarding the routes are owned by wealthy Pakistani civilians who have strong links to government and to retired military officials. The private Pakistani security firms currently guarding the routes include Ghazi Security, Ready Guard, Phoenix Security Agency and SE Security Agency. Most of the main offices of these companies are located in Islamabad, but these contractors have also hired smaller security agencies in Peshawar. The private companies that own terminals used for the northern and southern supply routes include al Faisal Terminal (whose owner has been kidnapped by militants and whose whereabouts are unknown), Bilal Terminal (owned by Shahid Ansari from Punjab), World Port Logistics (owned by Major Fakhar, a nephew of former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf), Raziq International, Peace Line, Pak-Afghan and Waqar Terminal.
U.S. logistics teams are revising the northern route by moving some of the supply depots farther south in Punjab where the security threat is lower (though the Taliban are attempting to expand their presence there)
Both supply routes originate in Pakistan’s largest city and primary seaport, Karachi. The city is Pakistan’s financial hub and provides critical ocean access for U.S.-NATO logistics support in Afghanistan. If Karachi — a city already known to have a high incidence of violence — were to destabilize, the Western military supply chain could be threatened even before supplies embarked on the lengthy and volatile journey through the rest of Pakistan.
The recent spate of killings in Karachi, where 28 people (mostly Pashtuns) were killed is a reminder of this reality. Karachi has a Pashtun population of 3.5 million, making up some 30 percent of the city’s population. Moreover, Karachi police have reported that Taliban members are among the “several hundred thousand” tribesmen fleeing violence in the frontier regions who have settled on the outskirts of Karachi
For those convoys that make it out of the Peshawar terminal-depot hub, the next major stop is the Khyber Pass leading into Khyber agency, where the route travels along N-5 through Jamrud, Landikotal and Michni Post and then reaches the border with Afghanistan. The border area between Peshawar district and Khyber agency is called the Karkhano Market, which is essentially a massive black market for stolen goods run by smugglers, drug dealers and other organized-crime elements. Here one can find high quality merchandise at cheap prices, including stolen goods that were meant for U.S. and NATO forces. People have seen U.S.-NATO military uniforms and laptops going for $100 in the market place.
Khyber agency (the most developed agency in the tribal belt) has been the scene of high-profile abductions, destroyed bridges and attacks against local political and security officials. Considering the frequency of the attacks, it appears that the militants can strike at the supply chain with impunity, and with likely encouragement from PAKISTANI SECURITY FORCES.
Militiamen of the most active Taliban faction in Khyber agency, Mangal Bagh’s LI, heavily patrol the Bara area and have blown up several shrines, abducted local Christians and fought gun battles with police. LI is not part of Baitullah Mehsud’s TTP umbrella group but maintains significant influence among the tribal maliks. Mehsud is allied with another faction called the Hakimullah Group, which rivals a third faction called Amr bil Maarouf wa Nahi Anil Munkar (“Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”), whose leader, Haji Namdaar, was killed by Hakimullah militiamen.
Not all the Khyber agency militants are ideologically driven jihadists like Baitullah Mehsud of the TTP and Mullah Fazlullah of the TNSM. Some are organized-crime elements who lack religious training and have long been engaged in smuggling operations. When the Pakistani military entered the region to crack down on the insurgency, these criminal groups saw their illegal activities disrupted. To continue to earn a livelihood, many of these criminal elements were reborn as militants under the veil of jihad.
The southern route into Afghanistan is the shorter of the two U.S.-NATO supply routes. The entire route traverses the 813-kilometer-long national highway N-25, running north from the port of Karachi through Sindh and northwest into Balochistan before crossing into southern Afghanistan at the Chaman border crossing.
About 25 to 30 percent of the supplies going to U.S.-NATO forces operating in southern Afghanistan travel along this route. Though most of the southern route through Pakistan is relatively secure, the security risks rise dramatically once the trucks cross into Afghanistan on highway A-75, which runs through the heart of Taliban country in Kandahar province and surrounding areas.
Once out of Karachi, the route through Sindh is secure. Problems arise once the trucks hit Balochistan province, a resource-rich region where ethnic Baloch separatists have waged an insurgency for decades against Punjabi rule. The Baloch insurgency is directed against the Pakistani state and is led by three main groups: the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and the People’s Liberation Army. The BLA is the most active of the three and focuses its attacks on Pakistani police and military personnel, natural gas pipelines and civil servants. The Pakistani military deals with the Baloch rebels with an iron fist, but the Baloch insurgency has been a long and insoluble one. (Balochistan enjoyed autonomy under the British, and when Pakistan was created it forcibly took over the province; successive Pakistani regimes have mishandled the issue.)
Once inside Balochistan, the supply route runs first into the major industrial town of Hub (also known as Hub Chowki) and then into the Baloch capital of Quetta. These are areas that have witnessed a number of Baloch separatist attacks in recent years, including the December 2004 bombing of a Pakistani military truck in Quetta (claimed by the BLA), the killing of three Chinese engineers working at Gwadar Port in May of the same year and, more recently, the abduction of the head of the U.N. refugee agency (an American citizen) in February 2009 from Quetta. Although the Baloch insurgency has been relatively calm over the past year, unrest reignited in the province in early April after the bodies of three top Baloch rebel leaders were discovered in the Turbat area near the Iranian border. The Baloch separatist groups claim that the rebel leaders died at the hands of Pakistani security forces.
The Baloch rebels have no direct quarrel with the United States or NATO member states and are far more interested in attacking Pakistani targets. But they have struck foreign interests before in Balochistan to pressure Islamabad in negotiations. Baloch rebels also demonstrated the ability to strike Western targets in Karachi when they bombed a KFC fast-food restaurant in November 2005. Although the separatists have yet to show any interest in attacking U.S.-NATO convoys running through the region, future attacks cannot be ruled out.
The main threat along this route comes from Islamist militants who are active in the final 150-kilometer stretch of the road between the Quetta region and the Chaman border crossing. This section of highway N-25 runs through what is known as the Pashtun corridor in northwest Balochistan, bordering South Waziristan agency on the southern tip of the FATA.
Although the supply route traversing this region has seen very few attacks, the situation could easily change. A number of jihadists who have sought sanctuary from the firefights farther north as well as Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar and his Quetta Shura (or leadership council) are believed to be hiding in the Quetta area. The Pashtun corridor also is the stronghold of Pakistan’s largest Islamist party, the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. In addition, the al Qaeda-linked anti-Shiite group LeJ has been engaged in sectarian and other attacks in the region. Northwestern Balochistan also is a key launchpad for Taliban operations in southern Afghanistan and is the natural extension of Pakistani Taliban activity in the tribal belt. Although the Baloch separatists are firmly secular in their views, they have been energized by the rise of Islamist groups fighting the same enemy: the Pakistani state.
The developing U.S. military strategy for Afghanistan suffers from a number of strategic flaws. Chief among them is the fact — and there is no getting around it — that Pakistan serves as the primary supply line for both the Western forces and the jihadist forces fighting each other in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s balancing act between the United States and its former Islamist militant proxies is becoming untenable as many of those proxies turn against the Pakistani state. And as stability deteriorates in Pakistan, the less reliable the landscape is for facilitating the overland shipment of military supplies into Afghanistan. The Russians, meanwhile, are not exactly eager to make life easier for the United States in Afghanistan by cooperating in any meaningful way on alternate supply routes through Central Asia.
Jihadist forces in Pakistan’s northwest have already picked up on the idea that the long U.S.-NATO supply route through northern Pakistan makes a strategic and vulnerable target in their campaign against the West. Attacks on supply convoys have thus far been concentrated in the volatile tribal badlands along the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. But the Pakistani Taliban are growing bolder by the day and are publicly announcing their intent to spread beyond the Pashtun areas and into the Pakistani core of Punjab. The Pakistani government and military, meanwhile, are strategically stymied. They cannot follow U.S. orders and turn every Pashtun into an enemy, and they cannot afford to see their country crushed under the weight of the jihadists. As a result, the jihadists gain strength while the writ of the Pakistani state erodes.
But the jihadists are not the only ones that CENTCOM should be worrying about as it analyzes its logistical challenges in Pakistan. Islamist sympathizers in Pakistan’s security apparatus and organized crime elements can take — and have taken — advantage of the shoddy security infrastructure in place to transport U.S.-NATO supplies through the country. In addition, there are secular political forces in play — from the MQM in Karachi to the Baloch rebels in Quetta — that could tip the balance in areas now considered relatively safe for transporting supplies to Afghanistan.
The United States is becoming increasing reliant on Pakistan, just as Pakistan is becoming increasingly unreliable. There are no quick fixes to the problem, but the first step in addressing it is to understand the wide array of threats currently engulfing the Pakistani state.
As a US strategist – you would want to move on with the game and see other possibilities – however improbable.
On Feb 1st 2009, I wrote: CHABAHAR PORT TO FEED NATO IN AFGHANISTAN - WHY NOT?
In that I wrote: The shortest route to Afghanistan from a port, outside of Pakistan, to reach Afghanistan, lies through Chabahar port - IRAN. The port and the road in Afghanistan has been built by India. On 22nd Jan 2009, INDIA handed over to Afghan authorities ZARANJ - DELARAM highway built by it in the face of stiff resistance from Taliban.
Italy has already made use of this stretch to transport non-military hardwares to Afghanistan. Seeing that this route works – and the high risk facing US / NATO forces, US is making a pitch to Iran.
US & IRAN on CHABAHAR:
Barack Obama's plans "to transform the Khomeinist Islamic Republic's clenched fist against America into a helping hand by formally asking Tehran to permit the passage to Afghanistan of fresh US troops, weapons and supplies across Iranian territory."
CLEARED IN BACK CHANNELS:
In its follow-up of April 3, 2009 US defense secretary Robert Gates, Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and transport command chief Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, have laid before the president a detailed plan, which had been cleared in back-door meetings between US and Iranian officers.
Iran may be tempted to up the ante on its nuclear ambitions when the US becomes dependent on Tehran for its war supplies to Afghanistan.
The US Air Base at Al Udeid in Qatar would be the main hub for the air corridor taking US transport planes over the Persian Gulf, crossing the Iranian border and flying over southern and central Iran up to their destination, the US airbase near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
The sea route would hinge on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' main naval base at Chah-Bahar, which is situated on the Arabian Sea near Iran's border with Pakistan.
Chah-Bahar has two sections, a small, run-down civilian harbor for small craft arriving from India and Pakistan, and a spanking new, modern military facility, home to Iran's main submarine force.
The US planners rated this section of Chah-Bahar an ideal port of call for US provisions to reach Afghanistan by a predominantly sea route. From this Arabian Sea port, consignments would head north through Iran's Sistan-va-Baluchistan up to the Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan border intersection and then turn east by convoy to their destination at Kandahar.
THE US CARROT: IRAN TO SUPPLY TO NABUCCO PIPELINE.
For pipeline politics, read Great Game I and Ultimate Game II. (MUST READS)
Iran is about to become a major fuel supplier to the West as Washington is ceding Tehran the chance to feed its natural gas into the 3,000 kilometer-long Nabucco pipeline project (from the Caspian to the EU via Turkey).
However US knows it can be set up for blackmail should US become wholly obligated to Iran for its logistics to feed it in Afghanistan. (We are assuming that the dream of liberating Baluchistan has not yet happened).
THE US STICK:
the US Congress that aims to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran by targeting its energy imports.
The Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of US senators, states in its preamble that its purpose is "to enhance US diplomatic efforts with respect to Iran by expanding economic sanctions against Iran to include refined petroleum, and for other purposes".
If it gets implemented it will cause serious disruption in the Iranian economy. It is to be noted that both Iranian and Venezuelan economy suffered the most in the oil price falling due to the inherent nature of subsidies these totalitarian governments pay to keep its populace “happy”.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
It means the US is serious (very) about engaging Iran and using Chabahar port. Which means the US has given up on Pakistan as a logistics route – but more than that it signals a sea-change in the attitude of Washington that cannot be good news for Pakistan. The sands are quickly shifting below the feet of the Pakistani Generals and they need to invent more tricks from their magic bag to keep the US happy and engaged.
Israel will surely look upon the closeness of US & Iran with suspicion – not that it can do much as has been suggested time and again. If that be so, then a curious incident took place recently in Iran.
Russian intelligence warned Tehran that on Friday April 17 Israel was planning to destroy all 140 fighter-bombers concentrated at the Mehr-Abad Air Force base for an air show over Tehran on Iran's Army Day the following day. The entire fleet was accordingly removed to remote bases and the display cancelled. Iran blamed the weather for the cancellations ...
Whether it was precaution or good intelligence, Israel can single handedly derail any US bonhomie with Iran, if it feels threatened.
TWO INTERESTING EVENTS:
IRANIANS + PALESTINIANS in CARACAS, VENEZUELA
Another “incident” that Israel is watching keenly is that on Monday, April 27, Iran's foreign minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar and intelligence chiefs secretly got together with visiting Palestinian Authority officials, led by Palestinian foreign minister Riyadh al-Maliki. The matchmakers were Hugo Chavez and the Qatar ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa.
This can have serious repercussions on the security of Israel in particular and Middle East in general.
FBI DROPS CASE AGAINST AIPAC:
FBI abandoned an espionage-law case against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israel advocacy group, a case that had transfixed much of official Washington because of its potential to criminalize the exchange of sensitive information among journalists, lobbyists and policy analysts.
In asking a judge to dismiss charges against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, formerly of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, officials said recent court rulings had changed the legal landscape and made it unlikely that they would win.
Prosecutors and investigators had used FBI wiretaps to pursue Rosen and Weissman for at least five years, building a complex case that involved secret court hearings and dozens of legal filings and rulings. The two men were charged in 2005 with conspiring to obtain classified information -- about topics including al-Qaeda and U.S. forces in Iraq -- and pass it to the Israeli government and journalists from The Washington Post and other news organizations.