Afghanistan – The Graveyard of Empires

Afghanistan has long been infamous for being the ‘Graveyard of Mighty Empires’ from the time of Alexander to Persians to Mongols to British to Soviets or now NATO. The Powers that have tried to conquer Afghanistan have always been decimated or been made to suffer bloody retreats. Afghanistan owes this infamous association because of the Terrain & the Tribes that dominate this region. The terrain in Afghanistan is one of the most difficult ones from the Confluence of Hindu Kush & Himalayan Ranges in North, to the Tora Bora Mountains to east & vast arid plains to the south. Afghanistan, a land locked country still stands isolated from the world in a different Era of 18th Century while the rest of the world has moved into 21st Century. One of the factors that make Afghanistan most difficult to conquer along with is terrain are the Tribal Warlords. Afghanistan as it exists today consist of various tribes like Tajiks & Uzbeks that once formed the part of Northern Alliance while the majority dominated Pashtuns comprise most of the leadership of Taliban. Conflicts in Afghanistan have been fought for centuries on Tribal lines lead by Warlords but whenever any foreign power has tried to conquer Afghanistan it has faced a bloody conflict at the hands of these very Tribal Warlords in one’s of the world’s most difficult terrains. To understand the modern wars once must understand why Afghanistan is called “The Graveyard of Empires’.

Tribes in Afghanistan

Ethnic groups in Afghanistan come in two flavors: tribal and non-tribal. Tajiks are the largest non-tribal nationality in Afghanistan, making up one-third of the population. Tajiks became politically dominant in the region with Tahirids, Safarids, Samanids and Ghurids Empires between the 9th and 12th centuries, and constitute the urban population of almost all the provinces. The urban Tajiks are bureaucrats, clerics and merchants. The rural Tajiks are involved in agriculture. However, the Khans and Mirs have always played the role of local leaders in Tajik society.  The Uzbeks, Turkmen, Hazaras, Baluch, Pashtuns and Aimaqs are predominantly tribal. The tribal bonds are stronger in Pashtuns and they can trace their genealogy to a common ancestor. With regard to the others, either they have not been recognized by their tribal decedents externally, such as the Hazaras, or they lost their genealogical character at some point in the past, such as Uzbeks and Turkmen.

The tribal structure of Hazaras was diminished to a large extent as a result of mass killings by King Abdurrahman Khan between 1880 and 1901. Being Shiite, Hazaras faced substantial discrimination since the time of King Abdurrahman until the end of the first republic in 1978. The Communist government supported minorities to some extent and recognized their rights. The Uzbeks are Turkic-speaking people who are dispersed in the north of the country, which became politically dominant in the region in the 10th century with the Ghaznavids. The Pashtu-speaking tribes are categorized in three different social structures and political cultures: the Ghilzais, the Durranis and the Kuchis.

The modern nation-state of Afghanistan has formed as a result of two main factors: The colonial rivalry between Russia and the British in Central Asia, and internal subjugation of different nations and ethnicities by the rulers of Afghanistan. Despite having a diverse political culture at the national level and being a multinational country, the Pashtun culture and kinship structure has configured the nature of the state in Afghanistan over the last two centuries. Since the mid-18th century when the Pashtuns were brought to power by Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1747, their political culture has been the defining factor of Afghanistan’s national politics. The kin-based tribal culture enforced a hierarchical social structure at the national political level. In this structure, the Durrani Pashtuns are at the top of the pyramid; Ghilzia Pashtun comes second; and Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras come sequentially at the bottom.

The assimilationist nation-building process centralized the Pashtun kin-based political culture as Afghanistan became a tribalized nation-state. The main reason behind Pashtuns’ consolidation of power was the sponsorship of Pashtun rulers by colonial powers, which changed Afghanistan to a Rentier state. In 19th and early 20th century, it was the British who funded the rulers for example; the British sponsored Abdurrahman Khan with 1.8 million rupees annually. The Soviet Union (USSR) and the US took on the role from British 1950s onward. This assimilationist nation-building and ethnicity-based nationalism were adopted by figures such as Mahmud Tarzi, founder of Serj al-Akhbar newspaper in 1911, and Afghanistan’s foreign minister in 1919. These figures were affected by the nationalist ideologies of the Ottoman Young Turks.

Systematic ethnic, religious and linguistic discrimination and revolt against Habibullah Kalakani, a Tajik king, in 1929 were the fruits of this structure. The state structure and resources were used in favor of one ethnic group. The oppressed ethnic groups felt alienated from the nation-building process and this led to grievances and enhanced social rifts. 

History of Lost Empires in Afghanistan

After the formation of the modern nation-state from 1880-1929, Afghanistan has witnessed at least seven major conflicts. Starting from the war of state construction and establishing a centralized authority between 1880-1901; on through the 1919 conflict with British India and guerrilla war against the Soviet invasion and the Communist administration in Kabul (1979–92); onto the civil war among the rival mujahedeen factions (1992–96); and the ongoing fight against the Taliban since 9/11, war has been an almost continual presence in the lives of Afghans. 

The beginning of modern Afghanistan can be dated back to 1747, when the Afghans in Nadir Shah's army returned home after his death. Their leader, Ahmad Khan Abdali, entered Kandahar and was elected king of the Afghans in a tribal assembly. He took the title Durr-i-Durran ('pearl among pearls') and changed the name of his tribe to the Durrani. Ahmad Shah Durrani, as he is now called, had learnt from Nadir Shah the profession of conquest. He applied these skills with great success over the next twenty-five years. The extent of his empire fluctuated, according to the success of his ceaseless campaigns to protect its boundaries and most of his reign in Afghanistan extended from the Amu Darya in the north to the Arabian Sea and from Herat to the Punjab.

Dost Mohammed: 1818-1838

Kabul was taken in 1818 by an Afghan tribe, the Barakzai, led on this occasion by Dost Mohammed - the twentieth but the most forceful of the twenty-one sons of the tribal chieftain. Civil war against supporters of the Durrani continued for several years, until in 1826 the country was safely divided between Dost Mohammed and some of his brothers. Dost Mohammed received the greatest share, in a stretch from Ghazni to Jalalabad which included Kabul. He was soon accepted as the leader of the nation, taking the formal title of Emir from 1837 and was also accepted in this role by foreigners as well as by the Afghan tribes. 

Afghanistan's relationship with foreign powers was by now an important factor. Since the time of Peter the Great, in the early 18th century, Russia was interested in developing a direct trading link with India. This meant the need for a friendly or puppet regime in Afghanistan. The idea of Russian influence in this region (the only neighboring territory with easy access to Britain's Indian empire) inevitably rang alarm bells in London. Thus Dost Mohammed found himself courted by both sides. A British mission was established in Kabul in 1837. While discussions were under way, the Russian envoy also arrived and was later received by the emir. In lieu of these developments the negotiations with the British broke and they were ordered to leave Kabul by emir. The response to this of then governor-general of India, Lord Auckland, was a forceful but an extremely miscalculated step that would cost the British dearly. He used the rebuff by Afghan Emir as a pretext for an invasion of Afghanistan, in 1838, with the intention of restoring a ruler from the Durrani dynasty (Shah Shuja, on the throne from 1803 to 1809) who appeared to be more malleable. This was the first of three occasions on which the British attempted to impose their political will on Afghanistan. All three attempts proved disastrous.

Two Anglo-Afghan Wars: 1838-1842 and 1878-81

In December 1838, British Indian army assembled in India for an Afghan campaign. By April 1839, after a difficult advance under constant attacks from tribal guerrillas, the city of Kandahar was captured. Here Britain's chosen puppet ruler, Shah Shuja, was crowned in a mosque. Four months later Kabul was taken and Shah Shuja was crowned again. By the end of 1840 the rightful Emir, Dost Mohammed, who was prisoner of the British was sent to Exile with his family into India. But the British garrisons in Afghan towns found it increasingly difficult to control the proud Afghan tribesmen, who were up in arms on this foreign invasion. 

In January 1842 the British garrison of some 4500 troops withdrew from Kabul, leaving Shah Shuja to his fate (he was soon assassinated). Most of the retreating British and Indian soldiers were also killed during their attempt to reach safely back to India. The British army recaptured Kabul during the summer of 1842, more as a gesture of defiance than as a matter of practical policy - for the decision subsequently taken to restore Dost Mohammed to his throne. He returned from India in 1843 and ruled without further British interference, for another twenty years. He extended his territory, by the end of his reign, as far west as Herat.

Dost Mohammed was succeeded by his third son Sher Ali, after some years of bitter family feuding. It was Sher Ali's perceived leaning towards Russia, which again provoked British hostility. Evoking memories of his father's offence in 1837, he welcomed a Russian mission to Kabul in 1878 and on this occasion even rejected a British one. In November 1878 three British armies divisions pushed through the mountain passes into Afghanistan. They took Jalalabad and Kandahar by the end of the year, and soon seemed to have achieved everything they had wished. A very advantageous treaty was agreed in May 1879 with Yakub Khan (the son of Sher Ali, who has died in February). Under the treaty Yakub Khan accepted a permanent British embassy in Kabul. Moreover Afghanistan's foreign affairs from now on were to be conducted by the British. But events soon proved that such a privilege can be dangerous in Afghanistan. In September the British envoy to Kabul, his entire staff and escort were massacred.

This disaster brought an immediate escalation of British military activity in Afghanistan, but to little political advantage. Yakub Khan was exiled to India. In his place the British accepted Abdurrahman Khan, a rival grandson of Dost Mohammed and the popular choice of the Afghan tribes as their Emir. Abdurrahman had spent ten years in exile during the reign of his uncle Sher Ali, having been on the losing side in the bitter family war of succession. But his chosen place of exile did not chime well with British interests. He was based in the Russian empire, in Samarkand, acquainting himself with Russian methods of administration. In 1880 Britain accepted Abdurrahman as Emir of Kabul, agreeing at the same time not to demand residence for a British envoy anywhere in Afghanistan. When British troops finally withdrew in 1881 (having meanwhile helped Abdurrahman against some rebellious cousins), the political achievement of two costly wars against Russian interference seemed on the debit side. But at least Abdurrahman proved an excellent emir.

Abdurrahman was followed on the throne by three generations of his family. He had set a pattern, which they followed, of an authoritarian regime dedicated to the introduction of technology and investment from more developed countries - though the violence and anarchy of Afghan life often frustrated such modernizing intentions. Abdurrahman was succeeded in 1901 by his son Habibullah Khan, who successfully maintained a policy of strict neutrality during World War I. After the war he demanded international recognition of Afghanistan's full independence. This claim prompted Britain's third ineffectual intervention in Afghan affairs, though it was Habibullah's son Amanullah Khan who had to deal with the crisis (after his father was assassinated in 1919) which lasted a month and was again inconclusive.

This lead to a treaty (signed in Rawalpindi in August 1919) in which Britain acknowledged Afghanistan's independence as a nation. With this achieved, Amanullah accelerated a programme of reform on European lines. But in doing so he alienated the old guard. Amanullah was forced into exile during an outbreak of civil war in 1929. Order was then restored by Amanullah's cousin, Nadir Khan, until he in turn was assassinated in 1933. This act of violence brought to the throne Nadir's only surviving son, the 19-year-old Zahir Shah.

Prelude to Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan

In a reign of forty years Zahir Shah skillfully promoted Afghan interests. Once again neutrality was successfully maintained during World War 2 and in the ensuing Cold War, Afghanistan brilliantly demonstrated the power of a non-aligned country to derive benefits from the major players on both sides. Both USA and the USSR build highways and hospitals, in a mood of superpower competition orchestrated by Zahir's cousin and brother-in-law Daud Khan (prime minister from 1953). Daud Khan resigned in 1963 because of tense relations with Pakistan (the border was closed from 1961 until just after his resignation).His departure prompted Zahir Shah to attempt a major constitutional reform.  In 1973 Daud Khan returned to power with military support in an almost bloodless coup. Zahir Shah was forced into exile in Europe.

Since 1978 the Soviet presence gradually increased in Afghanistan - their most recent puppet state, and potentially a prestigious scalp in the Cold War. Now, in the anarchy of late 1979, Moscow decided to take a more active role. In December Soviet troops moved into Kabul. As Britain always feared, Russia finally bid to control Afghanistan. And as Britain long ago discovered, this was a most unwise ambition of Kremlin.
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan: 1979-1989

The communist Prime Minister, Hafizullah Amin, was shot within a day of the Soviet invasion. In his place, the Russians brought Babrak Karmal from Moscow, as their puppet ruler but ruling Afghanistan in these circumstances proved impossible. Russian tanks had the power to take any town and Russian planes could bomb even remote valleys into temporary submission, but as soon as the focus of military might shifted elsewhere, the guerrillas returned to take control on the ground. Only Kabul remained a relatively safe area in ten years of devastation and once USA began supplying the Jihadis with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, even Soviet air attacks become dangerous missions. We have already discussed in The Afghan Encounter – Global Islamic Jihad how US along with Saudis & Pakistan launched the militant Jihadis in form of Al Qaeda, Taliban to dislodge the Soviets from Afghanistan. This is one moment is history that changed the nature of wars in future from conventional ones to proxy ones. The most striking bargain was persuading seven Afghan Jihadi groups to come together in a common cause. In 1985 these seven groups, met in Peshawar and formed a united front as the Islami Itehad Afghanistan Mujaheddin (Islamic Unity of Afghan Warriors, or IUAW). The Mujaheddin (from the same Arabic root as jihad, holy war) become famous throughout the world as the latest manifestation of the Afghan fighting spirit.

The warfare between Russia and the mujahedin not only devastated an already poor country but also depopulated it as eventually some 2 million refugees fled into Pakistan and another 1.8 million into Iran. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985, the festering sore of Afghanistan was one of the urgent problems confronting him. He first attempted a political solution, replacing the useless Babrak Karmal with a former chief of police, Mohammad Najibullah. But Najibullah proved equally ineffective in reconciling the Afghan people to a Soviet presence, and in 1988 Gorbachev decided to cut his losses by announcing that Soviet troops will begin a phased withdrawal. The last battalion crossed the Friendship Bridge over the Amu Darya River in February 1989 - leaving President Najibullah to try and run a communist Afghan state on his own. This Afghan War drained the Soviets out & it was one of the primary factors that lead to disintegration of the Soviet Union few years later.

NATO’s War in Afghanistan:

While the Americans left Jihadis to fend for themselves in the Region after the Soviet Withdrawal, the Radical movements that they covertly cultivated in Afghanistan took monstrous proportions and started attacking western Targets like WTC in 1993, Nairobi Embassy Bombing, Attack on USS Cole & culminating into the audacious attack of 9/11 that shook the world leading to Afghan Invasion by US & NATO to destroy Al-Qaeda headed by Bin Laden that it once created & to dislodge the Taliban that was providing safe sanctuaries for terrorists. Thus began the next wave of US-NATO Conquest of Afghanistan in the Garb of War on Terror.

The war on terror proceeded with US Air power providing support to Northern Alliance and helped it within a span of few months to dislodge the Taliban & other jihadi elements; that fled to Pakistan across the mountainous terrain between the 2 countries. The War in Afghanistan went on for nearly 13 years with combat operations ending on 31st December 2014 though ISAF & US do maintain a small no of troops as part of BSA (Bi-Lateral Security Agreement) with Afghanistan to train its Afghan National Army. 

But it seems none of the great powers learnt the lesson from earlier disastrous adventures by British & Soviets. Just like before, Americans & their NATO Allies faced stiff resistance from Taliban militias who are mainly made of Pashtuns operating from FATA, SWAT & Baluchistan area of Pakistan where they are being backed by its intelligence agency ISI. America’s prime target after the capture of Osama Bin Laden has been the Haqqani Network, which has carried out deadly bombings against the NATO Troops & its supply chains. Ironically the Haqqanis’ are protected by Tribal Militias & backed by Pakistan’s ISI which played a primarily role in the Afghan Jihad vs. the Soviets along with Americans. It is rather intriguing that while America has recently placed Abdul Aziz Haqqani as a Designated Global Terrorist, it has not yet placed Jalaluddin Haqqani - the patron of the group on that list.

The Monster of Jihadi Groups in Af-Pak has grown leaps & bounds with various groups like Haqqanis, Afghan Taliban, Jandullah, Pakistan Taliban and LeT operating out of the region carrying out audacious attack on Coalition Troops and Installations. Afghan Taliban (Quetta Shura) lead by Siraj Haqqani has rather become the major stake holder in the whole region as its being backed by Pakistan, China (since the early 1990s) & now even Iran who want get Taliban into mainstream to prevent/counter the rise of Ultra Extremists like ISIS in Afghanistan, but the recent announcement of death of Mullah Omar the Emir of Afghan Taliban has considerably opened the fault lines among the various factions of the militant group raising the stakes of battle for territories between 2 jihadist groups.

Unlike in Syria/Iraq or any other region, the battle lines in Afghanistan are primarily based on Tribal & Ethnic lines not on sectarian lines of Shia or Sunni. The draw down of American Forces after billions spent on the Afghan War since 2001 & thousands of casualties just goes to underscore the fact that Afghanistan is meant to ruled by its WarLords and that whenever any foreign power has tried to conquer it, it has only resulted in a bloody retreat and a far more messy & chaotic Afghanistan with its Economy & People in tatters. The Americans failed to learn the lesson of history that you can start a war but the most difficult part is to exit the war with minimal damage that too in country like Afghanistan which is infamously known as “The Graveyard of Empires”.

The World Order: 2020

There has been constant debate on what the world would look like decades down the lane. From the time of Roman Empire to the Sovereign States in Europe to the Communist Rule in Russia & China to the Dictatorships in Middle East, the world order has been constantly evolving. After every war or conflict, there emerges a new order for nation states. Hence it is imperative for any geo political analyst to study the relative strengths of nation/states, blocs & capture the broad trends before putting on canvas the big picture, as it is likely to emerge.

The world after 1st Decade of 21st Century stands at a cusp of time, where the traditional orders, dominations are about to be challenged & a counter narrative is building up. Like the post World War 2 we had the balance of power fluctuate between 2 blocs - Western Bloc & the Soviet Bloc; similarly we see a rise of a new consensus - the Beijing consensus that will be a turning point in decades marking the rise of People’s Republic of China truly as a Global Power challenging the Washington Consensus. But beyond this broad trend one must give a summary assessment of the effects of China’s Rise and Multipolar Organizations of BRICS & SCO on the Global Order in the coming decades.

We have already discussed the basis on which the New World Order would evolve in coming decades in this century i.e. “Spheres Of Influence” & how Global and Regional powers will project their economic & military might on the influenced states. On the basis of broad trends the world order would look the following in the decades to come.

The United States of America has in the last century played an important role per the important variable in how the world is shaped, influencing the path that states & non-states follow. Emergence of new players like China & India will be similar to the advent of United Germany in 19th Century & powerful United States in early 20th Century and will transform the geopolitical landscape with impact potentially as dramatic as those in the previous 2 centuries. A combination of high-sustained high economic growth, expanding military capabilities & large populations will be at the root of the expected rapid rise in economic & political power of the both countries. There are forecasts that by 2020 China’s GNP (Gross National Product) will surpass the individual western countries except the United States. Countries like Brazil & Indonesia’s economy could surpass some of the economies of Europe by 2020 barring cyclical booms & recessions.

European Order has evolved through centuries from Roman Empire to Peace of Westphalia to Congress of Vienna to Treaty of Versailles. However, The European Order has always faced a dilemma that when Germany is unified it is strong enough to dominate continental Europe & when divided it has been dominated by France who has historically been averse to Unified Germany. The European Order even today bears an uncanny resemblance to old equations as when the Berlin Wall came down; Germany was united after an agreement of it being a part of European Union assuaging the demands of France’s objections to United Germany outside a European Union. In wake of the Greek Crisis, Germany & France have turned to be drivers in Continental Europe dominating the southern European & Balkan states while United Kingdom across the English Channels has chosen to be ambivalent to EU just like it did for centuries before WW1. By most measures of market size, single currency, skilled labour & stable democratic government, and unified trade bloc an enlarged Europe will be able to increase its weight on the international scene. Europe will have to reform social, welfare, education & tax system and accommodate immigration from Muslim countries or face protracted period of economic crisis.  

Japan faces a similar aging crisis like Europe that could hurt its long-term economic recovery but also will be forced to evaluate its changing regional role & status. Japanese Parliament has recently passed a law that allows Japanese Military to engage in combat on foreign soil 70 years after the World War 2 ended. Tokyo may finally have to take a call on balancing against or jumping on the bandwagon with China & later is more than unlikely. The crisis in the Korean Peninsula is likely to peak in the next decade or two with Japan playing a pivotal role in that conflict zone. The sentiments of unification of Korea & Taiwan straits are likely to further complicate the regional equilibrium viz Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan & USA. The tense standoff among the regional players over the crucial region of South China Sea & China’s expansionist designs is bound to stir up the region already sitting on a tinder box. The United States is bound to play a crucial not only abating the Freedom of Navigation in South China for its Pacific allies but also having trade treaties with Pacific & South East Asian nations like TPP to counter China’s Sphere of influence. 

Russia has the potential to enhance its international role due to its position as a major oil & gas exporter. Russia plays a pivotal role in orienting the global order from Central Asia to Eastern Europe to Middle East as evident from the acknowledgement of Russia’s role by US in Iran Nuclear Deal. However Russia face severe financial crisis owing to crude oil glut, falling ruble and capital outflows. Russia also faces severe demographic crisis resulting from low birth rates, stagnating economy, Ukraine war & the extremist activities in Caucuses & the Central Asian states.  Social & Political factors limit Moscow’s role in the World Order yet it plays an important role between the established powers like US, EU & the emerging powers like China & India. Russia’s role in the world order has been quite paradoxical with periods when Russia retreats into its majestic isolation with the long spells of hibernation of the Russian bear, when awakened and on the move can move swiftly like a juggernaut. Russia under Vladimir Putin is being called a Revisionist Power aiming to recreate the Russian Empire.

The “Arriviste Powers” i.e. China, India & others like Brazil & Indonesia have the potential to render obsolete old categories of blocs & alignments. Some may see the closing gap with China, India & others as evidence of relative decline of the older powers though the older powers are likely to remain leaders. The US too will see its relative power and position eroded though it will remain in decades - the single most important country in world in power. China & India are well positioned to become the technology leaders & even the poorest countries will be able to leverage prolific and cheap technology from them. The expected next revolution in high technology involves Nano-, bio-, info & material technology and this could further bolster China & India. Europe risks slipping behind Asia in some technologies & US too though maintaining an edge will have to compete with Asian Giants.

Political Islam will have significant global impact leading up in the next decade with different groups rallying & creating a trans-national authority. The third wave of Democratization at the end of the decade may be partially reversed among former Soviet states & South East Asia while growing in the Middle East. Migrant Labour from North Africa & Middle East into Europe, Latin America, and United States will pose greater societal challenges to them. Various Maps in Middle East will change specially in Syria/Iraq where we will witness de facto trifurcation into a Sunni Iraq under ISIS, Shia Dominated Iraqi Govt & Kurdish Autonomous Region in north that will ultimately, in decades lead to creation of a Kurdish State “Kurdistan”. Libya & Syria as failed states will continue to be sores for the world abetting the Jihadist Groups; while Egypt will face threat from Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Arab states (GCC) & Israel will be involved in an arms race, proxy war with a Religious Theocracy like Iran and Jihadist Groups.

Chinese leaders will face a dilemma over how much to accommodate or risk popular backlash. Beijing may opt for elections at some levels while opting for opening of Chinese economy to foreign capital to fund its ever rising needs. The likelihood of a great power conflict escalating into a total war in next decade is very low. The Conflicts will become more regional in nature with great powers backing their respective sides. Countries without nuclear weapons especially in Middle East, North East Asia might decide to procure them as it becomes clear that rivals are doing so. 

Facilitated by Internet, Muslim Identity of radical Islam will spread inside & outside Middle East including South East Asia, Central Asia & Western Europe. The issues like Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, and Mindanao & South Thailand will serve as stimulus to radical Islamic ideology. Informal network of charitable foundations, madrassas, hawala & other mechanism will proliferate to be exploited by radical elements. Within next decade Al-Qaeda will be superseded by similarly inspired Islamic Extremist Groups & broad Islamic movements will merge with locals. Training material, targeted guidance, weapons know-how & fund raising will be done virtually. Counter terror operations will need an overhaul with special emphasis on Cyber warfare & terror. The greatest danger is terror organizations acquiring biological agents or less likely a nuclear device or a dirty bomb affecting large populace.

Challenges will be daunting yet US will retain enormous advantages playing a pivotal role on economics, technological, political & military issues across Asia-Pacific & Trans-Atlantic. EU rather NATO will increasingly become the primary institution for Europe & the role, which Europeans shape for themselves on world stage. No single country looks within the striking distance of rivaling US Military Power in next decade though more countries could challenge it. The world order in coming decades is likely to become bi-polar again with US leading the Washington Consensus & China leading the opposite pole of Beijing Consensus. Ultimately this will lead to a Cold war Theatre in Asia Pacific & in the coming decades we could see India become a Frontline State challenging the Hegemony & Bullying of China regionally & globally. Things are starting to take shape with Indo-US-Japan tri-lateral partnership with talk of Australia joining in discussions. 

Many analyst give specific time lines but since World Order is constantly changing, it is difficult to define exact time lines but the broad trends can be captured. This change is not expected overnight; the World Order is rather built or transformed in years & decades. Even Recent events like Iran Nuclear Deal are just part of the process of building a new order over years & decades. Every event adds the to the sum total of ever changing geo-politics. This is how World Order could shape up to be in 2020 & the decades post that.

Chabahar Port: The New Kingmaker for Indian Ocean Trade

Image Source:
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been in the news off late, post the announcement of Nuclear Deal with Washington DC, resulting in its re-entry on the geo-political scene after years of being a pariah by the Western world and its allies. Apart from the vast reserves of oil and natural gas that it holds, Iran’s geo-strategic position and subsequent transformation into a key transit link for the most cost-effective transportation corridor for European-Indian Ocean trade will determine its growing influence on the world at large. An important cog in this wheel is The Chabahar Port.

The Need for Chabahar

Iran’s biggest weakness in seaborne trade is the absence of deep sea ports. Iran’s most important port is Bandar Abbas(also referred to as “Hormirzad” during Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire) tracing its history during the reign of Darius the Great who’s commander Silacus used the route from Bandar Abbas to India and the Red Sea way back between 586 &522 BCE. It is located on the southern coast of Iran, on the Persian Gulf and strategically on the narrow and congested Strait of Hormuz constantly patrolled by the US Navy. Bandar Abbas handles 85 percent of Iranian seaborne trade and can only receive 100,000 ton cargo ships. Since most shipping is conducted via 250,000 ton cargo vessels, this entails first offloading of cargo in the United Arab Emirates and then sent on smaller ships which can dock in Iran. Aside from the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to the UAE, this also makes Iran vulnerable to a UAE closure of its seaborne trade in the case of conflict between Iran and the UAE or GCC and Western allies.

During the war between Iran and Iraq, the Iranian government noticed the important role of the port of Chabahar in Iran’s trade, because of its unique characteristics such as being out of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, ensuring continuity of operations in all situations plus the reduction of Iran’s vulnerability to international pressure immeasurably. The port of Chabahar is located in the south of Sistan and Baluchistan Province on the Makran coast (overwhelming majority [of the city's inhabitants are ethnic Baluch) located 300 km east from the Strait of Hormuz and is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean as well as the Oman Sea and Persian Gulf. It is also officially designated as a Free Trade and Industrial Zone by Iran's government. The master plan of the port of Chabahar was brought up in 1973, and its related contracts were signed with contractors but were delayed due to financial crutches post the Islamic Revolution and only parts of this plan of quick berth and breakwater were started and finished. The 2 main ports of Chabahar are Shahid – Beheshti and Shahid- Kalantari.

Strategic investments by Iran in Chabahar

The Chabahar Port and Free Trade Zone serves to facilitate Tehran's objective of emerging as the main trade and transit hub among Central Asia, South Asia and the Persian Gulf and thus a significant regional player. The Chabahar Port currently has a capacity to handle 2.5 million tons per annum, which Iran would like to increase to 12.5 million tons. Iran has invested close to US$ 340 million in developing and expanding the capacity of the Chabahar Port and is now open to private investment., Iran has not only already taken the initiative to develop infrastructure but has also engaged with other countries to enhance its own transit potential. Iran has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Afghanistan and Tajikistan on the construction of railway lines, water pipeline and energy transmission lines, and is also keen to extend the Khvaf-Herat rail line to be connected with the railways of Central Asia, Turkey and Europe. Iran has also agreed to finance the Kyrgyz portion of the Iran-Afghanistan-Tajikistan- Kyrgyzstan-China road project. It has funded the Anzob tunnel in Tajikistan, which is part of Iran's envisioned road route to Tajikistan and China via western and northern Afghanistan, and is also a part of a railroad project that will connect Uzen in Kazakhstan with Gyzylgaya, Bereket and Etrek in Turkmenistan and will terminate at Gorgan in the Iranian province of Golestan. Iran has also signed MoUs with Iraq and Syria to facilitate border trade and expand border terminals. It has entered into an agreement with Oman, Qatar, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to establish a transport and transit corridor between these countries and has agreed to transit electricity from Turkmenistan to Turkey.

Chabahar and the North South Transport Corridor 

The International North- South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is said to connect South and Central Asia to North Europe via Russia. Iran is a partner nation in INSTC along with Russia, India, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria. Iran's efforts to enhance the utility of the Chabahar Port by developing linkages that will connect it with Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics most economically should also be seen in this context. In April 2013, the Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan had said, “Afghanistan will be connected to the Central Asian 14 states by bringing the Chabahar route to operation”. Iran has already constructed the route from Chabahar to Milak on the Iran-Afghanistan border. From Milak, this route is connected to the Zaranj Delaram route that India built for Afghanistan for about $100 million which connects with the main Kandahar – Herat highway from where goods can be transported to other parts of Afghanistan. A number of other initiatives have also been announced or are in the process of completion. These include the Chabahar-Faranj-Bam railway, the rail link between Hajigak and Chabahar and the Chabahar-Zahedan-Mashhad rail link, which will be further, extended to Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif and be finally connected to Termez in Uzbekistan.

Chabahar and India

India and Iran have a long standing agreement, signed in 2002, to develop Chabahar into a full deep sea port. The port is also central to India's efforts to circumvent Pakistan and open up a route to landlocked Afghanistan where it has developed close security ties and economic interests. India is also eyeing trade with Europe via Chabahar port and the International North-South Transport Corridor. For India, the Chabahar port will serve as the Indian Ocean outlet for New Delhi’s grand International North- South Transit Corridor (INSTC) initiative. With India’s overland access to Central Asia blocked by Pakistan, the Chabahar deep-sea port and the INSTC running northward through Iran and Afghanistan will provide New Delhi vital access to Central Asian, Russian, and ultimately European markets, enabling India to effectively compete with China. Compared to the current Indian Ocean-European transport route via the Red Sea, Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, the Chabahar-based INSTC is estimated to be 40% shorter and will reduce the cost of Indian trade by 30%. Recently India also proposed membership for Turkmenistan for NSTC.

Chabahar also opens up the possibility of importing gas from Iran via Mundra Port along with enhanced trade and oil import opportunities. Important here is the South Asia Gas Enterprises Pvt Ltd (SAGE) undersea pipeline to bring gas from Oman and Iran to India So far, India’s gas imports are only from Oman. The gas pipeline project SAGE when implemented, could see over 31 million cubic meters of gas per day delivered to India. The 1,200 -1,300 km pipeline, set to cost around $4.5 billion, is the best energy option for India.

For the protection of its interests in Afghanistan, India requires a viable access to the country, and, at present, Iran provides India the most viable transit. India has also announced its intentions to build a 900 kilometer rail link from the Hajigak iron ore mines in Bamiyan to the Chabahar Port and is also working with Iran to build a 600 kilometer road from Chabahar to the Iranian city of Zahedan. India is also considering investing in the Chabahar-FarajBam railway. The Chabahar port will serve as a cost-effective outlet to bring the iron ore to the market.

Until 2012, India ceased construction of the Chabahar port under pressure from the United States as part of Washington’s efforts to toughen the international sanctions against Iran. However in 2012, when a Chinese state-owned firm took over administration of the Gwadar port approximately 72 km east of Chabahar, New Delhi resumed construction of the Chabahar port, overriding Washington’s objections. Whereas the original Chabahar port project and transit corridors involved a trilateral agreement between Iran, India and Russia, the Indian- led 2012 resumption of the project involves the participation of 11 additional countries from Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Europe, each lured by the benefits of easier access to the Indian Ocean.

Trade between Afghanistan and Chabahar will bolster Iranian and Indian influence in Afghanistan after NATO’s 2014 withdrawal, providing a measure of counter- balance to Pakistani influence. India’s substantial investment present and future in Chabahar and traditional old ties with Iran, also provide India with an opportunity to become a player in the Middle East and Indian influence over Chabahar could be leveraged in many ways.

Chabahar vs. Gwadar: India vs. China 

Chabahar is located on the Arabian Sea’s Makran coast in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Pakistan’s Gwadar port also is situated on Pakistan’s Baluchistan province’s Makran coast, only 72 nautical miles southeast of Chabahar. Both offer direct access to the Indian Ocean. India is helping to underwrite the development of Iran’s Chabahar, while China has been financing Gwadar since 2002 complicating the ports’ developments as a subset of Eurasia’s new “Great Game. Both China and India are seeking closer relations with Afghanistan and Central Asia. The planned transport and trade routes cut off thousands of kilometers for certain trade routes and will have the obvious effect of building solid ties.

For India, Chabahar is the nearest port to the Indian Ocean providing direct access to the Middle East and Central Asia. The port is an economic gateway thanks to its location on the Gulf of Oman outside the Strait of Hormuz. Chabahar should provide India with access to Afghanistan via the Indian Ocean. India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods, heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar.

For China, Gwadar with a substantial head start over Chabahar could be a terminus for pipelines in its oil and gas supply chain from Africa and the Middle East, allowing it to bypass the congested pinch point that is the Strait of Hormuz. Gwadar also brightens the prospects for a pipeline corridor bringing oil and gas to China from the Middle East as an alternate route to transport oil around the Indian Subcontinent and through the increasingly disputed territorial waters of the South China Sea. The route will be cheaper, less vulnerable and give Beijing greater freedom of action to pursue its claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea.

Direct access to the India Ocean would give China a strategic post of observation and a key location for its navy and a listening post from where the Chinese may exert surveillance on hyper-strategic sea links as well as military activities of the Indian and American navies in the region, and second, dual-use civilian-military facilities providing a base for Chinese ships and submarines. For India, Gwadar port being so close to the Straits of Hormuz has implications for India as it would enable Pakistan to exercise control over energy routes along with challenging Indian assertion over the Indian Ocean.

Iran is more stable than Pakistan, it has better relations with Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, the Chabahar route goes through relatively stable parts of Afghanistan and Iran already has good relations with everybody along the route leading north (including the local “warlords”) into Tajikistan. And significantly, it is in Tajikistan where Iran has already been financing several transport projects including the Anzob tunnel. Luckily for the Iranians, the U.S. constructed a bridge over the Amu Darya that fits in nicely with the Chabahar to Khojent route. The problem with Gwadar is that while the port has been built -the supporting infrastructure of railroad link, industrial capacity, and civic structures at Gwadar is almost non-existent and the proposed Gwadar route also goes through more problematic areas of Afghanistan. 

The countries of Central Asia will likely benefit from both Chabahar and Gwadar. As for the competition between the two ports, it will not be a “winner take all” outcome but rather one port earning the greater share of trade. And the “winner” in this respect will likely be Chabahar.

Road to Success

Any transportation or military problems in the Straits of Malacca, the Straits of Hormuz, and the Suez or anywhere along Asia’s southern coastline will further boost the importance of Central Asia as a transport and trade corridor. The Sea Politics is getting complex with an increase in the world’s commercial activities. Now the world is not only focusing on the militarily important places but it is also in the search of places that will be productive from the business point of view in future. It is important to note that many countries in Asia are so huge, that their access to the sea via their own land route for international trade is very costly. 

Iran is at the center of Eurasian transport corridor for international trade in which a significant number of nations have developed vital interests. Chabahar’s ability to play kingmaker will thus depend on how well it is able to leverage the transit routes in the region. Indian investment in Chabahar and its success to harness Central Asia and not only gain access but exert significant influence economically and diplomatically will also determine the scope of Chabahar’s success. Both these factors are heavily dependent on the stability of one nation – Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the gateway for West to Central Asia as well Subcontinent to Central Asia. 

Post NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan (now being phased out) there is a window of opportunity for India as well as China to become the dominant player in the region. Also as per Iran’s strategic calculation as the NSTC’s operational timeline of December 2016 gets closer, the time window to apply greater pressure to abandon its nuclear weapon program is diminishing. Thus it is perhaps no coincidence that keeping in mind, the looming threat of Chinese influence in Central Asia, the Washington Consensus  may have chosen this timeline to legitimize Iran’s cause thus paving the way for significant Indian influence in the region alongside seeking own gains from it as well.

But it’s not as clear cut as it seems. NATO is trying to bring the “Good Taliban” in mainstream Afghan politics and how well this experiment could work is anyone’s guess. This could also result in a similar electoral situation in Pakistan’s political scene creating further instability in an already volatile country. Another significant factor is the location of both Chabahar and Gwadar in the regions of Baluch influence which is witnessing a nationalism agenda which could be of benefit to the players that have invested heavily in the region vs. the weak institutions of Pakistan. However it’s a catch 22 as a resurgent Baluch could mean a divided Pakistan, resulting in a potential spillover of ISIS mercenaries into their home nations such as Russia, Iran, China etc. to name a few. It would be fair to assume that with such strong stakeholders backing Pakistan’s survival, the Baluch movement may not meet with great success anytime soon or perhaps till such and such time that Afghanistan is under “control”, thus raising question marks on the actual success percentage of Chabahar.

In conclusion it could be stated that Chabahar is an important cog in the Great Game of Central Asia and how well the respective players play their game and adapt to the ever changing dynamics will determine who will be the King. After all is the Victor to who go the spoils!

Water Wars

Image Source: Prize winning illustration by A. Z. Ringman
Wars have always been fought over resources. In 20th Century the wars were fought over Crude Oil while in 21st Century the world will be at war over water as water scarcity becomes a rapidly emerging trend. Oil and gas, metals and fertilizers and food are still going strong, while investors have only recently started to talk about water. And yet, water has much the same imbalance between supply and demand as traditional resources. Investment banker Goldman Sachs recently in a report in 2008 described water as the "the petroleum for the next century.

Water – The Crude of 21st Century

The Goldman Sachs Report of 2008 stated that Water is the petroleum for the next century. The demand for water – the life-sustaining natural resource that has no substitute - continues to escalate at an unsustainable rate, fuelled by population growth and industrial expansion. The world’s fresh water supply is also shrinking due to pollution, draining of underground aquifers, and climate change. As a result, we expect to see a sustained focus and investment in the global water sector for years to come. 

Lack of adequate water supplies in emerging markets could impair growth. Expanding industrialization in developing countries is stressing already-limited water resources. In many cases, access to adequate water supplies will be a limiting factor to the shift of manufacturing resources to low-cost countries. Developing markets today only use 11% of water for industrial use versus 42% for developed countries. 

Water will become the most sought-after natural resource most likely to cause wars in the 21st century, according to the World Bank. Chronic water shortages already affect 40 per cent of the world's population in 80 countries. Whereas the main constraint on food production in the developing world has in the past been a shortage of land, it will be a scarcity of water in the future, according to a study by the World Bank. Global demand for water is increasing at a rate of 2.3 per cent a year, doubling every 21 years. ''Supply can no longer keep up with this rate of growth,'' the World Bank warns. Major trends that are creating a global water emergency are: A population explosion, from 5.6bn to about 8bn by 2025 and  Increasing levels of pollution that contaminate clean water supplies, effectively decreasing the amount of water available. New sources of water can cost between two and three times that of sources already tapped. People living in the Middle East and North Africa will experience one of the most precarious water supplies in the world. The growing population in this region has already begun to overwhelm traditional water sources, the World Bank says. ''From 1960 to 2025, per capita renewable water supplies (in the Middle East and North Africa) will have fallen from 3,430 cubic metres to 667 cubic metres, or an 80 per cent drop within a single lifetime.''

Unlike Crude or Gas or Mines & Minerals, Water though covering 2/3rd of Earth’s Surface is not fit from Drinking or Domestic use. Water is one the scarcest resources we have on the Planet with only 2.6% of the Total Fresh Water reserves available while the rest 97.4 % are Oceans, Seas & Saline Lakes. Of the 2.6% Fresh water reserves 1.984% is in Icecaps & glaciers with 0.592% as Ground Water. The Scale of Crisis that stares down the planet is visible given 1.984% of Available Fresh Water is feeding the ever burgeoning world population which has now crossed 7 Billion. Countries like China & India with nearly 2.5 Billion People are likely to face a bigger crisis given that the most Fresh Water Supply to this part of the world i.e. China, India, Pak, Bangladesh, Nepal etc. all dependent upon Rivers emerging from Himalayan Glaciers & Tibetan Plateau. While Asian nations would be competing with each other about fresh water resources, the bigger battle in immediate future could arise in Middle East & North African Regions which are more susceptible to droughts, water scarcity resulting into Geo-Political conflicts also known as ‘Water Wars’.

Water Wars – Geo Political Conflicts

There are more than 240 water basins in the world that cross national borders, many of which could become flash points for conflict. For example, Egypt has longstanding threats to take military action against any countries making unauthorized withdrawals from the Nile like Ethiopia. Canada has specific laws against exporting any water to the US, and India and Bangladesh have had many tense on-going disputes over the Ganges. India & Pakistan have long had issues over share of water of 5 Himalayan Rivers and India has expressed serious apprehensions over Beijing’s recent constructions to divert the water of Brahmaputra River that flows into India from Tibet & is the life line for people in North Eastern India. 

1.  Indo-Pak Water Dispute

River water sharing dispute between India & Pakistan has been a long standing one since their Independence in 1947. The dispute over water sharing of the 6 Himalayan Rivers i.e. Indus, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, Beas & Sutlej has long been the bone of contention between 2 countries. The water sharing dispute was inextricably linked to long standing issues like Kashmir & Pakistan over the decades. Pakistan has time & again launched tirades against India that it is launching water war on it either by releasing Flood Waters inundating the Fertile plains of Pakistan Punjab or regulating the supply of water Rivers originating from Himalayan Region making the fertile land arid. 

With World Bank Mediation between India & Pakistan signed Indus Water Treaty in September 1960 whereby it was essentially agreed that 3 eastern Rivers Sutlej, Beas & Ravi would be available for India’s unrestricted usage. While the western rivers of Indus, Chenab & Jhelum would be largely available to Pakistan except for limited used by India like Domestic Use, Non Consumptive use, Agricultural Use, Hydel Power Projects, Storage & Other projects subjects to concurrence of Pakistan & within the prescribed conditions as laid out in the treaty. 

The treaty further elaborates a dispute resolution mechanism between the 2 countries where a dispute will be first examined by PIC (Permanent Indus Committee) and if PIC fails to solve the dispute then it is referred to a Neutral Expert appointed by consensus between the governments in consultation or by the World Bank in absence of any consensus. The decision of Neutral Expert is binding & the finally it will be court of Arbitration whose decision would be final in case all other mechanisms fail to solve the dispute.

Pakistan recently invoked this Dispute Resolution Mechanism on 17 May, 2010, when it moved for arbitration against India under the provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960, claiming that India’s 330 MW Kishenganga project would rob it of 15 percent of its share of river waters. Pakistan accused India of trying to divert the river to harm Pakistan's Neelum-Jhelum hydro-electric project (NJHEP) and had objected to the construction of the Kishanganga hydroelectric project arguing that the Indian project would affect its 969 MW Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric project. The ICA’s final award specifies that an amount of 9 cumecs of natural flow of water must be maintained in the Kishanganga River at all times, to maintain the environment downstream. This is much lower than the 100 cumecs of natural flow that Pakistan wanted to maintain. The Kishanganga victory is an icing on the cake for India’s diplomatic wins over Pakistan on the international stage with regard to disputes over India’s strategy of exploiting its water resources for power generation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan had raised similar objection to the Baglihar dam, a run-of-the-river project in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir and had gone to the World Bank (a broker and signatory of Indus Water Treaty) for arbitration after several rounds of talks between the two sides from 1999 to 2004 fell on deaf ears. India pocketed a major victory over the Baglihar dam on 12 February 2007 when the World Bank adjudicator Raymond Lafitte, a Swiss civil engineer, gave his final verdict, rejecting Pakistan’s objections on height and gated control of the dam’s spillways. While this dispute was settled by legal means but the danger remains that fight over water resources could lead to breakout of hostilities in future. Even Terrorist groups like LeT, Hafiz Sayed have many times exhorted for Jihad against India on water wars.

2.  Indo-China Water Dispute

China’s plans to tap the waters of Brahmaputra River has created anxiety in India & Bangladesh who share the vast riches & plentiful water of this mighty river that originates from Tibetan Plateau and flows all the way through Arunachal Pradesh, Assam in North East India before flowing into Bangladesh where it joins Padma River. China’s aims to construct dams & restrict the flows of water downstream into North East India have raised the stakes of being a contentious issue in already muddled Sino-Indian Relations. 

Beijing’s plans for the Brahmaputra include two kinds of projects. The first involves the construction of hydro-electric power projects on the river and the other, more ambitious project, envisages the diversion of its waters to the arid north. In November last year, China’s plans for the Brahmaputra took a leap forward when the first unit of the $1.5 billion Zangmu Hydropower Station project, which is located in the middle reaches of the river, became operational. Once completed – five other generating units of this project are due for completion this year – the project is designed to generate 2.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

According to media reports, China has already built a barrage on the Sutlej River. Since November 2010, it has started construction work for damming/diversion of the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) in Tibet. The detailed planning for the Tsangpo project was approved by the State Council in 2006 and has the support of both Chen Chuanyu, its main architect, and Hu Jintao. Apart from the diversion project on the Brahmaputra River, China also plans to construct 15 dams along the Lancang (Mekong) river. In addition, China plans to tap the waters of most of the big rivers flowing from the Tibetan plateau. All these activities raise a serious concern in India about the impact of Dams, Barrages, and Diversions in the River Flow of Brahmaputra that is a life line for India’s North East especially in absence of a dispute resolution mechanism like Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan.

3.  Water Wars in Africa

Egypt and Ethiopia are going at each other’s throats over River Nile. Ethiopia is busy constructing a controversial dam, which Egypt complains will disrupt the river’s flow, with detrimental impact on its population that is almost entirely dependent on the Nile. Addis Ababa embarked on construction of the $4.2 billion Grand Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam (GERD) with 6,000MW electric power generation capacity in April 2011. This move angered Egypt so much that at one point Cairo threatened military action against Ethiopia, though the parties later agreed to a dialogue over River Nile’s governance. 

Ethiopia adopted the Harmon Doctrine - an international resources law that holds that a country has absolute sovereignty over the water that flows through its territory, regardless of its impact on other riparian states. Cairo now views Ethiopia’s move as bullish and reads political sabotage. Egypt, however, adopted a hard line by holding onto the 1959 historical usage rights to exploit the waters and earlier treaties that the majority of Nile Basin nations never signed. Egypt gets 94 per cent of its total water resources from the river. The Nile Basin supplies water to about 300 million people across Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia

There have been calls on various countries to utilize three main river basins - the Nile, the Zambezi and the Senegal. The three constitute the economic backbone of the countries they flow through. In 1990, armed clashes erupted between Nigeria and Cameroon over the use of Lake Chad water. This was fuelled by water and land scarcity. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent, though it remains the only large source of fresh water in the Sahel zone. In Southern Africa, the Lake Malawi issue is the hot topic now with both Malawi and Tanzania claiming ownership. The Zambezi River, flowing within SADC countries with a catchment area of 1,300,000 square kilometers, occupying the territories of Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has also been predicted as a potential source of conflict if water resources are not properly managed.

4.  Water Wars in Middle East

ISIS is headquartered at Raqqah, a mere 40km down the Euphrates from the largest reservoir in Syria, Lake Assad. Raqqah’s economy has long depended on the cultivation of cotton irrigated by the reservoir, which was formed by the Russian-assisted construction of the Tabqa dam in 1973, and designed to irrigate some 2,500 square miles of farmland. Last August, Isis fought fiercely for control of the largest dam in Iraq, across the Tigris at Mosul. Its fighters also took over two other dams across the Euphrates, one at Fallujah, the other at Haditha. In all cases, it took American air strikes to drive them off, and the high value the terrorist group places on Mesopotamia’s dams suggests that further offensives against such targets are likely. Even if ISIS leaders in Raqqah succeed in holding one of these key pieces of hydro-infrastructure, however, they do not control the headwaters of either the Tigris or the Euphrates, which rise in Turkey. It is the Turks, who have squabbled for 40 years with their downstream neighbours over use of the rivers, who therefore hold the keys to the long-term future of Isis – and the Islamists know it. 

Finally, there is Israel and Palestine, arguably the mother of all water conflicts. Israel, a state founded on Ben-Gurion’s dream of “making the desert bloom”, diverted the River Jordan half a century ago, east and southwards towards the Negev desert, via a canal called the National Water Carrier.

Colonization of Water Resources

A disturbing trend in the water sector is accelerating worldwide. The new “water barons” - the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires - are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace. Familiar mega-banks and investing powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Macquarie Bank, Barclays Bank, the Blackstone Group, Allianz, and HSBC Bank, among others, are consolidating their control over water. Wealthy tycoons such as T. Boone Pickens, former President George H.W. Bush and his family, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, Philippines’ Manuel V. Pangilinan and other Filipino billionaires, and others are also buying thousands of acres of land with aquifers, lakes, water rights, water utilities, and shares in water engineering and technology companies all over the world. 

In September 2003, Goldman Sachs partnered with one of the world’s largest private-equity firm Blackstone Group and Apollo Management to acquire Ondeo Nalco (a leading company in providing water-treatment and process chemicals and services, with more than 10,000 employees and operations in 130 countries) from French water corporation Suez S.A. for U.S.$4.2 billion. In 2006, UBS Investment Research, a division of Switzerland-based UBS AG, Europe’s largest bank by assets, entitled its 40-page research report, “Q-Series®: Water”—“Water scarcity: The defining crisis of the 21st century?” (October 10, 2006) In 2007, UBS, along with JP Morgan and Australia’s Challenger Fund, bought UK’s Southern Water for £4.2biillion.

JPMorgan created a U.S. $2 billion infrastructure fund to go after India’s infrastructure projects in October 2007. The targeted projects are transportation (roads, bridges, railroads) and utilities (gas, electricity, water). India’s finance minister has been estimated that India requires about U.S. $500 billion in infrastructure investments by 2012. In this regard, JPMorgan is joined by Citigroup, the Blackstone Group, 3i Group (Europe’s second-largest private-equity firm), and ICICI Bank (India’s second-largest bank) (International Herald Tribune, October 31, 2007). Its JPMorgan Asset Management has also established an Asian Infrastructure & Related Resources Opportunity Fund which held a first close on U.S.$500 million (€333 million) and will focus on China, India, and other Southern Asian countries, with the first two investments in China and India (Private Equity Online, August 11, 2008). The fund’s target is U.S. $1.5 billion.
Water Wars & Geo Strategic Implications

Water indeed will be the Crude of 21st Century with Scarce availability (only 2.6%) & global warming effects on availability of fresh water resources to large parts of the world population will be the next big crisis that the world will face. The world is already facing severe water crisis not only in the usual places like Asia or Middle East or Africa but even places like California in US where as per NASA it has 1 year of water left after 4 years of Consecutive Droughts. Similarly, even places like Rio in Brazil are facing water shortages owing to droughts. This alarming trend could lead to mass migration of people - a potential for future conflicts. The fight for water a basic necessity for human existence could lead to potential flash points in various regions like South Asia, Africa & MENA Region. The building of Dams, Barrages, Diversions of water flow can lead to water being used a weapon in case of war; something what terror groups like ISIS have already displayed in Syria & Iraq. Amid all the mayhem around the fight for most essential resources like Water, there is quiet Corporate Monopolization going on of Water Resources & technologies just like in the Oil & Finance Sector pushing the world towards a Global Corporate State where Corporate Interest will over ride the Human values.

Narendra Modi’s Desert Safari

Image Source:
UAE is famous not only for its enthralling Skyline dotted with engineering marvels but also the Desert Safari as one of its prime attractions. UAE or the Metropolis of Dubai is usually associated in India with Sprawling Real Estate, Indo-Pak Cricket tournaments in Sharjah and also rather infamously with Dawood & D Company Nexus with Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency ISI. Across the vast desert of Arabia full of turbulence, UAE has emerged as an oasis of a modern Emirati State, which attracts people and investments across the world. Dubai also hosts a huge amount of Expatriate Indian Population -workers who work in the Gulf Region. In this context it would be fair to assume the Indian Prime Minister’s Desert Safari to UAE was indeed strategic with focus on 3 Main Issues i.e. ‘Terrorism’, ‘Trade’ & ‘Investment’ or TTI.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to UAE is the first bi-lateral visit to the Emirati state after 34 years. The last PM to visit UAE was Late PM Indira Gandhi in 1981. PM Modi’s visit comes amid a renewed focus of Gulf Region in wake of Iran Nuclear Deal. While the world & the popular narrative remains focused on New Delhi’s ties with Tehran the larger push towards the Middle East region from UAE to Qatar to Saudis & Israel has been missed from the public radar. 

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, India took the initiative to engage with the Arab world, building strong ties with countries such as Egypt etc. In fact, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser shared a great personal friendship and were pivotal in setting up the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India’s engagement with the region became strained during the 1970s after many Arab nations (and even Iran) gave support to Pakistan over the Kashmir crisis. However, in the subsequent years relations began to normalize, and trade started to flourish. After India liberalized its economy in the early 1990s, its appetite for oil increased significantly, and the Middle East became the biggest supplier, quenching New Delhi’s energy thirst. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah’s visits to India and China in 2006 were pivotal events, equally from Riyadh’s side as from New Delhi’s and Beijing’s.  From 2006 onwards, India has seen a dramatic increase in relations, both political and economic, with the larger West Asian region, including Israel and Iran.

Modi’s Desert Safari to UAE

PM Modi’s Desert Safari to UAE began with a Grand Welcome by Crown Prince of UAE & his 5 Brothers who received Indian Prime Minister at the tarmac on his arrival & thereafter accorded him a ceremonial welcome at King’s Palace as is given to visiting Head of Government. The Desert Safari proceeded to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque following which, he met Indian workers at ICAD City which is an important component of India’s strategic push towards White Collar & other workers working in those states - something that has been neglected since decades. The UAE Govt specially HH Crown Prince announced that UAE Government will allot land in Abu Dhabi to build a Hindu Temple -a gesture that has been widely acknowledged as historic given the religious demographics & restrictions in Gulf States. 

The next Day it was a Visit to Masdar City, a Smart City with no carbon foot print built by UAE by harnessing Solar Energy as the primary source of Power & transportation. The Possibilities of harnessing similar projects in India with Investments from UAE Cooperation were also explored. Later, Indian PM Modi addressed a gathering of Industrialists from India & UAE, where the PM exhorted that UAE’s Soft Power & India’s potential can make the Dream of an Asian century a Reality. 

A Big Focus of the UAE Visit of Indian PM Modi has been Trade & Investment with India & UAE establishing UAE-India Infrastructure Investment Fund of $75 Bn along with a target of increasing trade by 60% in next 5 years. The Scope of Investment & trade between India & UAE is huge especially in Infrastructure & Real Estate, cold storage and food processing. UAE has showcased some amazing Engineering Marvels by giants like Jumeirah Group of Companies or IFFCO Group of Companies based out of Sharjah who deal in Foodstuffs & processed foods in 70 Countries. In Total it is estimated that Potential of Indo-UAE Partnership is $1 Trillion.  In addition to Trade & Investment Agreements, there exist the Bi-lateral civil aviation pacts with UAE with 700 Flights between Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Indian Cities. In addition India & UAE also agreed to promote strategic partnership in Energy Sector with UAE’s participation in development of India’s strategic Petroleum reserve, safe use of Nuclear energy, Space & backing India’s bid to UNSC Reforms. 

Post this, the visit moved to the most awaited outcome of the political & strategic dialogue between 2 nations. The Indo-UAE Joint Declaration has been Landmark as it marks an important part of GCC Countries denouncing terror of any form & its manifestations. Both Countries called on Terrorist Safe Havens to be dismantled & bringing the guilty to books, a huge step given its veiled message to countries like Pakistan which India has been stating is a state sponsor of terrorism. Indian PM Modi also achieved UAE backing for CCIT (Comprehensive Charter on International Terrorism) to be passed by United Nations. Another big step to the already existing defence cooperation was agreement on Cooperation in Counter Terrorist Operations, Intelligence Sharing, Cyber Terrorism, Spread of Radicalisation, and Maritime Security in Gulf Region with respect to Piracy in Arabian Sea & Indian Ocean Region. India-UAE also decided that their NSA’s will meet every 6 months. 

Another Element of PM Modi’s strategic push by way of this Counter Terror & Intelligence sharing between India & UAE is to curb the spread of ultra-radical movements like ISIS from Syria-Iraq to South Asian Region. In addition to limiting the spread of ISIS, another big achievement in this visit was that UAE would work in curbing Drug Trafficking & Money Laundering (Dubai is considered as a hub of Underworld Activities & notorious criminals like Dawood Ibrahim covertly backed by Pakistan’s Intelligence Services ‘ISI)’. It would be fair to state that this UAE Visit not only strengthens our Defence & Strategic ties but rather goes a long way in protecting India’s rather wider regional concerns.

India & the Gulf Countries (GCC)

India wants to secure energy supplies and consolidate economic and trade relations with the Gulf States, while those states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, or the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council) have adopted a “Look East” policy that has allowed them to carve out a much more substantive relationship with India than in the past. The economic dimension of India’s Gulf policy has become more pronounced in recent years as well. As a group, the GCC is India’s second-largest trading partner, the largest single origin of imports into India, and the second largest destination for exports from India. The UAE itself was the third largest trading partner of India in 2014-15, after the United States and China, with a bilateral trade volume of $60 billion. The GCC countries supply 45 percent of India’s petroleum, with the UAE being the sixth largest source of oil.

Energy is clearly the driving force in Gulf–Indian relations. The GCC countries supply 45 percent of India’s petroleum; the Saudis are responsible for a quarter of those supplies, and Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE are other major suppliers. Qatar remains India’s exclusive supplier of natural gas, annually supplying five million tons of LNG to India.

India’s trade and energy security is inextricably linked to the security of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. With this in mind, the Indian Navy regularly visits Gulf ports and trains with states in the region. The Indian Navy has undertaken a series of naval exercises with a number of Gulf States in recent years, thereby lending its hand to Indian diplomacy in expanding India’s reach in the region. Indian warships have also been deployed in the Gulf of Aden to carry out anti-piracy patrols on the route usually followed by Indian commercial vessels between Salalah (Oman) and Aden (Yemen). The Gulf of Aden is a strategic choke point in the Indian Ocean and provides access to the Suez Canal, through which a sizable portion of India’s trade flows. 

In addition, Indians are the largest expatriate community in the GCC states, numbering around 7 million. There are an estimated 2.6 million Indians in the UAE alone. Indian expatriate labour constitutes around 30 percent of the total population of the UAE, and Indians have a significant presence in Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. India receives remittances worth around $6 billion annually from its Gulf expatriates. These remittances have contributed significantly to India’s economic resurgence, even as there have been growing concerns in recent years about the living and working conditions in the host countries. India is pursuing manpower and labour agreements with Gulf States to help Indian workers in the region. Modi’s outreach to the expatriates in the UAE was one of the highlights of his visit. 

While much of the diplomatic attention has focused on the 7 million Indians working in the region, and the remittances they send back home, as well as on the oil trade, bilateral relations are also becoming more serious on the security front. India already has two main working security understandings in the region, namely with Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While details of India’s strategic understanding with Riyadh remain largely unknown, New Delhi signed an expansive defines agreement with Doha in 2008, thought to be a “one of a kind,” not signed with any other country since. Under the agreement, New Delhi has committed to protect Qatar’s assets and interests from external threats.

Modi’s Desert Safari - Strategic implications:

Indian’s PM Narendra Modi’s strategic Visit to UAE has wider ramifications not only qua the regional balancing between old traditional friends like UAE & Oman with Iran but also assuring the Gulf Arab States that they are very crucial to India’s policy in Middle East. With India having defence/security pacts with Qatar & Oman already, New Delhi is bound to play an important role in the Region being one of the largest consumers of Oil/Energy after China. With Iran’s Re-entry in to International Community & India’s strategic foray into Iran by Chabhar Port this visit serves as quintessential purpose of assuring & securing the bond with Emirati States which are Crucial not only for energy needs but for the larger Indian Diaspora that works in Gulf Countries.

Modi’s Desert Safari to UAE is also aimed to curb the influence of Pakistan given the recent acrimony between UAE & Pakistan, Saudis & Pakistan over Yemen war where Pakistan showed reluctance to be drawn into the War in Yemen with Saudis which sparked angry reactions from UAE & other GCC Countries. India’s Defence & Security Cooperation’s specially projection of its Naval Reach on display in Yemen Crisis further augments New Delhi’s grand strategy of keeping the Gulf States like Emirates, Saudis & Qatar into confidence and maintaining a healthy balance vis-à-vis Gulf Arab States & Theocracies like Iran. India could also end up playing a role of Good Offices since it enjoys Good Relations with Gulf Arab States, Iran & as well as Israel. All of the above provides India with a unique opportunity for strategic forays into the Middle East region unlike Pakistan who has been lopsided & insensitive to many equations that exist in the Region.