By James O’Neill*
The synopsis for the ABC documentary on Afghanistan, to be broadcast on 1 March 2016 says that it takes an inside look at the men and women as they battle for “the hearts and minds” of the Afghanistan population.
If you thought that after more than 14 years of occupation and fighting the Afghan people capturing “hearts and minds” was the reason for the ongoing occupation, then watch the ABC by all means.
If however, you think that the program is just another propaganda exercise designed to avoid examining the reality of South Asian geopolitics being played out in Afghanistan, then you will look elsewhere than the ABC for enlightenment.
When the United States along with Australia and other satraps of the US empire invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 we were told that it was to avenge al Qaeda’s attacks on the US on 11 September 2001 (“9/11”). Afghanistan, we were told, harboured al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, and “refused” to hand him over to the US for what was said with a straight face, to be US “justice.”
We were also told that Afghanistan was a poor, backward country, whose theocratic rulers oppressed women. Apart from revenge and capturing bin Laden, the invasion and occupation was an opportunity to liberate Afghan women and bring democracy to a benighted land.
That the whole official 9/11 narrative has less than a passing resemblance to the truth is well documented and bears no repetition here. That bin Laden (or Colonel Tim Osman to his CIA friends) most likely died of natural causes in December 2001 is also well documented.
That Afghanistan was and is poor is not in dispute. That it is potentially rich is something that the mainstream media would rather we did not know. Rich? If our mainstream media had actually bothered to look, there has been considerable information on this point available for a very long time.
As early as the 1960s the Minerals Yearbook of the US Geological Survey stated that Afghanistan was rich in natural gas, copper, iron ore, gold, silver and precious gems.
In 1992 the Yearbook noted that natural gas reserves were estimated at 2000 billion cubic metres. Copper ore reserves were estimated at 360 million metric tonnes. Afghan oil reserves are currently estimated to be 1596 million barrels. Actual reserves of all these commodities may be higher, but 40 years of continuous war has inhibited full-scale geological surveys, let alone development.
Apart from its own resources, Afghanistan is strategically located viz a viz the enormous oil and gas reserves of the Caspian basin, second only in size to the Middle East North Africa reserves. It is not a coincidence that these two regions have attracted the unwelcome attentions of the US military-industrial complex.
The only geographically and geopolitically feasible route for shipping out Caspian oil and gas to western markets is via an Afghanistan pipeline.
One of the major reasons for the invasion in 2001 was the refusal of the Taliban government of Afghanistan to give that pipeline contract to American interests. Instead, the contract was awarded to Bridas, an Argentinian company. One of the first acts of the occupying forces was to cancel the Bridas contract.
Bridas was subsequently awarded $500 million compensation by US courts, although you would not know that from reading the Australian mainstream media. Indeed, any mention of pipelines and their strategic importance is conspicuously lacking from mainstream coverage. Winning hearts and minds and liberating women rates so much higher in our priorities, or so we are told.
It is therefore of considerable interest to observers of the Afghanistan scene to note that on 13 December 2015 the leaders of Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India formally instigated the instigation of the TAPI (an acronym for the four countries) pipeline to transmit natural gas.
The other major development in 2015 was the growing presence of China in Afghanistan. China’s foreign aid, strictly non-military, increased from approximately 1.5 billion Yuan for the entire 2001-2103 period to 500 million Yuan in 2014 alone, and has pledged a further 1.5 billion Yuan for the 2015-17 period.
China, which shares a border with Afghanistan, has a vested interest in bringing stability to the region. Xinjiang, a region vulnerable to terrorism and a target for US subversion since at least the 1970s, is the Chinese region bordering Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most significant geopolitical development however, is the progress of the China led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). If you relied on the mainstream media you could again be excused for knowing little or nothing about this organisation. Its ranks will be added to this year with the inclusion of India, Iran and Pakistan. It has close and growing links with both BRICS and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
The SCO forms an integral element of President Xi’s New Silk Roads vision, which seeks to transform the social and economic structures of Eurasia. It is the largest infrastructure development program in human history. Afghanistan has the potential to form a pivotal part of this huge development.
These developments have significant implications for Australia on multiple levels. For example, the New Silk Roads developments have the potential to make China independent of Australian raw materials. The loss of the Chinese market, or even a significant reduction, would have devastating consequences for Australia’s economic health.
Given the transformative nature of these geopolitical developments, one might have thought that Australia’s foreign policy and particularly its “defence” policies as set out in the recent White Paper, might have sown a more nuanced and subtle appreciation of changing Eurasian realities.
Instead, we have a rerun of strategic concepts that bear little or no relevance to Australia’s true national interests. The time for a radical rethink is long overdue.
*Barrister at Law. He may be contacted at email@example.com