Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Al-Aqsa Constraint

UPI's Martin Walker describes the complex ripples from Iran's nuclear ambition. He concludes that the likely scenario is not war, but a mutually assured destruction dynamic versus Israel.

Many in the West believe, with some justification, that Iran intends using the bomb to annihilate Israel. Martin Walker points out that this will also destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque -- from where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven. Will Iran's theocracy really go down this blasphemous path?

While the worst case scenario might be overstated -- of which Ahmedinejad's repugnant anti-semitism is a key driver -- there is no question that Iran is calling the West's bluff. Why and why now?

There is little doubt that the nuclear issue is really a nationalist issue in Iran. By standing up to the West, the Iranian theocracy finds itself in rare alignment with their young & less Islamist population. This is crucial to keeping its home in order as Iran grapples with its rivals abroad.

Further, with Al Qaeda's gambit having been largely crushed, there is clear opportunity for a serious Islamic nation-state to step in and take up the role of West's principal antipode. While the vast majority of Muslims were staunchly anti-Qaeda, there exists a regrettably wide resentment of the West. Supporting an Anti-West nation-state (versus a barbaric terrorist outfit) is far more respectable option for many.

Iran can increasingly point to the "Western lackeys" in the Sunni Islamic world -- the "compromised" Arab dictators and Pakistani/Turkish Generals incapable of leading Islam.

Finally, after Iraq, an invasion of Persia is out of the question. Also, given high oil prices, broad economic sanctions are unlikely. What this leaves is targeted strikes on nuclear sites -- which is almost what Iran wants because such strikes merely slow down a process whose result (the Bomb) is not usable anyway (given the Al Aqsa constraint).

But, such strikes (particularly by Israel) have the potential of galvanizing Muslim public opinion in a manner that the pathetic Osama bin Laden could only fantasize about.

If we were the Saudis, this is what we'd fear -- Iran with a robust conventional military, world's Muslims behind it, the Saddam Hussain buffer neutralized, mocking the inept guardians of the holy places.

Iran is likely provoking the West not to annihilate Israel but to overturn the legitimacy of the Saudis. This is the ultimate in geo-political bank shots. If the West restrains its response (what its been doing), Iran goes nuclear -- if the West reacts, Iran emerges the leader of Islam. Either way, the Ayatollahs in Qum come out ahead. This is the 2.0 version of the 25 year old Iranian Revolution.

Oh, and by the way, Iran will be referred to the Security Council -- likely unanimously. Why? Because, if everyone casts their vote against Iran, Iran couldn't pick on anyone for retribution. Besides, Iran seeks such referral in the first place!!

These sure are the years of living dangerously.

For another view, read Niall Ferguson's The origins of the Great War of 2007 (link courtesy: The Daily Telegraph)


libertarian said...

PR: this is an eye-opener. Iran seems to be going full-steam ahead with this idea. Risky - but quite brilliant. They perceive the perfect storm of scarce oil, Iraqi quagmire, Saudi unpreparedness, and Western inability/apathy.

So is Amhedinejad really stupid or really brilliant? Are these moves the result of a strategy or testosterone?

cynical nerd said...

Interesting post. Nevertheless, we have a slightly different take:

Given the European reaction, it looks like they are pretty much united with the US in taking Iran head-on if it comes to it. If the Trans-Atlantic Alliance is convinced to stick it upon Mr. Ahmedinejad, the Great Unwashed masses will be appropriately "socially-conditioned" to get the public support world-wide. Watch out for doctored reports from HRW and Amnesty condemning Iran for human-rights violation.

The corrupt leaders of the fictional "Ummah" will be appropriately bribed/coerced to crackdown on "miscreants" mobilizing for Iran within their countries.

Military option will soon follow.

We are interested in knowing what should India do under the cirumstances? We believe that India should stay aside and watch the fire works. Once the regime change is done, move in fast, start investing there to get the natural gas homewards.

libertarian said...

CN: the only realistic military option for Iran is with Israel at the tip of the spear (and probably the rest of the spear too). Seriously doubt the US has the stomach for an Iran-sized fight at this point. Europe is gentrified - and prefers to "talk things over", or refer it to the UNSC (when they feel really brave). Russia and China love Iran at this point. And India is certainly not going to invade Iran.

IndianXian said...

This is an interesting take. But the majority of the Muslims are Sunni not Shia. So why would the rest of the Sunni Muslim world want to follow a Shiite state? Or are the ayatollahs trying to "restore" the legitamacy of Shiites within Islam?

cynical nerd said...

libertarian: I am watching out for HRW and Amnesty's report followed by extensive parroting by their media lackeys. If that happens, my take has a better chance of happening just like in the Balkans. Massive NATO bombardement + Kurds/Special Forces on the ground.

Otherwise, it is Israel as you said who will take charge.

nukh said...

thought you guys might be interested. an article from the wall street journal.
times, they are a changing...

January 16, 2006; Page A15

If you can't find Baluchistan on a map, you're not alone.

Here are some clues: It's next to Iran and Afghanistan. It's the biggest province in Pakistan, the one where most of the oil and gas rigs are. Lots of Chinese can be found there, because they are building an enormous commercial and military port in Gwadar, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. There are two military bases from which U.S. forces fight the war on terrorism.

Don't plan a trip to Baluchistan any time soon, though. It's recently come under fire from troops, helicopter gunships and fighter bombers -- sent by the West's favorite military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Baluchistan, which has a literacy rate of 25% (3% for women), has never been integrated into Pakistan. Neither Baluchistan's rough tribal leaders nor the Punjabi-dominated elites of Pakistan have been able to rise beyond an uneasy colonial relationship. The current Baluch insurgency is the fourth in 67 years.

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has downplayed the importance of democratic reform in Pakistan, and Baluchistan shows why this is a dangerous mistake. Repression by the military-dominated central government will only exacerbate Pakistan's instability and economic problems. The two U.S. bases in Baluchistan -- and other cooperation needed in combating terrorism in Afghanistan -- could be compromised. Chaos in Baluchistan also could aggravate competitive Sino-U.S. relations in the region.

The Baluch have three main grievances that all reflect a general sense of being exploited as a colony by Punjab, the most powerful and populated province of Pakistan.

They demand a fairer share of royalties generated by the production of natural gas in their province. The federal government pays a much lower price for each unit of gas produced in Baluchistan than it does for gas produced in other provinces. Moreover, Baluchistan receives no more than 12.4% of the royalties generated for supplying gas.

The people of Baluchistan want to be included, rather than marginalized, in the huge development projects the central government has brought to the coast, particularly the Gwadar port. There is no technical school or college in the area to train locals for future participation in the development projects. Those employed so far have been only daily wage laborers.

They also reject the Punjabi-dominated army's establishment of new military cantonments in their province, and the selling at nominal prices by the central government of choice coastal property to out-of-province developers.

In other words, the Baluch want Baluchistan for Baluchis, not for others.

The government replies that Baluchistan's resources are national property and has made only nominal concessions. The conflict, it says, is the fault of a few greedy obscurantist tribal leaders opposed to the development of the province.

This argument resembles that which the Punjabi-dominated central government made in the early 1970s toward East Pakistanis before massive violence and war with India erupted, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. Similarly the Musharraf regime has responded with military force, air strikes, and -- according to some reports -- the use of napalm.

The military rulers of Pakistan are more fearful of the situation than they admit, and have tried to conceal the real nature of the conflict in different ways. Baluchistan is an anti-clerical province whose tribes have nothing to do with the sort of Islamism of the Taliban or al Qaeda. Yet the Pakistani government has tried to tar the Baluch with the Islamist brush, in part to keep the international community from paying more attention to the real problems in the province.

The central government in Islamabad also has sought to blame the unrest on "foreign hands," with the main culprits being India, Iran and the U.S., depending on who the audience is. Lately, the government says "criminal elements" lay behind the insurgency.

The truth is that the development level is abysmal throughout the province. Many of the Baluchis' claims could have been satisfied without jeopardizing the country's territorial integrity. The leaders of the Baluch nationalist movement have made it known that they would be satisfied with a generous version of autonomy. Instead, the conflict is now spreading.

Reconciling conflicting interests and seeking fair allocations of the costs and benefits of development is what governments are supposed to do. And history suggests that democratic governments, for all their drawbacks, tend to produce fairer allocations than dictatorships do.

By contrast, the manipulation of the 2002 elections, which gave the provincial government to a coalition of conservatives and Islamists, deprived the Baluch nationalists of any say in the allocation of resources.

Baluchistan is yet another example of the risks of postponing democratization in Pakistan. The outcome could be a major civil war, whose consequences on regional stability and the war against terrorism are likely to be unpredictable -- and anything but positive.

Mr. Grare is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Studies, where Mr. Perkovich is vice-president for Studies.
URL for this article:

cynical nerd said...

nukh: Your article is extremely interesting.

Can't believe that Perkovich is writing this! Me thinks Uncle is planning something big in Pakistan, perhaps Musharraf will be shown the door as mentioned in a Asia Times one.

morsecode said...

What India plans to do may be called clever, but it is not the right thing to do.

Ideally, India should play the role of big brother to Iran and guide them. The problem is this: at the moment India does not command the respect to tell anyone anything.

However, I am certain that good times are only 10 years away, when the spineless, gutless political parties will wither and die. I can almost smell spring.

Give another 10 years to clean up inside of the house. Then we will flex our muscles and call the shots. My only problem is that I have no idea what China will do in these 20 years.


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