EDITORIAL. Ash Narain Roy. VI. XVII. X X
NEW ‘BLOOD GAME’
in Hindu Kush
by Dr. Ash Narain Roy
Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim is an adventure story of the Empire which has something in common with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Kipling immortalized the ‘Great Game’ of the nineteenth century in Central Asia between Great Britain and Tsarist Russia for supremacy in the region. The British Empire saw Tsarist Russia’s expansion into Central Asia as a threat to the ‘Jewel in the Crown’. It feared Afghanistan would become a launching post for a Russian invasion of India.
Today, a new ‘Great Game’ is being played in Central Asia which is for the control of energy resources involving various powers. With the discovery of precious minerals in Afghanistan worth more than a trillion US dollars, the Great Game has been extended to the Hindu Kush region. Sadly, it will be soaked in blood and may turn into the devil’s tears for the war-ravaged Afghanistan and its hapless people.
The news about the discovery of vast untapped mineral resources may bring smiles on several faces - Afghan political leaders, warlords and the transnationals. One thing is, however, clear that this new ‘Great Game’ will have unintended consequences for Afghanistan. The playing fields will in all likelihood be mucked-up by oil barons, corrupt leaders and warlords who are already feeding themselves on the poppy highlands.
The new found wealth will add a new economic and strategic dimension to the Great Game in Afghanistan. Russia and the US have already been part of the game. Now China, Iran, India and some others will join the splutter. China is already in Logar Province in search of 240 million tonnes of copper ore accessible via surface mines. Within days of the reports of Afghanistan’s new treasure discovery, the war-torn country has invited India to bid for and develop its mines to feed India’s burgeoning steel industry. Rugged terrain, lack of infrastructure and insurgency may yet deter the greedy nations and multinational corporations from venturing into Afghanistan for some time.
Not that the Americans, Russians and others did not know about Afghanistan’s hidden treasure. It is rather intriguing that something like this should be brought to light now what American geologists knew all along about these precious reserves like iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium. Obviously, it is part of a larger game plan.
The new discovery will definitely fuel further conflict. Some see the discovery as a massive information operation. One could argue that the “discovery” of the minerals will stiffen America’s greedy resolve. If impoverished Afghanistan is projected as a country with bright economic future, so goes the argument, it will help convince the war-fatigued public that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops.
The same logic prevailed in Iraq. American society and economy have been nursed on cheap oil. The idea that energy security is a right as well as a necessity has become part of American foreign policy tradition. George Bush justified killings in Iraq for oil. As one commentator has aptly said, “Exxon was in the kitchen with Dick Cheney when the Iraq war was being cooked up.” Will Obama justify longer war and larger loss of life for the minerals?
Bruce Riedel, the former CIA officer and adviser to President Bush on Afghanistan, has hinted that the US could provide the Afghans security and logistics to build up its mining capacity. Riedel’s observation that “Obama’s war just became more important and more complicated at the same time” says it all.
If blood diamonds in Angola and Sierra Leone were a crucial factor in prolonging brutal war, so will be oil and other minerals. George Bush invaded Iraq for oil. The only people who hoped to benefit were wealthy oilmen who had financed his election campaign. The Iraq war may not have gone the way Bush wanted, but the war and its untidy aftermath have swelled the coffers of the biggest American oil companies.
Many would be tempted by Afghanistan’s new wealth discovery as a pimple waiting to be pricked. But Afghanistan is packed with warlords and they may have the last laugh. The world community must spare the people of Afghanistan the ordeal of more war and death for the sake of its mineral treasures.