The Great Game is on Once Again

Dr MoHAMMAD Manzoor Alam evaluates the current geostrategic trends

Slowly, but steadily, the world is sliding back into the 19th-century mould of Great Game, when the major European powers were locked in a struggle to grab most of Asia and Africa. This scramble for empire-building at the cost of Asian and African peoples generated great wars and destruction on unprecedented scale. The Americas and Australia were already captured by white settlers from Europe, the local population decimated or driven out to remote areas.

 This game has now been revived and there is a great scramble to capture the energy sources of the world before global energy crisis of unmanageable proportions hits the world, destroys the national economies and throws the world into chaos. The scenario could become a reality by 2025, because the known oil and gas reserves are now barely able to meet the current supply needs of a world economy being driven at an extraordinary pace by India and China.

Nearly 20 percent of the world’s economic growth last year could be attributed to the Chinese boom in one way or the other. The fast-growing energy needs of China and India are unlikely to be met within even this decade at the current pace of exploration and exploitation of the energy sources. Saudi Arabia being the world’s largest supplier of oil is now depending largely on four wells only.

All this, plus the uncertainty in the Middle East has compelled the US to grab every known source of oil and gas anywhere in the world. One reason why the Taliban were forced out of power was also because they had refused to allow the American oil company Unocal to begin operations in Afghanistan. Iraq had to be captured not so much because of Saddam Hussein, but because it is sitting on a sea of oil underneath, the second largest source after Saudi Arabia. Even Sudan and Iran are targeted for similar reasons.

Now that America has virtually captured the oil sources in the Muslim regions of former Soviet Union (after remaining in control of Middle Eastern sources), regional powers like Russia, China, and even India, have to worry about their fast-growing future needs. These countries would like to have a share in the control of resources or some access to them. Petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar’s efforts to bring Iranian gas to India via a pipeline passing through Pakistan, which was not very enthusiastic about the pipeline fearing American annoyance, is one instance. America has been trying to dissuade India from embarking on this project. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was here she expressed American disapproval of the Iranian project. In Pakistan she was even more assertive and told them the Iran gas plan was "not a good idea for Pakistan". In view of Pakistan’s heavy dependence on US aid, it is expected that it would ultimately back out of the project. This is arm-twisting of the most terrible sort, quite obviously.

America is developing several alternative projects, one of them is to bring oil and gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. America would like to take oil and gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgizstan and Kazakhstan to different markets, thus establishing its monopoly on Central Asian resources. America would take petroleum from this area direct to Europe, bypassing Russia, which is a matter of great concern to Russia.

Russia, India and China want their fingers in the pie. Pakistan is almost sure to opt out under US pressure, which would derail the Iran-India project. India is being promised a permanent seat in UN Security Council and joint patrolling of important sea lanes with US navy, besides other benefits. Russia just looks helplessly as countries in its former empire are gradually joining the US camp, even being members of NATO.

Finally, we have entered the age of Great Game once again. Only this time we have travelled backwards in time, back to19th century. Now is the time for Asia , particularly India and China , to work towards a more fair world order in which natural resources are not grabbed by one single power or a small group of powers. Only a just order is a viable order.g

Celebrating Failure

The Central government is busy congratulating itself for being instrumental in the failure of the WTO trade talks in the Mexican resort of Cancum. India, Brazil and China along with Malaysia and others resisted pressure from the developed countries to agree to trade terms disadvantageous to the developing countries.

With India, Brazil and China in the lead, 80 developing countries joined together to resist formidable pressure to accept unfavourable terms of trade and unlimited rights of advanced  countries to invest in the developing countries where cheap labour and higher rate of growth attract investment from developed countries

Since the Uruguay round of talks ten years ago (which led to the establishment of WTO) developing countries have been demanding that the US and European Union curtail their agricultural subsidies which makes it easier for Western farmers to produce and sell in the international market at a lower price than agricultural products from developing countries. This has a devastating impact on developing countries’ farmers.

The EU and US over the last 10 years increased farm subsidies instead of cutting down. The EU-US subsidies have gone up to $300 billion from $180 billion. This is certainly not the way to reduce and eliminate subsidies.

However, the main cause of failure of the talks was not farm subsidies but what are referred to as a “Singapore issues”. These issues are thus called because in ministerial talks at Singapore in 1996 proposals were made to incorporate rules regarding foreign investment, competition, government purchases and procedures like custom clearance into WTO.

Developing countries did not want to discuss these issues while the developed countries insisted on it. Celebrating the failure to come up with an agreement at Cancum may not be the right approach to WTO. In any case, the advanced countries would try to have similar agreements with developing countries individually.

It must be kept in mind that we can to some extent “celebrate” our success in resisting pressure from the developed world, but a long impasse in trade talks would not help anyone.

MOhd. Zeyaul HAque

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