A very nice article by the National Interest, titled “The Taliban Comes to the Table: Could the Afghan War Finally Wind Down?”, July 2015. The article refers to Pakistan’s effort to bring peace in Afghanistan.
Before referring to the article I have to describe the geopolitical landscape of Pakistan. There are three main economic factors that shape the Pakistani geopolitical landscape. The first one is the red blot in the Persian Gulf, which represents the largest natural gas field in the world, the South Pars/North Field, which is jointly owned by Iran and Qatar, and which holds approximately 50 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Iran wants to send that gas to Pakistan, through the Iran-Pakistan natural gas, and from there to China. Iran could do that together with Qatar, if the two countries manage to work things out.
The second economic factor is the red blot in East Turkmenistan, which represents the second largest natural gas field in the world, the Galkynysh, which holds approximately 20 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India, supported by the US, want to send this natural gas to India and the Indian Ocean through the TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). For the time being Turkmenistan it totally dependent on China, because only China can buy the Turkmen gas. Iran and Russia block the Trans-Caspian pipeline which could send the Turkmen natural gas to Europe through Turkey.
The third economic factor that shapes the Pakistani geopolitical landscape is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is promoted by China, and it is part of the New Silk Roads which are promoted by China, and it involves investments of over 40 billion dollars. The New Silk Roads refer to a network of highways, railways, ports and pipelines which are promoted by China. China wants to use this network in order to receive raw materials from other countries, and in order to export her products to the rest of the world too.
Pakistan is at the epicenter of these three mega-projects. These projects can really change Pakistan, since Pakistan is the only country that is involved in all three of them. The problem is that these projects require political stability, something that Pakistan cannot offer. Pakistan is supported by the US and China in its effort to bring political stability in a very volatile region, in order to promote the Pakistani economic interests too.
In Afghanistan terrorism is a daily routine. The same is true in Pakistan that had over 3.300 victims from terrorist attacks only in 2009. Besides terrorism, there is a lot of hostility between Pakistan and India, two traditional rivals. India is very suspicious about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, because it will make China a country of two oceans, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and it will allow China to encircle India. Pakistan and India have been for many years cooperating against India and this can only become worse after China will develop the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
India says that the new economic corridor should wait until the Kashmir issue is resolved first. Kashmir is the region between China, Pakistan and India, and the three countries have territorial disputes over this region. That’s why some maps show Kashmir as a separate region. However the parts of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and China unite Pakistan and China geographically.
I must also say a few words about Pakistan’s old and new alliances. During the 80s, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Pakistan was fighting the Soviets on the side of the US, the Arabs and the Turks. During the civil war in the 90s the Pakistanis, together with the Arabs, supported the Taliban. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996 and declared their own government in Afghanistan, Pakistan was one of the three countries in the world, together with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that recognized the Taliban government.
In the past, Pakistan’s alliance with the Arabs made Pakistan an enemy of Iran. However things are different today. Due to the economic cooperation between Pakistan, Iran and China, Pakistan wants to adopt a more neutral stance towards the Arabs and the Iranians. That was clearly demonstrated by Pakistan’s refusal to take part in war that broke out recently between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen. Moreover Pakistan had traditionally good relations with the Americans, with whom Pakistan cooperated against the Soviets, and Pakistan had also very good relations with the Chinese, with whom Pakistan cooperated against India.
The above are a summary of Pakistan’s geopolitical landscape, and of Pakistan’s old and new alliances. Today Pakistan is acting exactly as one would expect, moving within this geopolitical framework. The Pakistanis, contrary to the Arabs and the Iranians, want peace in Afghanistan, because they want the TAPI pipeline to be constructed. Moreover, contrary to the Turks, who support the Islamists of Xinjiang, Pakistan wants peace in Xinjiang in order for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to proceed smoothly.
Note that Xinjiang is a Chinese province (see map), where the Muslim Uyghurs constitute almost 50% of the population. The East Turkestan Islamist Movement operates in Xinjiang by the Uyghurs, and it is supported by Turkey, but it is combated by China and Pakistan. See also “Anti-China sentiment is suddenly sweeping over Turkey”, July 2015
Xinjiang is a very important region because the pipelines that carry the Turkmen gas and the Kazakh oil to China have to cross Xinjiang. Moreover one of the two pipelines that were agreed between the Chinese and the Russians, the Altai Pipeline, has to pass through Xinjiang too.
Therefore today Pakistan has its own separate geopolitical agenda, and in order to promote its own economic interests Pakistan has to work with the US and China in order to promote political stability. Therefore Pakistan is trying to bring the Taliban to the table of negotiations, and it is also cooperating with China on the issue of Xinjiang. But that brings Pakistan on the other side of the Arabic, Iranian and Turkish interests. At the National Interest article that I mentioned in the beginning, you can read about the Pakistani efforts to force Taliban to make peace with the Afghan government. As expected this causes tensions withing the Taliban teams, and there are some members leaving the Taliban for ISIS, there are Taliban teams that are separated etc.
All these are very normal, since one would expect the Arabs, the Iranians and the Turks to push the Islamists to keep fighting in Afghanistan and Xinjiang. One must also take into account the following. If the Turkmen gas manages to find its way to the India Ocean, the Kazakh oil could follow. Therefore this is not only a natural gas war. It is also an oil war. Anyway, if you read the article you can see that each player is moving exactly as expected. And one should not be surprised to hear that there is so much terrorism within Pakistan. For the National Interest article see:
“The Taliban Comes to the Table: Could the Afghan War Finally Wind Down?”, του Ιουλίου 2015
For the oil and natural gas fields of the Middle East and the Caspian Sea see also the following map from Columbia University