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Pakistan enters the New Silk Road by Pepe Escobar

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Pakistan enters the New Silk Road

April 24, 2015
By Pepe Escobar

Now how do you top this as a geopolitical entrance? Eight JF-17 Thunder fighter jets escorting Chinese President Xi Jinping on BOARD an Air China Boeing as he enters Pakistani air space. And these JF-17s are built as a China-Pakistan joint project.
Silk Road? Better yet; silk skyway.
Just to drive the point home – and into everyone’s homes – a LITTLE further, Xi penned a column widely distributed to Pakistani media before his first overseas trip in 2015.
He stressed, “We need to form a ‘1+4′ cooperation structure with the Economic Corridor at the CENTER and the Gwadar Port, energy, infrastructure and industrial cooperation being the four key areas to drive development across Pakistan and deliver tangible benefits to its people.”
Quick translation: China is bringing Pakistan into the massive New Silk Road(s) project with a bang.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, also on cue, stressed that Pakistan would be in the frontline to benefit from the $40 billion Silk Road Fund, which will help to finance the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road projects; or, in Chinese jargon, “One Belt, One Road”, that maze of roads, high-speed rail, ports, pipelines and fiber optics networks bound to turbo-charge China’s LINKS to Europe through Russia, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean.
The Silk Road Fund will disburse funds in parallel with the new Asian Infrastructure INVESTMENT BANK (AIIB), which has already enticed no less than 57 countries. China’s assistant foreign minister, Liu Jianchao, has not delved into detailed numbers, but he assures China “stands ready to provide financing.”
So no wonder Pakistani media was elated. A consensus is also fast emerging that China is becoming “Pakistan’s most important ally” from either West or East.
Beijing’s CAREFULLY calibrated commercial offensive mixing Chinese leadership concepts such as harmonious society and Chinese dream with a “win-win” neighborhood policy seduces by the numbers alone: $46 billion in investment in Pakistan ($11 billion in infrastructure, $35 billion in energy), compared to a U.S. Congress’s $7.5 billion program that’s been in place since 2008.
The meat of the matter is that Washington’s “help” to Islamabad is enveloped in outdated weapons systems, while Beijing is investing in stuff that actually benefits people in Pakistan; think of $15.5 billion in coal, wind, solar and hydro energy projects bound to come ONLINE by 2017, or a $44 million optical fiber cable linking China and Pakistan.
According to the Center for Global Development, between 2002 and 2009 no less than 70% of U.S. aid was about “security” – related to the never-ending GWOT (global war on terror). As a Pakistani analyst wrote me, “just compare Xi’s vision for his neighbors and the history of AMERICA in Latin America. It is like the difference between heaven and hell.”
That “X” factor
At the heart of the action is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), whose embryo had already been discussed when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Beijing in the summer of 2013. The economic corridor, across 3,000 km, will LINK the port of Gwadar, in the Arabian Sea, not far from the Iranian border, with China’s Xinjiang.
China is already in Gwadar; China Overseas Port Holding Company is operating it for two years now, after helping to build the first phase. Gwadar formally opens before the end of the month, but a first-class highway and railway linking it to the rest of Pakistan still need to be built (mostly by Chinese companies), not to mention an international airport, SCHEDULED to open by 2017.
All this action implies a frenzy of Chinese workers building roads, railways – and power plants. Their security must be assured. And that means solving the “X” factor; “X” as in Xinjiang, China’s vast far west, home to only 22 million people including plenty of disgruntled Uyghurs.
Beijing-based analyst Gabriele Battaglia has detailed how Xinjiang has been addressed according to the new guiding principle of President Xi’s ethnic policy. The key idea, says Battaglia, is to manage the ethnic conflict between Han Chinese and Uyghurs by applying the so-called three “J”: jiaowang, jiaoliu, jiaorong, that is, “inter-ethnic contact”, “exchange” and “mixage”.
Yet what is essentially a push towards assimilation coupled with some economic incentives is far from assured success; after all the bulk of Xinjiang’s day-to-day policy is conducted by unprepared Han cadres who tend to view most Uyghurs as “terrorists”.
Many of these cadres identify any separatist stirring in Xinjiang as CIA-provoked, which is not totally true. There is an extreme Uyghur minority which actually entered Wahhabi-driven jihadism (I met some of them in Masoud’s prisons in the Panjshir valley before 9/11) and has gone to fight everywhere from Chechnya to Syria. But what the overwhelming majority really wants is an economic shot at the Chinese dream.
The Pakistani counterpart to Xinjiang is Balochistan, inhabited by a little over 6 million people. There have been at least three different separatist factions/movements in Balochistan fighting Islamabad and what they call “Punjabis” with a vengeance. Former provincial minister Jaffar Khan Mandokhel, for instance, is already warning there will be a “strong reaction” across Balochistan to changes in the corridor’s routes, which, he says, “are meant to give maximum benefit to Punjab, which is already considered the privileged province.” Islamabad denies any changes.
The corridor is also bound to bypass most of the key, northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Opposition political star Imran Khan – whose party is on top in Khyber – has already condemned it as an injustice.
Beijing, for its part, has been very explicit to Islamabad; the Pakistani Taliban must be defeated, or at least appeased. That explains why since June 2014 the Pakistani army has been involved in a huge aerial bombing campaign – Zarb-e Azb – againt the Haqqani network and other hardcore tribals. The Pakistani army has already set up a special division to take care of the corridor, including nine battalions and the proverbial paramilitary forces. None of this though is a guarantee of success.
Karakoram or bust
It will be absolutely fascinating to watch how China and Pakistan, simultaneously, may be able to keep the peace in both Xinjiang and Balochistan to assure booming trade along the corridor. Geographicaly though, this all makes perfect sense.
Xinjiang is closer to the Arabian Sea than Shanghai. Shanghai is twice more distant from Urumqi than Karachi. So no wonder Beijing thinks of Pakistan as a sort of Hong Kong West, as I examined in some detail here.
This is also a microcosm of East and South Asia integration, and even Greater Asia integration, if we include China, Iran, Afghanistan, and even Myanmar.
The spectacular Karakoram highway, from Kashgar to Islamabad, a feat of engineering completed by the Chinese working alongside the Pakistan Army Corps of engineers, will be upgraded, and extended all the way to Gwadar. A railway will also be built. And in the near future, yet another key Pipelineistan stretch.
Pipelineistan is linked to the corridor also in the form of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, which Beijing will help Islamabad to finish to the tune of $2 billion, after successive U.S. administrations relentlessly tried to derail it. The geopolitical dividends of China blessing a steel umbilical cord between Iran and Pakistan are of course priceless.
The end result is that early in the 2020s China will be connected in multiple ways practically with the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Large swathes of massive China-Europe trade will be able to avoid the Strait of Malacca. China will be turbo-charging trade with the Middle East and Africa. China-bound Middle East oil will be offloaded at Gwadar and transported to Xinjiang via Balochistan – before a pipeline is finished. And Pakistan will profit from more energy, infrastructure and transit trade.
Talk about a “win-win”. And that’s not even accounting for China’s thirst for gold. Balochistan is awash with gold, and there have been new discoveries in Punjab.
New Silk Road action is nothing short than frantic. The Bank of China is already channeling $62 billion of its immense foreign exchange reserves to three policy banks supporting New Silk Road(s) projects; $32 billion to China Development Bank (CDB) and $30 billion to Export-Import Bank of China (EXIM). The Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC) will also get its share.
And it’s not only Pakistan; the five Central Asian “stans” – rich in oil, gas, coal, agricultural land, gold, copper, uranium – are also targeted.
There’s a new highway from Kashgar to Osh, in Kyrgyzstan, and a new railway between Urumqi and Almaty, in Kazakhstan. We may be a long way away from the new high-speed Silk Rail, but trade between, for instance, the megacities of Chongqing or Chengdu in Sichuan with Germany now moves in only 20 days; that’s 15 days less than the sea route.
So it’s no wonder a “special leading group” was set up by Beijing to oversee everything going on in the One Road, One Belt galaxy. The crucial action plan is here. Those who’re about to go silk, we salute you.

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Afghan Ethnic Tensions Rise in Media and Politics

 
 
 New York Times, a Jewish Newspaper Published in New York City, Publicizes Divisions & Ethnicities in Islamic Countries.The Nightmare of every Jew is Unity Among Muslims
 
 
 
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Afghan Ethnic Tensions Rise in Media and Politics
 
By AZAM AHMED and HABIB ZAHORI
KABUL, Afghanistan — FEB. 18, 2014
 
 
It started with a heat-of-the-moment comment on a partisan television talk show, drawing an ethnic line that was bold even by Afghan standards.
 
“Pashtuns are the rulers and owners of Afghanistan; they are the real inhabitants of Afghanistan,” said Gen. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a former intelligence official. “Afghanistan means ‘where Pashtuns live.’ ” The words ignited protests in Kabul in December. Social media erupted. To contain the uproar, President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, had General Taqat arrested and chastised the news media for trying to whip up hatred, something he said many outlets were increasingly doing.
 
The president warned his fellow Afghans, with their bitter memories of ethnic conflict, of what they stood to lose: “If it were not for the national unity of the people, you wouldn’t be able to live in Kabul for a second.” More than 100,000 people died during the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, a conflict that broke largely along ethnic lines, among the Pashtuns and the smaller Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek populations.
 
Although there has been little ethnic violence across the country lately, in political and news media circles, nerves are raw and tempers have been flaring. Shouting matches over ethnic issues in Parliament and on radio programs have started to erupt into fistfights, a troubling reminder that the fragile ethnic détente here, sustained by foreign troops and billions of dollars in aid, could easily shatter. And with the American-led coalition preparing to withdraw, a long-term security agreement in doubt and a presidential election looming, many Afghans feel vulnerable about the future.
 
But so far at least, ordinary Afghans do not seem to be following the news media and political elite’s lead. Many people have taken to the Internet and to the streets to protest the provocations, writing songs and poems about unity and castigating the news media and partisan leaders who play the ethnic card. Under pressure, General Taqat offered an apology to the nation, in a video posted on YouTube.
 
The television and radio dials in Afghanistan are crowded with partisan stations that glorify their leaders and fire up their followers, and many of them have seized on the ethnic debate that the general’s remarks reopened. The ethnically mixed Karzai administration has a history of pushing back when debate turns into the fanning of ethnic hatreds; in 2010, it forced one station, Emroz TV, to shut down.
 
The government is acutely conscious of the danger, to the point that it has made inciting ethnic strife a crime. Many of its senior officials took part in the brutal civil war, and few officials doubt that if Afghanistan were to fall into civil unrest again, much of the violence would erupt along ethnic lines, even within the country’s own security forces.
 
Sensitivities about ethnic identity can impede progress in Afghanistan in unexpected ways. The country is conducting its first census since 1979, but census workers avoid asking routine questions about ethnicity or language, for fear that the census might find altered proportions of each group in the population and as a result upset the balance of power.
 
Lawmakers have been arguing for months, sometimes violently, over what it means to be an Afghan. Many members of ethnic minorities believe that the word refers only to Pashtuns and want their own ethnicity listed on new national identity cards, but some Pashtun leaders are objecting.
 
“We are defending the Afghan Constitution, which says that every single citizen, regardless of his or her ethnic group, is called an Afghan,” said Aryan Yoon, a Pashtun member of Parliament, and the wife of one of the founders of Zhwandoon TV, the channel that aired General Taqat’s comments. Others see the issue differently, including workers at Mitra TV, a channel for Tajiks that was recently opened by Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of Balkh Province.
 
“A particular ethnic group is trying to remain dominant,” said Asar Hakimi, an adviser to the station. “If they hold power exclusively, it will lead to a disaster, like in the Balkans.” Ordinary Afghans have not been easily provoked to factional violence, not even after a bombing at a Shiite festival in 2012 left nearly 70 Hazaras dead. But that does not mean the question is not on their minds.
 
Ethnic issues appear to loom largest with older people who witnessed the civil war firsthand, while younger people’s attitudes are more fluid and their identities more complex, especially in Kabul. Lotfullah Dost offers himself as an example: His family is Pashtun, but he grew up in a Tajik neighborhood and speaks only Dari, the language of Tajiks.
 
“There are a lot of people like me,” he said. “I’m in the middle. I cannot claim to be a Pashtun because I don’t speak Pashto. I can’t claim to be a Tajik, either, because I’m not.” Mixed families have become more common. One of the most popular candidates in the presidential election scheduled for April is Abdullah Abdullah, who has a Pashtun father and a Tajik mother.
 
In East Kabul, along a road that leads to Jalalabad, a largely Pashtun neighborhood, Arzan Qemat, buzzes with life in the evening as vendors hawk fruit and men make their way home from work. Sharifullah Safai, a police officer in the neighborhood, said that if the new identity cards did not say “Afghan” on them, he would not accept his. “Afghan doesn’t mean Pashtun,” he said. “It means anyone who lives here.”
 
Still, he says he believes the other ethnic groups in Afghanistan discriminate against Pashtuns, not the other way around, a view that many Pashtuns share. In some respects, the ethnic fault line that is felt most acutely in Afghanistan is the one that separates Pashtuns from everyone else, a divide that is accentuated by the fact that the Taliban militants warring with the government and the international coalition are almost all Pashtuns.
 
“Ethnic tension is limitless,” Mr. Safai said. “I don’t see a future of stability. “The Afghan Army and police will not be able to prevent the Taliban from taking over,” he added. “The rise of the Taliban will be a precursor to an ethnic civil war.” A Pashtun man, taking a stroll with his adult son in the neighborhood before sunset, paused to discuss General Taqat’s remark that Afghan meant Pashtun.
 
“I agree with General Taqat,” he said as a small crowd gathered to listen and to eye the journalists interviewing him. “These days, everyone is trying to make political maneuvers.” A young Tajik man in the crowd took exception. “How can you say that?” he shouted. “We are both human beings. It’s not written on our foreheads that you are a good Afghan and I am a bad Afghan.” The older man stood for a moment, appearing nonplused, as the crowd watched.
 
“Listen,” he said finally. “I think General Taqat’s statement was misinterpreted. He was saying we should stop using ethnic terms — Tajik, Pashtun and so on. We are all living under one flag.”
 
 
Selection Editor
 
Maqsood Kayani

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