The New Great Game

While the world celebrates the United Nations Peace Day, danger continues to brew just out of sight of the choreographed pageantry in distant parts of the Caucasus and in South Asia, far from the quite towns of civilized Western Europe. Here violence does not mean schoolyard bullying; it means combat at its most brutal with weapons at their most apocalyptic. Janes claims that the Chechen insurgency in Russia has metastized into a full-blown Islamist insurrection. It writes:

An escalation in violence in the North Caucasus suggests the conflict has completed its shift from a struggle for Chechen independence into a less Chechen-specific, multi-ethnic jihadist insurgency that has united the region's various local militant groups behind the goal of establishing an Islamic state. The recent suicide attacks testify to the growing radicalisation and vigour of the Chechen insurgency after several years of severely reduced operational activity. The decline in violence was widely accredited to the brutal counter-insurgency tactics adopted by Chechnya's President Ramzan Kadyrov. ...

If the jihadists can successfully take their war to the Russian heartland, they will make it virtually impossible to break the cycle of repression, radicalisation and violence that currently blights the North Caucasus.

Looking east, the UK Times has a sensational article by Simon Henderson, claiming that America's "ally" Pakistan was  really the conscious ringleader of nuclear proliferation with North Korea and that AQ Khan, the supposedly rogue nuclear scientist, was operating with more official authority than is now admitted. Henderson cites a letter in his possession, the twin of one in Dutch custody, which lays it all out.

Just four pages long, it is an extraordinary letter, the contents of which have never been revealed before. Dated December 10, 2003, and addressed to Henny, Khan’s Dutch wife, it is handwritten, in apparent haste. It starts simply: “Darling, if the government plays any mischief with me take a tough stand.” In numbered paragraphs, it outlines Pakistan’s nuclear co-operation with China, Iran and North Korea, and also mentions Libya. It ends: “They might try to get rid of me to cover up all the things they got done by me.” ...

Bloggers will probably err on the side of more imaginative conspiracy theories, but the truth is probably simpler. After the September 11 attacks, the West in general, and the United States in particular, had to work with Pakistan to counter Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan. That meant that they had to work with President Musharraf, even though he was no democrat. As part of the bargain, Pakistan’s nuclear sins also needed to be placed to one side.

As sins go, they were big: Pakistan had been spreading nuclear technology for years. The first customer for one of its enrichment plants was China — which itself had supplied Pakistan with enough highly enriched uranium for two nuclear bombs in the summer of 1982. ...

America is pressing hard for Khan’s continued confinement. Deprived by Pakistan of the opportunity to interrogate Khan, the US is concerned that he may revive his old networks. Echoing the official view, The New York Times called this month for restrictions to remain on Khan for his “heinous role as maestro of the world’s largest nuclear black market”. ...

If Khan is free to travel and speak openly, there is a danger that he will give his own account of events, opening up a can of worms and complicating relations with Washington. Now his letter has been revealed, he hopes his story will be told differently.

Taken together the two articles provide a glimpse into the interlocking problems on the Eurasian continent: Russia's continuing woes; the enormous leverage that Pakistan acquired simply by behaving badly -- for which it continues to be rewarded. A new Great Game, involving Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and the United States is now in full swing. At stake is oil and the cards are radical Islam and nuclear power. What are America's interests in this contest? What are the dangers which face it?


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