Western Influence in North Africa & Middle East

Continued from:  September 2008 Economic Crisis and Paralyses

The importance of petroleum in warfare as strategic raw material and economy became obvious even before the Second World War. By 1940s , the British who dominated the Middle East and still ruled over India, realizing the importance of oil and the strategic importance of Middle East and as lifeline to India, had created military alliances with most of the countries of the Middle East including Iran ,to also protect its oil wells from the Soviet Union.  The British created a weak and dependent Pakistan as a bulwark against any USSR intrusion into the Gulf since India under Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru would not have joined Western alliances against Moscow or China. After WWII, USA was formally anointed the leader of the Western Christian nations although following WWI the financial power had started shifting towards the Wall Street from the City of London, but the latter still has great leverage for manipulation and mischief. 

From 1950s onwards, USSR made inroads into many Arab states led by secular and nationalist leaders like Gamal Nasser of Egypt and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. West used religion and conservative and hereditary rulers to counter the egalitarian waves of socialism sweeping the Middle East, Asia and north Africa. The battle lines for influence and control between the West and USSR (and China) saw many ups and downs. A very vital change occurred when Iran was lost in 1979 and US ally the Shah of Iran was overthrown by Khomeini led Shia revolution, threatening the Sheikhdoms and Kingdoms in the region. Western world and its frightened allies in the region, taken a back, encouraged and helped financially and militarily Saddam Hussein to douse the leaping flames from the volcano of  Shia revolution with its belief in martyrdom. Iran and Iraq lost over a million young men; the 1980s Iraq –Iran war only protected the vested interests of the West and its allies in the region. Soon with help from its allies, specially Kuwait, US envoy in Baghdad misled Saddam Hussein to move his troops into Kuwait . 

Then began the Western project to trim Saddam’s power after the 1991war and destroy a rich and thriving nation, following the 2003 invasion, now lying supine under US F-16s, Apache helicopters and other arms. One of the reasons for the 1991 war was Kuwait’s insistence that Baghdad repay $10 billion it had advanced to brother Saddam Hussein to fight Iran. Kuwait , Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and even Japan and Germany ended up bearing the costs of the 1991 war to the tune of  $150 to 200 billion basically to protect US interests and hegemony in the region. 

From the Middle East, Western strategic lever to manipulate and control the region and its resources extended into South West Asia through an axis between the USA, Saud dynasty, obscurantist Wahabi ideology and Pakistan military and ISI.  This axis along with support from UK and Europe and many Muslim countries and even China fathered, nurtured, trained and financed with billions of dollars, the present monster of militants and Jihadis in Af-Pak region to battle and force out the Soviet forces from Afghanistan .The nurseries of terrorism were left behind intact with its offshoots Al Qaeda and Taliban, the latter formed with full support from Pakistan and some of the Gulf rulers and US acquiescence. Washington wanted a 'stable' Afghanistan for its multinational pipelines to carry energy from central to South Asia and beyond. That project did not fructify. 

For his cooperation, Pakistan President Gen Zia-ul-Haq was suitably rewarded with money and military aid which emboldened Islamabad to carry out an invasion in Kargil in India. Pakistan also used terror outfits like Lashkar-e Taiba to harass and pin down India. With abundance of arms, Pakistan acquired a Kalashnikov culture of violence while increased opium production in Afghanistan, with Pakistan as an accomplish and as an exit route left millions of it citizens addicted to the drugs. Gen Zia Islamized Pak polity and completed nuclear bomb program with acquiescence and even support from the West. 

But Al Qaeda chief Osama Ben Laden, chosen for the Jihad in Afghanistan by the Saudi rulers nurtured dreams of taking over Muslim states gone astray from Wahabi ideology and conquer other peoples too. The victims were India and newly independent central Asian states like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and even Arab states which had supported and sent volunteers to fight in Afghanistan. In its strategy to defeat and roll back the Christian West and the Crusaders from the Middle East, including the sacred soil of Arabia after the 1991 war on Iraq, Al Qaeda first attacked US missions in East Africa.

But the stunning events of 9/11 showed up the fundamental contradictions in the US-Saudi –Pak axis, with 14 of the 19 hijackers being of Saudi origin, led by an Egyptian with Al Qaeda's octopus like tentacles deeply embedded in Pak military, ISI and the establishment, with long term ramifications still emerging after the US assassination of ben Laden, ensconced in Pak military Cantonment of Abbotabad under ISI protection. The list of terror attacks on Karachi Meran Naval base, brutal killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad and earlier regular attacks against Pakistan’s military, police and establishments are a blowback of the policies laid by Gen Zia-ul-Haq and carried out by succeeding ruling dispensations in Pakistan, willingly or unwillingly.  

This Faustian transaction is acutely true in US-Saudi relations with the latter, being the leading Sunni Muslim state, protecting the holy Islamic shrines in Mecca and Medina and blessed with vast oil resources. Riyadh is now on the back foot. Its power and prestige have been eroded as a result of its rival Shia power Iran's strengthened position in Iraq and the region, just the opposite of what Washington had foolishly hoped for after invading Iraq. President George Bush did not even know the difference between Shia and Sunni Islam before the invasion of Iraq. Ahmet Chalebi, a wily Iraqi, exiled after the 1958 overthrow of the Hashemite dynasty, had sold to Neo-Cons and the willing in the Pentagon the charade that US troops would be welcomed with flowers by the Iraqis. Nobody in decision making cared or bothered to read the history of Iraq or the region. Funded by military-industry and other corporate interests, think tanks tailored reports like of PNAC, with some jokers playing God and believing they were changing the realty on the ground in Iraq. 


The Kingdom of Afghanistan was accepted as a de facto buffer state by the British and Russian empires at the end of 'the Great Game' in Central Asia in 19th century. Between the middle and the end of the 20th century, the British and Russian empires in Asia got dismantled and many new states emerged out of them. Thus the very raison d'etre for that buffer state no longer holds good.  Since early 1980s the Afghan territory has been under control of different armed groups, foreign and local, with Washington installed President Hamid Karzai, with US mercenaries as his bodyguards, in the capital city of Kabul. 

Look at the new states which have sprung from former Russian and British empires now, at Europe after the two world wars and at the end of the Cold War. State and national boundaries are always waxing and waning, sometimes changing drastically and dramatically. So what is new if Pakistan breaks apart! Policies of Washington and Islamabad (or lack of it) are pointing in that direction. The Pushtoon frontier areas of Pakistan are aflame, Baluchistan has been rebellious, Pak military and ISI have been infiltrated by Jihadis gone rogue or under outside control with plans to create Islamic state in Pakistan and around it. Little effort has been made by Pakistan leaders since 1947 to even develop a territory based nationalism. Punjab with 55% population with some leavening of Pushtoons dominate the state. 

 Latin America

In its backyard Latin America, Washington had maintained its dominance under Monroe doctrine except for defiant Cuba under Fidel Castro as a beacon of hope for those resisting neo-liberalism. But of late Washington is losing its sway and total control, the resistance first led against it by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and other leaders who represent and implement aspirations of their people and not of the old elites in cahoots with corporate interests in USA and Europe. 

US attempt for a colonial style control of its oil has been brought to a halt by fierce Iraqi resistance and non-cooperation. Defied by Iran and outclassed Washington will be forced to even engage with Tehran. There are limitations to what Washington, now caught in the Iraqi quagmire, can do in Latin America.  With a defiant nuclear North Korea, and China, an emerging economic power house, the policies of Japan, now the third economic industrial power in the world which can quickly transmute its formidable industrial base into a lethal military machine, the situation in East Asia remains pregnant with many unpredictable possibilities.  But certainly the US writ and influence are on the wane everywhere.


More by :  K. Gajendra Singh

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