July 08, 2009

Big Muddy

Is the Obama surge in Afghanistan drawing in Chinese troops? Over the past few weeks a series of interconnected events have severely impacted the security of China’s western borders.

Just three short weeks ago the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit at Yekaterinburg, Russia, got press for a collective thumbing of the nose at the US dollar. The gathering gave the appearance of defying American hegemony not only in Central Asia but globally.

But a week later the Kyrgyzstan parliament and president unanimously gave the USA continued control of an air base to support the expanding AF-PAK conflict. The following day (June 23, 2009) Kyrgyzstan battled militants allied to the Taliban on its own turf. Later that week in the run up to President Obama’s surge in Afghanistan - an increase of 21,000 troops under the new commander in Afghanistan USA Gen. Stan McChrystal - special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke spoke of “spillover” and the commander of NATO in Europe said they could not stop militants from moving into Central Asia as a result of the surge.

Underway now in the surge is “Operation Khanjar” which aims to push the Taliban out of the Helmand and Kandahar regions of Afghanistan. As soon as it began uprisings occurred throughout the region from Ingushetia to Chechnya to Xinjiang and beyond, even as far flung as Bangladesh.

The riots in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, appear to be economic not unlike last year’s brief tumult in Lhasa, Tibet. Numerous videos and photos capture only gang violence by young men and boys overturning private cars and buses and looting Chinese owned liquor stores (do Uyghurs drink?), tobacco shops, and restaurants, and the random killing of people on the street. Mobs are easily bought. The riots bear the hallmarks of classic PSYOP operations at worst or political interference at best. The predictable response from Beijing is a de facto martial law with troops and security forces in the area on alert. Perhaps this was the intent all along.

As recently as 2007, the SCO held massive war games in a show of cooperative power. But today, according to the group’s UN charter the SCO is focused primarily on all things business and “making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region” is not a top priority.

There has been no coordinated reaction to the events of the last few weeks by the SCO let alone any collaboration on a military response. The SCO has to date failed to answer the NATO/USA challenge.

What remains now is how far will Obama’s war in Afghanistan go in pushing out “the bad guys” into Central Asia and whether it will result in the USA once again fighting a proxy war along China’s borders. Is America in the Big Muddy again?

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