Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Latin America - a changing political environment, and statesmanship

In an earlier post I wrote of America’s alliances burning while it fiddles in Iraq. In yet another, I observed that China is busy building alliances around the globe, including in the US’s own backyard as it were, Latin America.

Latin America, alas, has always been fertile ground for ferment, and not always in its best interests. No less than Simon Bolivar, the vaunted and still revered liberator of several South American countries wrote the following words as he neared his end:

"I was in command for twenty years, and during that time came to only a few definite conclusions: (1) I consider that, for us, [Latin] America is ungovernable; (2) whoever works for a revolution is plowing the sea; (3) the most sensible action to take in [Latin] America is to emigrate;(4) this country [Great Columbia, later to be divided into Columbia, Venezuela, and Equador] will ineluctably fall into the hands of a mob gone wild, later again to fall under the domination of obscure small tyrants of every color and race; (5) though decimated by every kind of crime and exhausted by our cruel excesses, we shall still not be tempting to Europeans for a reconquest;(6) if any part of the world were to return to a primeval chaos, such would be the last avatar of [Latin] America." (Quoted in Carlos Rangel's “The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship With the United States”

Since then, Latin America has indeed had a stormy history, trading domination by Spain for the corruption and repression of its own homegrown tyrants.

In recent times, post WWII, it became a battleground for political conquest between the USSR and the USA. Aside from the strategic threat to America, the USA, under the Monroe Doctrine, has always asserted its right to thwart an attempt by a non-Western hemisphere power to intrude on what it considers its patch.

During the Cold War America fought tenaciously and employed any method and anyone to that end, and with the exception of a close brush with Cuba, pretty well succeeded. There were a few temporary glitches, as in the case of Chile and Allende but that was put to bed fairly quickly by Pinochet and, of course, Nicaragua, once again on the boil.

Now, however, Latin America seems to have drifted off the US geopolitical radar, which does not seem to be picking up some alarming signals emanating from that region. Argentina with Kirchner has moved to the left, and thumbed his nose at Argentina’s international creditors by restructuring their huge debt and agreeing to repay only $0.35 on the dollar. Moving a tad north, sleepy Uruguay, in the doldrums for many a year, has made headlines by electing a leftist government and inviting the heretofore pariah Castro to the presidential inauguration; Bolivia, with a leftist populist administration in the making has begun a controversial land reform and is saying nasty things about the United States and making very complimentary remarks about Cuba and Venezuela.

Then, a really big blip missing on the US screen – Brasil. For the first time I can recall, since the short lived government of Jango Goulart in the 1960s, Brasilian voters brought to power a leftist administration under the guiding hand of the charismatic, life-long labour agitator, “Lula”, now President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Passing over the ever chaotic countries of Peru, and Ecuador and drug and terrorist nest Colombia, we arrive in Venezuela, home to Hugo Chavez the president, and the fifth largest producer of oil in the world which accounts for 13% of the US oil supply. Chavez, self appointed Bolivarian liberator of Latin America, has made a point of cultivating ties with Iran, Libya, China, India and France none of which are exactly on the warmest of terms with the US. In addition to his anti-American tirades, he is busy forging a decidedly left wing socialist alliance amongst the aforementioned Latin American nations, preferably under his tutelage and leadership. Not only could Chavez create serious problems for the US economy by reducing oil supplies, he could reignite a war over long simmering differences with Colombia, a key US ally in the war on drugs.

Suddenly, Cuba, lonely and pining for a sugar daddy since the USSR went broke now finds itself welcome in some significant neighboring company.

What is the US doing amidst this sea change? Well, just recently, this week, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defence, toured Latin America while his fellow apostle, Rice, did Asia. Presumably Rumsfeld was tipped for the task of mending fences with the Latinos because of his proved tact and diplomacy in dealing with US European allies.

In his recent peregrinations, he has concentrated on the following issues:

While in Argentina, he chastised Venezuela for wanting to buy 100,000 AK-47s from Russia. He said, “I cannot understand why Venezuela needs 100,000 AK-47s” I guess US Intelligence, an oxymoron if ever there were one, has not been able to figure that out any better than Iraq. It would not be too far fetched to surmise Chavez would like to arm a loyal militia considering the attempts that have been made to do away with him both from within and without. He has the great mass of the poor and downtrodden in his country behind him, and with guns in their hands they could wield quite a bit influence and support for him. In addition to internal opposition, he has expressed fears of a US move to overthrow him. I think that must be in the cards considering the US dependence on Venezuela’s oil, but I would rule out an outright invasion. Where would the US come up with the troops? They need all the boots they can muster in Iraq.

Continuing Rumsfeld’s contribution to making the Latins love America, he also visited Brasil where he raised the same issue of Venezuela with Brazil's vice president and defence minister, Jose Alencar, who declined to offer similar criticism of Chavez. Alencar would only say that Brasil respects the right of self-determination of other countries, an alien concept to Rumsfeld, Rice and the Bush regime.

When one contrasts the headlines generated by Rumsfeld in his visits to Brasil and Argentina with those publicised during the visit by the Chinese President to the same countries, the difference is striking. Following are the lead stories on President Hu Jintao’s visits to Argentina and Brasil

“Hu said in a written speech upon arrival at the airport that he will discuss major international and regional issues with them and "learn from the experiences of Chile's development and success."

“China will invest nearly $20bn (£11bn) in Argentina over the next 10 years. The announcement of the trade and investment deals came on the first day of a state visit to Argentina by China's President Hu Jintao.”

“During the visit, Brazil met Chinese wishes to recognise it as a market economy. In return, Brazil was granted greater access to China's market for chicken and beef products. The beef deal alone is expected to be worth $600m (£324m) a year for Brazil, ministers said. It also gained a commitment from China to order at least 10 aeroplanes from Brazilian maker Embraer, reported the AFP news agency. To facilitate trade, the Chinese are offering between $5bn (£3bn) and $7bn (£4bn) worth of investment to improve Brazil's roads, railways and ports.“

No threats, no warnings, no hectoring and lecturing about democracy; no fear mongering about “terism”; no attempts to enlist them in a war against Iraq, Venezuela, Iran or North Korea. Instead, China pursues a low key policy built on enterprise and investment in other countries. China, unlike the US, is not attempting to involve itself in the quagmire of Latin American politics; China has heeded Bolivar’s admonitions and learned from America’s failures in that regard.

Harking back to my post on Weiqi and strategic thinking, and looking at the global geopolitical game being played out, the US is losing territory, influence and respect apace. Even to keep its traditional European allies in line, the US has to rely on threats of economic and technological sanctions (reference the recent clash over the arms embargo on China). Regions once considered to be solid allies of the United States are now being courted successfully by the Chinese. Southeast Asia, and Latin America are the most obvious examples of this policy; it is worth noting that with the exception of the United States, and its satrapies of Taiwan and Japan, China has no significant enemies. The same cannot be said for the United States.

However, the US seems impervious to changes taking place in the world, following instead a policy based on a rigid and doctrinaire ideology, one that can only lead to its undoing.

Scientists Find Big Afghan Oil Resources

By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer

Two geological basins in northern Afghanistan hold 18 times the oil and triple the natural gas resources previously thought, scientists said Tuesday as part of a U.S. assessment aimed at enticing energy development in the war-torn country.

Nearly 1.6 billion barrels of oil, mostly in the Afghan-Tajik Basin, and about 15.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, mainly in the Amu Darya Basin, could be tapped, said the U.S. Geological Survey and Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines and Industry.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the estimates as "very positive findings," particularly since the country now imports most of its energy, including electricity.

"Knowing more about our country's petroleum resources will enable us to take steps to develop our energy potential, which is crucial for our country's growth," said Karzai, whose government was created after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and later won national elections.

The $2 million assessment, paid for by the independent U.S. Trade and Development Agency, was nearly four years in the making, said Daniel Stein, the agency's regional director for Europe and Eurasia. The total area assessed was only about one-sixth of the two basins' 200,000 square miles that lie within Afghanistan.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, whose agency includes the U.S. Geological Survey, said the assessment would help Afghanistan better understand and manage its natural resources.

Afghanistan's petroleum reserves were previously thought to hold 88 million barrels of oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, based on Afghan and Soviet estimates for 15 oil and gas fields opened between 1957 and 1984. But just three of those have operated recently.

"There is a significant amount of undiscovered oil in northern Afghanistan," said Patrick Leahy, the U.S. Geological Survey's acting director. He said the other oil fields were abandoned, or the equipment there is damaged and rocks have filled the wells.

More work remains to assess petroleum reserves, conduct seismic exploration and rehabilitate wells, say government and industry officials.

Companies could drill relatively quickly, potentially bringing in billions of dollars in revenue to the transitional government, said H.E. Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.

"Within two to three years, the prospects are there for companies to start exploring oil and gas. The legal infrastructure is in place for the companies to come in," Jawad said in an interview.

"As far as security, they may have to take some additional precautions. But the country is much safer than what's perceived in the media," he said. "But of course we are fighting terrorism, it's a phenomenon, it's a danger, but it's not limited to one country."

The danger comes with the territory, said Barry Gale, a private energy consultant and former director of the Energy Department's international science and technology office.

"This is a pretty risky investment," he said. "But there's ferocious competition out there among multinationals just to get a foot in the door, even if it's a scary door."

Karzai is struggling to deal with an upsurge in violence and suicide bombings in recent months, though Bush administration officials have praised the progress Afghanistan has made since a U.S.-led coalition toppled the hard-line Taliban regime in 2001. The United States plans to give $1.1 billion in aid next year to the nation where Osama bin Laden once trained terrorists and plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Pipeline politics!

The interim government in Afghanistan and interested outside parties will need to grapple with issues that have confronted the region since long before Sept. 11. Among these is the question of Central Asia's considerable oil and gas reserves. According to the Institute for Afghan Studies, these are worth an estimated US$3 trillion at last year's prices.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, corporations—often with government support—have competed for control of Central Asia's hydrocarbon resources, in a battle that some analysts have called a new "Great Game" for control over Eurasia.

The international press has turned to this topic with new interest since the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7. As the United States augmented its military presence around Afghanistan, Ranjit Devraj, writing for Hong Kong's Asia Times, likened U.S. President George W. Bush's aims in Afghanistan to his father's in Iraq. In both cases, Devraj argues, the motive was oil. Devraj is not alone. George Monbiot—in a column written for London's Guardian but syndicated in Lahore's centrist, mass-circulation Dawn—called the U.S.-led campaign a "colonial adventure." "American imperialism has begun its unilateral war against Afghanistan," echoed Sitaram Yechury for Chennai's mass-circulation The Hindu (Oct. 13).

Comparisons between this war and the Gulf War are tempting: The Bush family is steeped in oil, as are U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and a host of other notables from the Bush administration. The United States was slow to condemn the Taliban in the mid-1990s because the Taliban seemed to favor U.S. oil company Unocal to build two pipelines across Afghanistan.

But to term the war in Afghanistan "a colonial adventure" is to ignore the thousands of civilians who died in terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 and to ignore an unprecedented attack on the nerve center of the U.S. military. It would be surprising if strikes of such magnitude did not draw a military response.

And while US$3 trillion is a considerable sum by anyone's yardstick, U.S. government energy experts estimate that the region has 200 billion barrels of oil—less than what's already known to exist in Saudi Arabia alone.

Perhaps U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had this in mind when, in an Oct. 15 interview with the liberal Moscow newspaper lzvestia, she went to great lengths to reassure Russian readers that the United States has no designs on Russia's traditional hegemony over Central Asian oil reserves.

Rice may not have had a choice. On Dec. 11, Moscow's government-owned Prime Tass news agency reported that Russia had signed a long-term cooperation accord with Turkmenistan covering natural gas exploration, production, processing, transport, and marketing. The deal was announced just 10 days after Gazprom announced that it had reached a similar agreement with Kazakhstan over that country's oil resources.

The deals did not come as a surprise to the national security adviser, who is an authority on Central Asian oil. It was during her tenure on U.S. oil company ChevronTexaco's board of directors that the company partnered with a consortium including Russia, Kazakhstan, Oman, and U.S. oil company ExxonMobil to complete most of the work on a pipeline carrying oil from the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiisk. ChevronTexaco was so grateful for Rice's service that it named a tanker after her. On Oct. 15, the first tanker full of oil from the pipeline set sail from Novorossiisk. On Nov. 28, U.S. President George W. Bush extended his congratulations to the consortium.

Central Asian oil is important. It is potentially important to the United States, which consumes more energy than any other country in the world and must import roughly half its oil. But it is surely more important to Central Asia. It is in this context that we consider the issue of oil and gas in Central Asia.

The History:

In his landmark study, The Prize, Daniel Yergin writes, "Oil seepages were first discovered on the Aspheron Peninsula, a dry, rocky extension of the Caucasus mountains projecting into the landlocked Caspian Sea, centuries ago. In the 13th century, Marco Polo recorded rumors of a spring that produced oil, which, though not edible, was 'good to burn,' and useful for cleaning the mange of camels. Baku was the home of the 'eternal pillars of fire' worshipped by the Zoroastrians. Phrased more prosaically, these pillars were the result of flammable gas escaping from cracks in limestone."

By the early 19th century, there was a primitive oil industry in Baku. Local residents extracted oil from hand-dug pits. Robert Nobel, the son of a Swedish weapons engineer who had immigrated to Russia in 1837, arrived in Baku in 1873. In a few short years, he and his brother Ludwig modernized drilling procedures, revolutionized methods for transporting oil "downstream" to markets, and supplied the world with half its oil. Soon after, the Parisian branch of the Rothschild family, already famous throughout Europe, began competing with the Nobels for control of the region's oil wealth. Meanwhile, John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil company fought to maintain its competitive edge in supplying Europe and Russia with oil. Over the following decades, some of the world's most powerful families, backed by their home governments, vied for control of Central Asia's oil.

Central Asia has always played an important role in the geopolitical balance of Eurasia. In World War II, during his campaign against Russia, Adolf Hitler sought to capture Baku and the Caucasian oil fields in a desperate bid to replenish his depleted fuel supplies before attacking the Middle East simultaneously from the west in North Africa and from the east in Central Asia. After the war, the Soviets retained Central Asian oil and gas fields as reserves, exploiting oil and gas deposits in Tatarstan and Siberia instead.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, believing oil to be the fastest way for them to secure their economic and political independence, have sought to exploit their oil wealth. According to the estimates of geologists, the oil deposits of the Caspian Sea may not be quantitatively comparable to the deposits of the Persian Gulf, but they are still considered of excellent quality and many look to them as a significant source of untapped energy for the 21st century. Some have estimated that the entire Caspian Sea is a basin full of oil and natural gas, starting from Azerbaijan and continuing to the opposite shore in the territory of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Modern Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan share the majority of the region's hydrocarbon wealth. That these countries are all landlocked means that they all depend on their neighbors for access to Western markets, via pipelines. This adds another dimension to the struggle for political and economic hegemony in the region: Players must vie for control of oil and gas production and for the pipelines that deliver the resources to markets.

Although the stakes involved remain the same today—power, influence, security, wealth—the playing field has changed over the past century. Tribal warlords now contend with global powers and multinational conglomerates. Afghanistan's career as an incubator and exporter of terrorists, rebels, and opium has spread instability throughout the region, and, indeed, the world. If anything, today's battle lines are more merciless and tangled than those drawn a century ago.

The Geopolitics of Oil in Central Asia

One important geopolitical consequence of the demise of the Soviet Union was the rise of intense political and commercial competition for control of the vast energy resources of the newly independent and vulnerable states of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

These energy resources and, in particular, the oil Potential Oil Export Routes from FSU and natural gas deposits have now become the apple of discord in Central Asia introducing, according to analysts, a new chapter in the ÃGreat GameÅ (1) of control over Eurasia.

Although the stakes involved remain the same, i.e., power, influence, security, wealth, the new playing field is further complicated by an array of problems. These include intra-regional conflict, political instability, fierce competition among multinational conglomerates, and a shortfall in commercial expertise and legal infrastructures (2).

Moreover, the fact that the three countries which share the majority of the regionÅs energy and resources, namely Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, are landlocked makes them depend on their immediate neighbours for access to the Western markets.

The essence of this new geopolitical game in Central Asia is twofold: first, control of production of the oil and gas, and second, control of the pipelines which will transfer the oil to the Western markets (3).

From a geopolitical point of view, Central Asia has always been important (4). From the middle to the end of the 19th century, while the region was part of the Russian Empire, the oil-bearing areas of Baku were producing half of the worldÅs oil supplies (5). In World War II, during his campaign against Russia, Hitler tried to capture Baku and the Caucasian oil fields as part of his strategy for world domination. After the war, the Soviets retained these areas as reserves, choosing to exploit oil deposits on Russian soil, in Tatarstan and Siberia (6).

Following the collapse of communism, Caspian early oil routes the ex-Soviet republics of Central Asia, especially Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, have been trying to exploit their natural resources, since they consider oil to be the prime means of securing their economic and political independence. According to the estimates of geologists, the oil deposits of the Caspian Sea may not be quantitatively comparable to the deposits of the Persian Gulf, but they are still considered of excellent quality and able to provide a significant alternative source of energy in the 21st century (7). In particular, it is estimated that the entire Caspian Sea is a basin full of oil and natural gas, starting from Azerbaijan and continuing to the opposite shore in the territory of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. These deposits take on enormous importance because of the expected exhaustion of the deposits of Alaska and the North Sea by the year 2015.

The Issue of Production


Azerbaijan belongs to one of the areas of the world richest in oil Baku oilfieldsand has a long history in the production of oil and natural gas. Despite its age-old production, Azerbaijan still possesses considerable oil deposits, which have remained unexploited. During the 20th century, the oil industry in Azerbaijan drew oil from the deposits in the countryÅs land subsoil, while offshore development began only in the middle of our century, and at a small depth. The first major offshore oilfield from which oil was drawn was the ÃOil RocksÅ, in 1949. When this source was exhausted, it was replaced by another offshore oilfield, the ÃGuneshliÅ, which was discovered in 1980 and by 1991 covered 57% of AzerbaijanÅs output. In addition, offshore exploration for oil deposits in the Caspian Sea had already borne fruit in the 1980s with the discovery of three major oilfields - ÃChiragÅ, ÃAzeriÅ, ÃKapazÅ - at great depth (8).

The problem was that, even though the Soviet oil industry had successfully developed its offshore oilfields and was even among the pioneers in this field, it had done so through virtually primitive means. The Soviet oil industry was never technologically able to develop offshore oilfields at great depth. Thus, AzerbaijanÅs offshore oilfields have remained, to a large extent, undeveloped. AzerbaijanÅs government has invited major foreign oil companies possessing the necessary technology, capital and project organisation to develop its offshore fields (9). The three biggest Azeri oilfields are being developed by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company, a twelve-company consortium which includes BP and Amoco (10).

The negotiations on the development of these oilfields involve complex legal, technical and commercial issues. The most important problem is the lack of a legal framework for the development and exploitation of AzerbaijanÅs oil. Furthermore, the restructuring of the domestic oil industry and negotiations with foreign companies have been hampered by the frequent changes of government. In order to improve the prospects for foreign investment, Azerbaijan is considering the adoption of a more flexible legal framework on oil contracts. Within this context, the government of Azerbaijan founded in August 1992 a public oil company adopting the norms of modern international oil companies. Every negotiation with foreign companies is conducted through this government company, while the development of joint stock status is being considered.

In order to conform to international practice and complete the negotiations as soon as possible, the government of Azerbaijan has also sought the advice of experienced international consultants (11).

Apart from the development of the oilfields, which has already begun, Azerbaijan continues its explorations for other deposits in the Caspian Sea. In the part of the Caspian belonging to Azerbaijan, around 24 sites have been singled out as suitable for drilling.

It is obvious that the development of the energy sector will have beneficial effects on AzerbaijanÅs economic development, in general. The prospects of AzerbaijanÅs energy sector will depend on whether new projects for the exploitation of the new deposits under the seabed prove to be satisfactory. The oil balance sheet is expected to show improvements compared with the current year, particularly if the exploitation of the ÃGuneshliÅ oil field continues unobstructed. In the long run, total oil production is expected to reach 25.6 million tons per year in the year 2000 and 45.2 million tons in 2005, by which time the exploitation of other offshore deposits will have begun. Since domestic consumption is not expected to rise significantly, the total quantity of oil for export is expected to reach 20.8 million tons in 2000 and 39.7 tons in 2005 (12).


Kazakhstan, ranking second -after Azerbaijan- among the oil-producing countries of the former Soviet Union, also commands abundant energy resources. Because of the countryÅs position, the transit routes and oil pipelines, Kazakhstan exports oil mainly to the Russian Federation (13). Oil represents 15% of KazakhstanÅs total exports. If the programme of reforms and the pace of foreign investments proceed according to schedule, it is estimated that in 1998 oil will account for 60% of KazakhstanÅs exports (14).

Kazakhstan has tried to attract foreign investors with advanced technology and expertise for the extraction of these deposits. A large number of foreign investments are already in progress in Kazakhstan. The most important ones include the agreement with Chevron to develop the oilfield of Tengiz, in western Kazakhstan, and the agreement with a consortium which includes British Gas, Agip and Texaco, to develop the Karachaganak field in northern Kazakhstan (15). ChevronÅs investment in Tengiz began in 1993 and, when completed, it is expected to come up to the level of 20 billion dollars. The investment of the British Gas/Agip consortium is of approximately the same size. The completion of these investments will have important consequences for the oil exports and the economic development of Kazakhstan.

The government of Kazakhstan is also examining various alternative proposals for the construction of an oil pipeline which will channel the oil to the West. The most feasible proposal seems to be the one that entails the upgrading of the existing network which traverses the area around the northern part of the Caspian Sea, ending at the port of Novorossisk, in conjunction with the modernisation of the facilities of this Russian port. This solution entails close Cupertino with Russia and Azerbaijan. Other proposals under examination include an oil pipeline, which will cross the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Georgia to end at a Turkish port. Another proposal, which was turned down after American pressure, involved an oil pipeline which would cross Iran, ending in the Persian Gulf.

With regard to the financing of the oil pipelines, meetings are being held and promises made by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The construction of the new pipeline or the upgrading of the existing network for the channelling of oil to the West will undoubtedly be the key to the countryÅs economic development.

The issue of pipelines

With deals to develop the oilfields in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan already signed, the biggest problem facing foreign investors is how to transport the oil to foreign markets. Unlike other big oil producers, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are landlocked. The issue of pipeline selection has therefore acquired enormous geopolitical significance for the future of the region. The existing pipeline routes for oil from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan ran through Russia to the port of Novorossisk on the Black Sea, giving Moscow a considerable advantage in the process of pipeline selection (16). Following the agreement between Chevron and Kazakhstan, Moscow initially refused to allow crude oil through its pipeline system. It later placed restrictions on the amount of oil which could be transported through its pipelines and imposed a series of high tariffs. All these manoeuvres resulted in a deal which allowed Russia to become member of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which will build a $2 billion pipeline from Kazakhstan to Novorossisk.

The Azerbaijan International Operating CompanyÅs Ãearly oilÅ is being transported along two routes which for the most part use existing pipelines: a northern route through Dagestan and Chechnya to Novorossisk, and a second western route to the Georgian port of Supsa. Oil is already flowing along the northern route, and so far, the Chechens have been bought off with substantial transit fees (17).

These pipeline arrangements are temporary solutions dealing only with the transport of the early oil. The final decision regarding the selection of the pipelines which will carry the main oil is expected sometime in 1998. In theory, new pipelines could go in almost any direction. Northern routes could enhance the existing network and serve RussiaÅs needs. Western routes could serve Europe, while southern or eastern routes could serve the Asian markets (18).

The main options are the following: (19)

1. The northern route favoured by Russia. According to this option, Kazakhstan would expand its existing pipelines to link them to the Russian network and Azerbaijan would build a pipeline from Baku to Novorossisk. The shortcomings of this option have to do with fears of establishing excessive Russian control over the pipeline and also the issue of security, since the pipeline would go through Chechnya.

2. The western route favoured by Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia and the United States. This pipeline route would bring the oil to the Georgian port of Supsa and then ship it through the Black Sea and the Bosporus to Europe. Turkey insists that the straits cannot cope with increased tanker traffic and has proposed, instead, to construct a pipeline from Baku to the port of Ceyhan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. However, excessive costs (around $2.9 billion) and serious security concerns (this route would pass through unstable Kurdish territory) make this option difficult to implement. Instead, the Bosporus could be by-passed by a pipeline linking the Bulgarian port of Burgas with the Greek port of Alexandroupolis.

3. The southern route. Economically, this is the most viable option, since Iran already has an extensive pipeline system, and the Gulf is a good exit to the Asian markets. The United States, however, has practically vetoed this option.

4. Eastern route. This pipeline would transport oil from Kazakhstan to China. It will be the costliest pipeline (covering 2,000 km in Kazakhstan alone) but the Chinese consider it as a strategic decision and are willing to implement it.

5. South-eastern route. The American oil company Unocal has proposed the construction of oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and later to India. This route makes sense geographically but not politically, since it will have to go through unstable Afghanistan.

The final decision about the pipeline or the pipelines which will transport the Caspian oil will be taken sometime in 1998 and is hard to predict in view of the multiplicity of options and competing interests. Given the strength of the Russian and American support for the northern and the western routes respectively, these pipelines seem to have an advantage over the others.

The Policies of the Great Powers in Central Asia

US Foreign Policy

The structure of the oil industry in the West changed radically and perhaps permanently in 1973. Control of the worldÅs oil resources shifted from the big multinational oil companies to a small number of oil-producing countries, most of them members of OPEC. The oil crisis of 1973-4 and the two increases in oil prices which followed, one in 1973 and another at the end of the 1970s, forced the countries of the West to reshape their policy on energy by emphasising alternative sources of energy. Despite that fact, the fall in oil prices in the 1980s, as these could not have remained at the high levels of the 1970s, increased demand and oil imports. Thus, while in 1973 world oil consumption was 57 million barrels a day, in 994 it approximated to 68 million barrels (20).

The USA leads the world in oil consumption, with 17 million barrels a day in 1991. Of this quantity, 50% is imported, so that dependence on oil imports is expected to rise steadily in the next decade. Even though US government committees, examining the issue, have found that dependence on oil imports threatens US national security, American oil policy has not changed radically with regard to imports. These findings have not led to the formation of a new oil policy which would aim at the progressive reduction of oil imports. They have, however, led the American Government to seek diversification of supply, to avoid dependence on a single supplier or team of suppliers. The addition of new exporters, such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, to the already existing oil-producing and exporting countries provides more freedom of choice for importing countries such as the US, while it also helps to keep oil prices down (21).

Within this framework, one can explain the American interest in the restructuring of the Russian oil industry as well as in participation in the development of oilfields in the Caspian Sea and the surrounding countries. These oil deposits constitute new sources of supply from countries outside the OPEC and are, for this reason, extremely important on the political as well as on the economic level. The Caspian Sea basin has attracted US interest for the following reasons:

1. The oil of this region is considered to be of good quality.

2. The biggest part of this oil is intended for export, since the needs of the producing countries are relatively low and are expected to remain low.

3. The fact that the countries of the region lack the capital and the technology to proceed independently to the development of these oilfields offers American companies, such as Chevron, considerable investment opportunities.

In this context, we can better understand the geopolitical and economic aims of the US in Central Asia. At the geopolitical level, the United States wants to help the countries of Central Asia to develop their oil and natural gas industries. According to the estimates of the American Government, this development will bring about economic growth and will help these countries move away from the Russian sphere of influence.

At the economic level, the development of the oil industry of these countries means investment opportunities for the American construction and oil companies. Politically, the United States will be in a position to control these new important energy resources and diversify its own sources supply. American private companies have been supported by the US Government in at least two countries of Central Asia, namely, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Other American political objectives include the containment of Iran and the reinforcement of TurkeyÅs role in the region. The US has not only blocked any pipeline route passing through Iran, but has also cancelled IranÅs participation in the international consortium which has undertaken oil production in Azerbaijan (22).

To sum up, US foreign policy in Central Asia is founded on the following rationale:

* The US intends to help the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan develop their oil and natural gas industries.
* Through the development of their oil and gas industry, which will bring economic growth, the US hopes to extricate them from the Russian sphere of influence.
* The US Government is actively supporting American companies in Central Asia involved in oil development as well as in the construction of pipelines which will channel the oil to the West.
* The US will try to channel the oil coming from those countries into the international markets in order to diversify its own sources of supply and keep oil prices at low levels.
* The US Government believes that economic growth will promote regional stability and the resolution of local disputes.
* Finally, the US aims at reinforcing the role of Turkey in the region, while at the same time maintaining the policy of containment and isolation of Iran. For that reason it has actively lobbied for a pipeline which will transport oil from Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.


At this point it should be mentioned that control over these energy resources has set off a smouldering rivalry between Russia and the US which has two dimensions: the first concerns control of oil production and the second specific questions relative to the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Russia claims that the Caspian is an inland lake and not a closed sea, which means that it is not subject to the Law of the Sea. Consequently, exploitation of the Caspian resources must be subject to an agreement among all five coastal states.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan maintain that the Caspian Sea is just that, a sea, and as such should be divided into national sectors. The US holds the same position and it recently took a firm stand on the issue. Glen Rase, the director of international energy policy at the US State Department, declared in March 1995 that each of the countries in the region has the right to develop its own economic resources according to its own best interests... and there should be no misunderstanding. The US recognises legitimate security concerns, but does not recognise spheres of influence. The US will defend its companiesÅ interests in the Caspian (23). In this context the American Government has supported the private companies which have undertaken production on behalf of the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea. The United States wants to avert Russian control over the Caspian energy resources and will resist it as much as possible.

Russia, on the other hand, is concerned with the attempts to oust it from its traditional sphere of influence but is also worried that investment in the Caspian Sea oilfields will divert Western financial backing and interest from its oilfields in Siberia and the Far East and capture some of its market. In the competition over Caspian oil, therefore, Russia sees both the erosion of its geopolitical position and the loss of key economic resources and their potential revenues (24).

MoscowÅs initial response was an effort to strengthen the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, but this was not successful. Russia is now trying to find ways to deal with its competitors. In this context it has recently co-operated with Iran to offset AzerbaijanÅs and KazakhstanÅs claims in the Caspian and has participated in the construction of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline in an effort to by-pass Turkey.

In the past, the Soviet Union rarely used oil and gas exports to support her national interests. These exports were viewed as the countryÅs best earners of hard currency and nothing more. That approach seems to be changing. Russia has become much more aware of the geopolitical role that energy can play. She intends to use her oil and gas strength as a means of supporting foreign policy aims (25).

It is quite evident that there can be no game unless Russia is invited to the table. Giving Russia a seat at the table means equity participation both in pipeline construction and operation and in oil development projects (26).

Concluding Remarks

Energy resources are reshaping the geopolitical map in Eurasia. Eventual control of the development of oil deposits as well as the eventual pipeline routing will determine the political and economic future of Russia, Turkey and the Central Asian states; it will determine IranÅs position in the region and its relations with the West; it will determine the realignment of the strategic triangle among the US, Russia and China; and it will have strategic consequences by lessening dependence on Persian Gulf oil.

The importance of the eventual pipeline routings was pointed out by the Russian newspaper ÃIzvestiyaÅ: The struggle for future routings of oil from CIS countries to the world market is entering a decisive stage. The victor in this struggle will receive not only billions of dollars annually in the form of transit fees: the real gain will be control over pipelines, which will be the most important factor of geopolitical influence in the TransCaucasus and in Central Asia in the next century (27). n

1. The phrase Great Game has been borrowed from Rudyard KiplingÅs description of the rivalry between Tsarist Russia, Victorian England and the Ottoman Empire in Central Asia for control of trade routes to India in the 19th century. See Fiona Hill, Pipeline Politics, Russo-Turkish Competition and Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean in Security and Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, edited by Andreas Theophanous and Van Coufoudakis. (Cyprus: Intercollege Press, 1997), p. 200.
2. Rosemarie Forsythe, The Politics of Oil in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Adelphi Paper, No 300, (May 1996), p. 6.
3. While the Central Asian states have physical possession of their oil and gas reserves, they do not possess the capital and the technology that would allow them to go into production alone, a fact which brings in the foreign companies with a share in production and revenues.
4. Colin S. Gray, The Geopolitics of the Nuclear Era: Heartland, Rimlands, and the Technological Revolution (New York: Crane, Russak and Co., 1977).
5. The Rothschilds, and the Nobel Brothers, first provided Russia with the know-how to develop the Caspian oil resources. See Robert W. Tolf, The Russian Rockefellers, (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1976), pp.50-60.
6. Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991).
7. Proved and inferred reserves are estimated to be as high as 200 billion barrels, putting the region on a par with Iraq. In addition, the area is rich in natural gas with estimated and proved reserves of up to 7.89 trillion cubic metres - as much as those of the US and Mexico combined. Rosemarie Forsyth, The Politics of Oil in the Caucasus and Central Asia, p. 6. The Caspian Sea oil cannot compete with Persian Gulf oil in terms of easy access to the major world markets, nor will this oil be able to compete in terms of levels of production or costs of production. Once the production of the Caspian region reaches its peak - and that will be of the order of several million barrels per day - its contribution to the world oil supply may not be decisive but it will certainly be important. These reserves are significantly bigger, for example, than EuropeÅs proved reserves of about 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent. See Robert E. Ebel, The Dynamics of Caspian Sea Resources, paper presented to a Conference on Conflict Resolution, organised by the Institute of International Relations, Panteion University, on Corfu on 30-31 August 1996. Also see Central Asia: A Survey, The Economist, (7-13 Feb. 1998), p.6.
8. Azerbaijan: Energy Sector Review, Document of the World Bank, Report No. 12061-AZ (World Bank,Washington DC, 1993).
9. For these oil companies, the Caspian holds a further attraction. Unlike the majority of the worldÅs proved oil reserves, these resources are available for exploitation by Western firms. Iran and Iraq, the underdeveloped giants of the Persian Gulf, are closed to outsiders, so for the moment the oil firms are concentrating on the Caspian. Central Asia: A Survey p. 6.
10. Ibid.
11. Azerbaijan: From Crisis to Sustained Growth, A World Bank Country Study (The World Bank, Washington DC, 1992).
12. Azerbaijan: Petroleum Technical Assistance Project, Document of the World Bank (The World Bank, Washington DC, 28 March 1995).
13 Kazakhstan: The Transition to a Market Economy, A World Bank Country Study (The World Bank, Washington DC, 1993).
14. Ibid.
15. Central Asia: A Survey, The Economist, p.6.
16. Ebel, p. 6; Hill, p. 209, The Economist, p. 6.
17. Central Asia: A Survey, p. 8.
18. Ibid, p. 8.
19. For a detailed analysis see Rosemarie Forsythe, The Politics of Oil in the Caucasus and Central Asia, pp. 44-55; Central Asia: A Survey, pp. 8-9.
20. Robert E. Ebel, Petroleum: A New Factor in the Black Sea Security Context, unpublished paper presented to a conference on Security and the Black Sea, held in Varna, Bulgaria, 9-10 May 1995; Robert E. Ebel, Michael P. Croissant, Joseph R. Masih, Kent E. Calder, Raju G.C. Thomas, Policy Forum: Energy Futures, The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Autumn 1996): 71-99.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid, p. 6; Rosemarie Forsythe, The Politics of Oil in the Caucasus and Central Asia, p. 55-58; Hill, Pipeline Politics, pp. 212-217.
23. Ebel, Petroleum: A New Factor in the Black Sea Security Concept p. 7; John Lloyd, Battle Lines Drawn Over Caspian Oil and Gas, Financial Times, 3 March 1995.
24. Hill, Pipeline Politics, p. 216.
25. Ebel, p. 9.
26. Ebel, The Dynamics of Caspian Sea Resources, p. 8.
27. Ebel, p. 9.

Reframing Liberal Judaism

By Ben Dreyfus

The Union for Reform Judaism convenes early next month in Toronto for its Biennial Convention, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism will follow with its biennial in December. These gatherings are opportunities for the two largest denominations in North American Judaism to take stock of the big picture. Looking at the big picture should also involve examining its frame: the ways we think and talk about our Judaism.

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff has argued that the Republican Party’s ascent over the last three decades was due to the ways in which conservative frames dominated American political discourse. Even when liberal candidates have taken opposing positions, they have defined their positions in terms of the Republican frames (such as “tax relief” or “the war on terror”). It was hard for Democrats to win when they let Republicans establish the terms of the debate.

Similarly, religiously liberal Jews (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, nondenominational, etc.) frequently suffer from a deficiency in framing when talking about their Jewish ideologies and practices. Consciously or unconsciously, liberal Jews often invoke frames that implicitly establish Orthodox Judaism as normative and set up their own forms of Judaism in comparison with Orthodoxy.

The remedy is clear: For liberal Judaism to thrive, it must develop frames to see itself as authentic on its own terms. Orthodox Jews aren’t doing anything wrong by viewing Judaism through Orthodox frames, but we as liberal Jews are missing an opportunity by failing to see Judaism through our own liberal Jewish values.

This framing problem manifests itself in subtle ways. When we refer to Jews of other denominations as “more religious” or “more observant,” we undermine our own standards of religious observance, and judge ourselves on a scale external to our own Judaism.

Consider this phrase: “I’m not shomer Shabbat: Every week I light candles after sundown and then drive to synagogue.” The speaker obviously observes Shabbat but is allowing someone else to define what Shabbat observance means.

Furthermore, one version of this frame (problematic even for Orthodox Jews) equates “religious observance” solely with ritual observance. That’s how convicted felon Jack Abramoff can be labeled as an “observant Jew” despite violating many of the Torah’s ethical commandments.

These frames can even infect language intended to be inclusive. When supposedly pluralistic Jewish organizations claim to be open to “Jews of all levels of observance,” they are stipulating a hierarchy of observance in which some forms of Jewish observance are at a higher level and others are at a lower level. Such organizations may be sincere in welcoming everyone, but they are indistinguishable in that respect from Chabad. When the Conservative-affiliated Camp Ramah in Israel writes on its Web site about Jews “from Orthodox to secular and everything in between,” it is collapsing all the diversity of Judaism onto a single linear spectrum, where everyone is measured on a scale from 0 to Orthodox. In actuality, the liberal streams of Judaism have distinctive philosophies of their own and are not merely “in between” Orthodox and secular.

So what can be done about this problem? Being careful about our words is necessary but not sufficient; the solution must also be about ideas. It is not enough to take the sentence “Orthodox Judaism is more religious than liberal Judaism” and replace “religious” with a more acceptable synonym. We need to eliminate the idea that Orthodox Judaism is more anything and liberal Judaism is less anything.

The liberal streams of Judaism should articulate visions of Judaism that do not depend on explicit or implicit comparisons to other contemporary movements and offer instead a picture of how we would think about Judaism if we were the only Jews on earth. These visions would provide a path to being a fully actualized religious Jew within each liberal stream, rather than advancing the perception that someone who wants to be “more religious” has to go elsewhere.

The Arabs!!!

Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, fights a major but inconclusive battle at Karkar against his enemy, the ruler of Damascus. An Assyrian scribe, recording the event in cuneiform, notes the impressive size of the enemy forces: 63,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, 4000 chariots and 1000 warriors on camels. The men on camels, the scribe adds, are brought to the battle by Gindibu the Arab.

This is the first known reference to the Arabs as a distinct group. But nomads from Arabia (probably the source of the entire group of Semitic languagues) have been spreading through the desert fringes of the Fertile Crescent since at least 3000 BC.

The nomads of Arabia: before the 7th century AD

The life of a nomad, without architecture or possessions (other than what can be loaded on a camel), leaves few physical traces. The richness of nomadic culture is in the mind. It is embodied in well-loved stories, in heroic memories of battles with rival tribes, in dreams of love or of the oases of paradise.

As such it is normally lost, once tribes settle. It merges into a generalized mythology. But an accident of history has preserved early Arabic culture in more distinct form. These nomads are the backbone of the first Muslim armies. Their way of life is revered by early Muslim scholars, who collect and record the poems and stories handed down in a long oral tradition.

Arabic oral poetry: pre-Islamic

The poems of the Arab nomads are invented, embroidered, recited by specialists known as sha'ir (meaning approximately 'one who knows', and therefore close to the English word 'seer'). Recorded in anthologies of the 8th century and 9th century, and dating from perhaps two centuries earlier, the surviving examples provide a rare glimpse of poems from a pre-literate era.

They fall into two categories. The earlier tradition consists of short poems of a passionately partisan kind. With few exceptions, the theme is praise of one's own tribe or abuse of the enemy. The other kind of poem, known as qasidah, is longer (up to 100 lines) and more elaborate in form.

The qasidah consists of four sections, the first three of which have well-established themes. In the opening section (nasib), the poet describes himself on a journey with some companions; they reach a deserted encampment, and he tells how he was once here with a loved one until fate parted them when their tribes moved on to fresh pastures (a sentimental beginning considered essential to put the listeners in a good mood).

The second section is devoted to praise of an animal, the camel on which the poet is riding. The third is a tour de force, describing a dramatic scene such as a hunt or battle. With the fourth section the poet finally reaches his topic - again usually praise, of tribe or patron or of the poet himself.

The Arab conquests: 7th century AD

One of the most dramatic and sudden movements of any people in history is the expansion, by conquest, of the Arabs in the 7th century (only the example of the Mongols in the 13th century can match it). The desert tribesmen of Arabia form the bulk of the Muslim armies. Their natural ferocity and love of warfare, together with the sense of moral rectitude provided by their new religion, form an irresistible combination.

When Muhammad dies in 632, the western half of Arabia is Muslim. Two years later the entire peninsula has been brought to the faith, and Muslim armies have moved up into the desert between Syria and Mesopotamia.

The great Christian cities of Syria and Palestine fall to the Arabs in rapid succession from AD 635. Damascus, in that year, is the first to be captured. Antioch follows in 636. And 638 brings the greatest prize of all, in Muslim terms, when Jerusalem is taken after a year's siege.

It is a moment of profound significance for the young religion, for Islam sees itself as the successor of Judaism and Christianity. The city of the people of Moses, in which Jesus also preaches and dies, is a holy place for Muslims too. Moses and Jesus are Muhammad's predecessors as prophets. A link with Muhammad himself will also soon emerge in Jerusalem.

Muslim Persia: AD 637-751

Persia falls to the Arabs as a consequence of the battle of Kadisiya, close to the Euphrates, in 637. After their victory the Arabs sack the city of Ctesiphon (carefully sharing out the famous Spring Carpet). The last Sassanian emperor, Yazdegerd III, is five at the time. He and his court escape to the east, but he is eventually assassinated, in 651, at Merv. His name remains, even today, in use in the chronology of the Parsees. They number their years from the start of his reign in 632.

Meanwhile the Arabs win another victory over Persian forces at Nahavand in 641. They capture Isfahan in 642 and Herat in 643. Persia becomes, for a century, part of the Umayyad caliphate.

The final push eastwards for Islam, in the central Asian plateau, is in more difficult terrain and is more protracted. Throughout the second half of the 7th century there is fighting in and around the Hindu Kush, but by the early years of the 8th century the Arabs control the full swathe of territory from the Arabian Sea in the south (they enter Sind and move into India as far north as Multan by 712), up through Kandahar and Balkh (either side of the Hindu Kush) to Bukhara and Samarkand in the north, beyond the Amu Darya.

At this northern extreme they are neighbours of the T'ang Chinese. The eventual clash between these two powers, an encounter won by the Arabs, comes in 751 at the Talas river.

Muslim North Africa: from AD 642

The Arab conquest of Egypt and North Africa begins with the arrival of an army in AD 640 in front of the Byzantine fortified town of Babylon (in the area which is now Old Cairo). The Arabs capture it after a siege and establish their own garrison town just to the east, calling it Al Fustat.

The army then moves on to Alexandria, but here the defences are sufficient to keep them at bay for fourteen months. At the end of that time a surprising treaty is signed. The Greeks of Alexandria agree to leave peacefully; the Arabs give them a year in which to do so. In the autumn of 642, the handover duly occurs. One of the richest of Byzantine provinces has been lost to the Arabs without a fight.

The Arabs continue rapidly westwards along the coast of North Africa, capturing Cyrenaica in 642 and Tripoli in 643. But these remain largely ineffective outposts. For nearly three decades the Arabs make little progress in subduing the indigenous Berber inhabitants of this coastal strip.

The turning point comes in 670 with the founding of a new Arab garrison town at Kairouan, about sixty miles south of the Byzantine city of Carthage. From this secure base military control becomes possible. Carthage is destroyed (yet again) in 698. By the early 8th century northwest Africa is firmly in Arab hands. In 711 an Arab general takes the next expansionist step. With a Berber army he crosses the straits of Gibraltar and enters Spain.

Arabs in Spain and France: AD 711-732

The short journey across the water from Africa, bringing an army into Spain in 711, begins the final thrust of Arab expansionism in the west. In a frequently repeated pattern of history the invaders, invited to assist one side in a quarrel, rapidly take control and suppress both squabbling parties. Within a few months the Arabs drive the Visigoths from their capital at Toledo.

Soon governors appointed by the caliph in Damascus are ruling much of Spain. The Arabs press on northwards. Their armies move into Gaul, and here at last they are halted - near Poitiers in 732.

The Arabs and Constantinople: AD 674-717

In the overwhelming assault on the Byzantine empire by the Arabs during the 7th century, only one campaign is consistently unsuccessful. This is their frequently repeated attempt to capture Constantinople itself.

The city is first unsuccessfully attacked, by sea and land, in AD 669. The last of several expeditions ends in disaster for the Arabs in 717, when a fleet of some 2000 ships is destroyed by a storm and the army straggles homewards through a wintry Anatolia. From the mid-670s the Byzantines have one strong psychological advantage - a mysterious new device in their armoury which becomes known as Greek fire.

Greek fire: AD 674

In AD 674 a Muslim fleet enters the Bosphorus to attack Constantinople. It is greeted, and greatly deterred, by a new weapon which can be seen as the precursor of the modern flamethrower. It has never been discovered precisely how the Byzantine chemists achieve the jet of flame for their 'Greek fire'. The secret of such a lethal advantage is jealously guarded.

Contemporary accounts imply that the inflammable substance is petroleum-based, floats on water, and is almost impossible to extinguish. It can be lobbed in a canister. But in its most devastating form it is projected, as a stream of liquid fire, from a tube mounted in the prow of a ship. Sprayed among a wooden fleet, its destructive potential is obvious.

Arabs and Muslims: 8th century AD

During the explosive first century of Arab expansion, the relationship subtly changes between two concepts - Arab and Muslim. At first they are inseparable. The Muslim armies are made up entirely of Arab tribesmen, and it is taken for granted that only Arabs can be Muslims. Between campaigns the Arab armies stay together in winter camps or garrison towns. They are an occupying force, having little link with the inhabitants of the conquered territories.

But by the early 8th century, when the Muslim expansion has reached something approaching its peak, there are not enough Arabs to provide the troops.

Out of necessity, people of other groups begin to be received into Islam, fighting alongside the Arabs. Berbers do so in the west, and Persians in the east. Inevitably there are resentments. Non-Arabs often feel they are treated as second-class Muslims, particularly when it comes to sharing out loot after a campaign. And the conversion of outsiders to Islam brings a financial burden. Non-Muslims are charged a poll tax, which is not paid by believers. The spread of the faith is a drain on the treasury.

These various tensions, and the inevitable difficulty of controlling the vast new empire, result in a rebellion in 747 against the Umayyad caliph.

The Abbasid caliphate: from AD 750

Persia is the region in which resistance comes to a head against the caliphate of the Umayyads in Damascus. The uprising is partly a simple struggle between Arab factions, each of impeccable pedigree in relation to the pioneers of Islam. A revolt in Persia in 747 is headed by descendants of al-Abbas, an uncle of the prophet Muhammad. Their new caliphate, established in 750, will be known as Abbasid.

The involvement of Persia is also significant. The Umayyad caliphate in Damascus derives from the early days of Islam when all Muslims are Arabs. But many Muslims in the east are now Persian, and Persian sophistication is beginning to divert Muslim culture from its simple Arab origins.

Abbasid forces reach and capture Damascus in 750. Abul Abbas is proclaimed the first caliph of a new line. Male members of the Umayyad family are hunted down and killed (though one survives to establish a new Umayyad dynasty in Spain).

The centre of gravity of the Muslim world now moves east, from Syria to Mesopotamia. In 762 a new capital city, Baghdad, is founded on the Tigris. It is about twenty miles upstream from Ctesiphon, one of the leading cities of the preceding Persian dynasty, the Sassanians.

The Arabs and the Chinese: AD 751-758

By the mid-8th century, with the Arabs firmly in control of central Asia and the Chinese pressing further west than ever before, a clash is sooner or later inevitable. It comes, in 751, at the Talas river. The result is a shattering defeat for the Chinese. For the Arabs an interesting fringe benefit of victory is the valuable secret of how to make paper.

Seven years later the Arabs again demonstrate their strength with an impertinent gesture at the opposite extreme of the Chinese empire. Arriving in 758 along the trade route of the south China coast, they loot and burn Canton.

Umayyad dynasty in Spain: AD 756-1031

The defeat of the Arabs in 732 by Charles Martel in Gaul is followed by Berber rebellions in north Africa and in Spain. The effect is to limit Arab territorial ambitions in Europe to the Iberian peninsula. Even this proves hard to hold because of hostilities between rival Arab groups.

Stability in Spain is restored by an Umayyad prince, Abd-al-Rahman, who escapes the Abbasid massacre of his family in Syria. He establishes himself in 756 at Cordoba. Here he founds the first great Muslim civilization of Spain.

Abd-al-Rahman begins the process of making Cordoba one of the outstanding cities of the medieval world. On the site of a Roman temple and Visigothic church he builds the famous mosque, with schools and hospitals attached, which survives today as a place of great beauty - even though its vistas of columns and striped arches are brutally interrupted by alterations made for its later use as the city's cathedral.

Cordoba continues to grow in size and wealth and reputation, known equally for its skilled craftsmen and its scholars. Under Abd-al-Rahman III, in the 10th century, it has probably half a million inhabitants. He is the first amir of Cordoba to accord himself the resounding title of caliph.

During the three centuries of Umayyad rule in Spain the Arabs are for the most part in control of almost the entire peninsula. The Christian reconquest makes several tentative beginnings during the period, but northern territories are often then regained by Arab rulers - relying heavily on the wild Berber mercenaries who form the bulk of their armies.

The Berbers eventually prove too hard to control. Concessions to their demands lead in 1031 to the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate and the effective end of Arab rule in Spain. There follows a period of steady Christian advance southwards. It is halted, in 1086, by a tribal leader from north Africa. He is head of a Berber dynasty, the Almoravids.

Baghdad: 8th century AD

In their new city of Baghdad the Abbasid caliphs adopt the administrative system of the long-established Persian empire. Persian Muslims are as much involved in the life of this thriving place as Arab Muslims. Here Islam outgrows its Arab roots and becomes an international religion. Here the Arabic and early Persian languages coalesce to become, from the 10th century, what is now known as Persian - combining words from both sources and using the Arabic script. Here Mesopotamia briefly recovers its ancient status at the centre of one of the world's largest empires.

At no time is this more evident than in the reign of the best-known of the Abbasid caliphs, Harun al-Rashid.

The luxury and delight of Harun al-Rashid's Baghdad, in the late 8th century, has been impressed on the western mind by one of the most famous works of Arabic literature - the Thousand and One Nights. Some of the stories are of a later date, but there are details in them which certainly relate to this period when for the first time a Muslim court has the leisure and prosperity to indulge in traditional oriental splendour.

The caliphate is now at its widest extent, with reasonable calm on most borders. The international fame of Harun himself can be judged by the emphasis of Charlemagne's biographers on the mutual esteem of these two contemporary potentates, who send each other rich gifts.

Arab civilization: from the 8th century AD

By the end of the 8th century a distinctive Arab civilization is emerging in widely separated regions. It is evident from the 8th century in Baghdad in the east and in Cordoba in the west. By the 10th century, between the two, there is a similar centre in the new city of Cairo.

The shared characteristics of these great cities are Islam, the Arabic language and a tolerance which allows Christians and Jews to play a full part in the community. The results include an expansion of trade (making these places the most prosperous of their time, apart from T'ang China), and a level of scholarship and intellectual energy superior to contemporary Christian cities.

Together with the spread of Islam, a lasting result of the events of the 7th century is the triumph of Arabic as a language in the middle east and north Africa. In Palestine and Syria it gradually replaces Aramaic as the popular tongue; in Egypt it does the same with Coptic; further west along the north African coast, it edges the language of the Berbers into a minority status.

The sense of identity of Arabs in subsequent centuries does not necessarily involve descent from the tribes of Arabia. It depends instead on the sharing of Arabic as both language and culture (implying also in most cases a commitment to Islam). It is this which provides the strong Arabic element in the civilization of the Middle Ages, from Mesopotamia to Spain.

Greek and Arabic scholarship: from the 8th century AD

The eastern Mediterranean coast, occupied so rapidly by the Arabs in the 7th century, has been part of the Greek world since the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Conquest by the Romans does not displace Greek civilization in this region, nor at first do the Arab caliphs. They rule over communities which understand Greek and which possess manuscripts of the classic works of Greek literature. Many have already been translated in Antioch into Syriac - a local version of Aramaic. Of the medical works of Galen, for example, as many as 130 exist in Syriac.

In the 8th century, when the caliphate has moved to Baghdad, scholars begin translating these available Greek and Syriac texts into Arabic.

Science and philosophy are of equal interest to the Arabs, and they find a full measure of each in Aristotle. Of the many learned commentators on his work, three are outstanding. Each writes on medicine as well as philosophy, combining the practical and theoretical. The first is born in the eastern part of the Arab world, in Turkestan. The other two come from Spain, and one of them is Jewish rather than Muslim.

Avicenna, born near Bukhara in AD 980, has Persian as his native language but he writes mostly in Arabic. He is known in particular for two great encyclopedic compilations, one of philosophy (Ash-Shifa, 'The Recovery') and the other of medicine (Al-Qanun fi'l-Tibb, 'The Canon of Medicine').

Averroës and Maimonides are born in Cordoba within a few years of each other, in AD 1126 and 1135 respectively. They both become leading physicians as well as philosophers. But their religion affects their careers differently.

Averroës, a Muslim, is for a while the chief physician to the ruler of the Almohads, who capture Cordoba in 1148. He lives his whole life in Cordoba and makes his reputation with his extensive commentaries on Aristotle. He also writes a complete handbook of medicine (Al-Kulliyyat, 'The Compendium').

Maimonides, by contrast, leaves Cordoba as a child, with his family, when the new rulers of the Almohads - failing to live up to the tradition of previous Muslim dynasties in Spain - introduce restrictions on the local Jews. He eventually settles in Cairo, where he becomes the city's leading rabbi and for a while a court physician to Saladin.

Maimonides' best-known philosophical work, with the endearing title Guide of the Perplexed, is a treatise in Arabic which attempts to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with Jewish rabbinic theology.

The chain of communication stretches from the school of translators set up in Baghdad in the 8th century (Greek into Arabic) to a school of translators established in Toledo in the 13th century (Arabic into Latin).

In the early medieval years Toledo has been a multi-cultural Muslim city, where Christians and Jews prosper under Arab rulers. From the 11th century it maintains, for a while, the same excellent tradition as a Christian city. From this interface between the Arab and Christian worlds, the Latin translations of Greek philosophy (in particular Aristotle) enter the bloodstream of medieval Christianity - in the scholasticism associated above all with Thomas Aquinas.

The hidden centuries: 12th - 19th century AD

For a long while, beginning in the late Middle Ages, the Arabs play a less prominent role in the Middle East than has been the case in the early centuries of the caliphate. In the 12th century the defence of Islam against the crusaders is led not by an Arab but by a Kurd, Saladin. The caliphate in Baghdad, long under the effective control of the Seljuk Turks, is brought to a brutal end in the 13th century by the Mongols. The entire region of the Middle East is overrun by the Ottoman Turks in the early 16th century.

The Arabic language remains central to Islam, because the Qur'an must always be studied in its original divinely inspired form. But the Arabs as a group are excluded from their previously central role in Muslim affairs.

From Greek to Latin via Arabic: 8th - 13th century AD

Although Greece is geographically close to Italy, and Greek literature is highly prized in ancient Rome, western Europe loses touch with its Greek intellectual roots during the centuries after the collapse of the Roman empire. The new barbarian clients of papal Rome, whether Franks or Anglo-Saxons, have no interest in Greek. And Byzantine Constantinople has no incentive to enlighten them.

It is the Arab interest in Greek philosophy and science that eventually transmits the tradition to western Europe, along the unbroken belt of Muslim civilization stretching from Greek Antioch in the northeast Mediterranean to Latin Toledo in the west.

The hidden centuries: 12th - 19th century AD

For a long while, beginning in the late Middle Ages, the Arabs play a less prominent role in the Middle East than has been the case in the early centuries of the caliphate. In the 12th century the defence of Islam against the crusaders is led not by an Arab but by a Kurd, Saladin. The caliphate in Baghdad, long under the effective control of the Seljuk Turks, is brought to a brutal end in the 13th century by the Mongols. The entire region of the Middle East is overrun by the Ottoman Turks in the early 16th century.

The Arabic language remains central to Islam, because the Qur'an must always be studied in its original divinely inspired form. But the Arabs as a group are excluded from their previously central role in Muslim affairs.

A measure of this change can be seen in the contemporary words for Muslims in the languages of outsiders. They are known either as Saracens (the term used by the crusaders, the original meaning of which in uncertain) or as Moors - people from Morocco, reflecting the importance in medieval Europe of the Berber dynasties in Spain.

Not until the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman empire, will the Arabs recover the dominant position in the Middle East which was theirs in the first centuries of Islam.

The Moghul Empire!

Babur, founder of the Moghul dynasty in India, is one of history's more endearing conquerors. In his youth he is one among many impoverished princes, all descended from Timur, who fight among themselves for possession of some small part of the great man's fragmented empire. Babur even captures Samarkand itself on three separate occasions, each for only a few months. The first time he achieves this he is only fourteen.

What distinguishes Babur from other brawling princes is that he is a keen oberver of life and keeps a diary. In it he vividly describes his triumphs and sorrows, whether riding out with friends at night to attack a walled village or mooning around for unrequited love of a beautiful boy.

Babur's 'throneless times', as he later describes these early years, come to an end in 1504 when he captures Kabul. Here, at the age of twenty-one, he is able to establish a settled court and to enjoy the delights of gardening, art and architecture in the Timurid tradition of his family.

With a powerful new Persian dynasty to the west (under Ismail I) and an aggressive Uzbek presence to the north (under Shaibani Khan), Babur's Kabul becomes the main surviving centre of the Timurid tradition. But these same pressures mean that his only chance of expanding is eastwards - into India.

Babur feels that he has an inherited claim upon northern India, deriving from Timur's capture of Delhi in 1398, and he makes several profitable raids through the mountain passes into the Punjab. But his first serious expedition is launched in October 1525.

Some forty years later (but not sooner than that) it is evident that Babur's descendants are a new and established dynasty in northern India. Babur thinks of himself as a Turk, but he is descended from Genghis Khan as well as from Timur. The Persians refer to his dynasty as mughal, meaning Mongol. And it is as the Moghul emperors of India that they become known to history.

Babur in India: AD 1526-1530

By the early 16th century the Muslim sultans of Delhi (an Afghan dynasty known as Lodi) are much weakened by threats from rebel Muslim principalities and from a Hindu coalition of Rajput rulers. When Babur leads an army through the mountain passes, from his stronghold at Kabul, he at first meets little opposition in the plains of north India.

The decisive battle against Ibrahim, the Lodi sultan, comes on the plain of Panipat in April 1526. Babur is heavily outnumbered (with perhaps 25,000 troops in the field against 100,000 men and 1000 elephants), but his tactics win the day.

Babur digs into a prepared position, copied (he says) from the Turks - from whom the use of guns has spread to the Persians and now to Babur. As yet the Indians of Delhi have no artillery or muskets. Babur has only a few, but he uses them to great advantage. He collects 700 carts to form a barricade (a device pioneered by the Hussites of Bohemia a century earlier).

Sheltered behind the carts, Babur's gunners can go through the laborious business of firing their matchlocks - but only at an enemy charging their position. It takes Babur some days to tempt the Indians into doing this. When they do so, they succumb to slow gunfire from the front and to a hail of arrows from Babur's cavalry charging on each flank.

Victory at Panipat brings Babur the cities of Delhi and Agra, with much booty in treasure and jewels. But he faces a stronger challenge from the confederation of Rajputs who had themselves been on the verge of attacking Ibrahim Lodi.

The armies meet at Khanua in March 1527 and again, using similar tactics, Babur wins. For the next three years Babur roams around with his army, extending his territory to cover most of north India - and all the while recording in his diary his fascination with this exotic world which he has conquered.

Humayun: AD 1530-1556

Babur's control is still superficial when he dies in 1530, after just three years in India. His son Humayun keeps a tentative hold on the family's new possessions. But in 1543 he is driven west into Afghanistan by a forceful Muslim rebel, Sher Shah.

Twelve years later, renewed civil war within India gives Humayun a chance to slip back almost unopposed. One victory, at Sirhind in 1555, is enough to recover him his throne. But six months later Humayun is killed in an accidental fall down a stone staircase. His 13-year-old son Akbar, inheriting in 1556, would seem to have little chance of holding on to India. Yet it is he who establishes the mighty Moghul empire.

Akbar: AD 1556-1605

In the early years of Akbar's reign, his fragile inheritance is skilfully held together by an able chief minister, Bairam Khan. But from 1561 the 19-year-old emperor is very much his own man. An early act demonstrates that he intends to rule the two religious communities of India, Muslim and Hindu, in a new way - by consensus and cooperation, rather than alienation of the Hindu majority.

In 1562 he marries a Rajput princess, daughter of the Raja of Amber (now Jaipur). She becomes one of his senior wives and the mother of his heir, Jahangir. Her male relations in Amber join Akbar's council and merge their armies with his.

This policy is very far from conventional Muslim hostility to worshippers of idols. And Akbar carries it further, down to a level affecting every Hindu. In 1563 he abolishes a tax levied on pilgrims to Hindu shrines. In 1564 he puts an end to a much more hallowed source of revenue - the jizya, or annual tax on unbelievers which the Qur'an stipulates shall be levied in return for Muslim protection.

At the same time Akbar steadily extends the boundaries of the territory which he has inherited.

Akbar's normal way of life is to move around with a large army, holding court in a splendid camp laid out like a capital city but composed entirely of tents. His biographer, Abul Fazl, describes this royal progress as being 'for political reasons, and for subduing oppressors, under the veil of indulging in hunting'.

A great deal of hunting does occur (a favourite version uses trained cheetahs to pursue deer) while the underlying political purpose - of warfare, treaties, marriages - is carried on.

Warfare brings its own booty. Signing a treaty with Akbar, or presenting a wife to his harem (his collection eventually numbers about 300), involves a contribution to the exchequer. As his realm increases, so does his revenue. And Akbar proves himself an inspired adminstrator.

The empire's growing number of provinces are governed by officials appointed only for a limited term, thus avoiding the emergence of regional warlords. And steps are taken to ensure that the tax on peasants varies with local circumstances, instead of a fixed proportion of their produce being automatically levied.

At the end of Akbar's reign of nearly half a century, his empire is larger than any in India since the time of Asoka. Its outer limits are Kandahar in the west, Kashmir in the north, Bengal in the east and in the south a line across the subcontinent at the level of Aurangabad. Yet this ruler who achieves so much is illiterate. An idle schoolboy, Akbar finds in later life no need for reading. He prefers to listen to the arguments before taking his decisions (perhaps a factor in his skill as a leader).

Akbar is original, quirky, wilful. His complex character is vividly suggested in the strange palace which he builds, and almost immediately abandons, at Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri: AD 1571-1585

In 1571 Akbar decides to build a new palace and town at Sikri, close to the shrine of a Sufi saint who has impressed him by foretelling the birth of three sons. When two boys have duly appeared, Akbar's masons start work on what is to be called Fatehpur ('Victory') Sikri. A third boy is born in 1572.

Akbar's palace, typically, is unlike anyone else's. It resembles a small town, made up of courtyards and exotic free-standing buildings. They are built in a linear Hindu style, instead of the gentler curves of Islam. Beams and lintels and even floorboards are cut from red sandstone and are elaborately carved, much as if the material were oak rather than stone.

The palace and mosque occupy the hill top, while a sprawling town develops below. The site is only used for some fourteen years, partly because Akbar has overlooked problems of water supply. Yet this is where his many and varied interests are given practical expression.

Here Akbar employs translators to turn Hindu classics into Persian, scribes to produce a library of exquisite manuscripts, artists to illustrate them (the illiterate emperor loves to be read to and takes a keen interest in painting). Here there is a department of history under Abul Fazl; an order is sent out that anyone with personal knowledge of Babur and Humayun is to be interviewed so that valuable information is not lost.

The building most characteristic of Akbar in Fatehpur Sikri is his famous diwan-i-khas, or hall of private audience. It consists of a single very high room, furnished only with a central pillar. The top of the pillar, on which Akbar sits, is joined by four narrow bridges to a balcony running round the wall. On the balcony are those having an audience with the emperor.

If required, someone can cross one of the bridges - in a respectfully crouched position - to join Akbar in the centre. Meanwhile, on the floor below, courtiers not involved in the discussion can listen unseen.

In the diwan-i-khas Akbar deals mainly with affairs of state. To satisfy another personal interest, in comparative religion, he builds a special ibabat-khana ('house of worship'). Here he listens to arguments between Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Zorastrians, Jews and Christians. The ferocity with which they all attack each other prompts him to devise a generalized religion of his own (in which a certain aura of divinity rubs off on himself).

The Christians involved in these debates are three Jesuits who arrive from Goa in 1580. As the first Europeans at the Moghul court, they are a portent for the future.

Jahangir: AD 1605-1627

Akbar is succeeded in 1605 by his eldest and only surviving son, Jahangir. Two other sons have died of drink, and Jahangir's effectiveness as a ruler is limited by his own addiction to both alcohol and opium. But the empire is now stable enough for him to preside over it for twenty-two years without much danger of upheaval.

Instead he is able to indulge his curiosity about the natural world (which he records in a diary as vivid as that of his great-grandfather Babur) and his love of painting. Under his keen eye the imperial studio brings the Moghul miniature to a peak of perfection, maintained also during the reign of his son Shah Jahan.

When Humayun wins his way back into India, in 1555, he brings with him two Persian artists from the school of Bihzad. Humayun and the young Akbar take lessons in drawing. Professional Indian artists learn too from these Persian masters.

From this blend of traditions there emerges the very distinctive Moghul school of painting. Full-bodied and realistic compared to the more fanciful and decorative Persian school, it develops in the workshops which Akbar establishes in the 1570s at Fatehpur Sikri.

Akbar puts his artists to work illustrating the manuscripts written out by scribes for his library. New work is brought to the emperor at the end of each week. He makes his criticisms, and distributes rewards to those who meet with his approval.

Detailed scenes are what Akbar likes, showing court celebrations, gardens being laid out, cheetahs released for the hunt, forts being stormed and endless battles. The resulting images are a treasure trove of historical detail. But as paintings they are slightly busy.

Akbar's son Jahangir takes a special interest in painting, and his requirements differ from his father's. He is more likely to want an accurate depiction of a bird which has caught his interest, or a political portrait showing himself with a rival potentate. In either case the image requires clarity and conviction as well as finely detailed realism.

The artists rise superbly to this challenge. In Jahangir's reign, and that of his son Shah Jahan, the Moghul imperial studio produces work of exceptional beauty. In Shah Jahan's time even the crowded narrative scenes, so popular with Akbar, are peopled by finely observed and convincing characters.

Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb: AD 1627-1707

During the reigns of Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb, the policy of religious toleration introduced by Akbar is gradually abandoned. It has been largely followed by Shah Jahan's father, Jahangir - though at the very start of his reign he provides the Sikhs with their first martyr when the guru Arjan is arrested, in 1606, and dies under torture.

In 1632 Shah Jahan signals an abrupt return to a stricter interpretation of Islam when he orders that all recently built Hindu temples shall be destroyed. A Muslim tradition states that unbelievers may keep the shrines which they have when Islam arrives, but not add to their number.

Direct provocation of this kind is untypical of Shah Jahan, but it becomes standard policy during the reign of his son Aurangzeb. His determination to impose strict Islamic rule on India undoes much of what was achieved by Akbar. An attack on Rajput territories in 1679 makes enemies of the Hindu princes; the reimposition of the jizya in the same year ensures resentment among Hindu merchants and peasants.

At the same time Aurangzeb is obsessed with extending Moghul rule into the difficult terrain of southern India. He leaves the empire larger but weaker than he finds it. In his eighties he is still engaged in permanent and futile warfare to hold what he has seized.

In the decades after the death of Aurangzeb, in 1707, the Moghul empire fragments into numerous semi-independent territories - seized by local officials or landowners whose descendants become the rajas and nawabs of more recent times. Moghul emperors continue to rule in name for another century and more, but their prestige is hollow.

Real power has declined gradually and imperceptibly throughout the 17th century, ever since the expansive days of Akbar's empire. Yet it is in the 17th century that news of the wealth, splendour, architectural brilliance and dynastic violence of the Moghul dynasty first impresses the rest of the world.

Europeans become a significant presence in India for the first time during the 17th century. They take home descriptions of the ruler's fabulous wealth, causing him to become known as the Great Moghul. They have a touching tale to tell of Shah Jahan's love for his wife and of the extraordinary building, the Taj Mahal, which he provides for her tomb.

And as Shah Jahan's reign merges into Aurangzeb's, they can astonish their hearers with an oriental melodrama of a kind more often associated with Turkey, telling of how Aurangzeb kills two of his brothers and imprisons his ageing father, Shah Jahan, in the Red Fort at Agra - with the Taj Mahal in his view across the Jumna, from the marble pavilions of his castle prison.

Moghul domes: AD 1564-1674

The paintings commissioned by the Moghul emperors are superb, but it is their architecture which has most astonished the world - and in particular the white marble domes characteristic of the reign of Shah Jahan.

There is a long tradition of large Muslim domes in central Asia, going as far back as a tomb in Bukhara in the 10th century. But the Moghuls develop a style which is very much their own - allowing the dome to rise from the building in a swelling curve which somehow implies lightness, especially when the material of the dome is white marble.

The first dome of this kind surmounts the tomb of Humayun in Delhi, built between 1564 and 1573. The style is then overlooked for a while - no doubt because of Akbar's preference for Hindu architecture, as in Fatehpur Sikri - until Shah Jahan, the greatest builder of the dynasty, develops it in the 17th century with vigour and sophistication.

His first attempt in this line is also his masterpiece - a building which has become the most famous in the world, for its beauty and for the romantic story behind its creation.

Throughout his early career, much of it spent in rebellion against his father, Shah Jahan's greatest support has been his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. But four years after he succeeds to the throne this much loved companion dies, in 1631, giving birth to their fourteenth child. The Taj Mahal, her tomb in Agra, is the expression of Shah Jahan's grief. Such romantic gestures are rare among monarchs (the Eleanor Crosses come to mind as another), and certainly none has ever achieved its commemorative purpose so brilliantly.

There is no known architect for the Taj. It seems probable that Shah Jahan himself takes a leading role in directing his masons - particularly since his numerous other buildings evolve within a related style.

The Taj Mahal is built between 1632 and 1643. In 1644 the emperor commissions the vast Friday Mosque for his new city in Delhi. In 1646 he begins the more intimate Pearl Mosque in the Red Fort in Agra. Meanwhile he is building a new Red Fort in Delhi, with white marble pavilions for his own lodgings above massive red sandstone walls. At Fatehpur Sikri he provides a new shrine for the Sufi saint to whom his grandfather, Akbar, was so devoted.

All these buildings contain variations on the theme of white and subtly curving domes, though none can rival Shah Jahan's first great example in the Taj.

Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan's son, does not inherit his father's passionate interest in architecture. But he commissions two admirable buildings in the same tradition. One is the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, begun in 1673; even larger than his father's Friday Mosque in Delhi, it rivals it in the beauty of its domes. The other, begun in 1662, goes to the other extreme; the tiny Pearl Mosque in the Red Fort in Delhi, begun in 1662 for Aurangzeb's private worship, is a small miracle of white marble.

It is these marble highlights which catch the eye. But the Red Forts containing the two Pearl Mosques are themselves extraordinary examples of 17th century castles.

The Moghuls after Aurangzeb: 18th century AD

When the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb is in his eighties, and the empire in disarray, an Italian living in India (Niccolao Manucci) predicts appalling bloodshed on the old man's death, worse even than that which disfigured the start of Aurangzeb's reign. The Italian is right. In the war of succession which begins in 1707, two of Aurangzeb's sons and three of his grandsons are killed.

Violence and disruption is the pattern of the future. The first six Moghul emperors have ruled for a span of nearly 200 years. In the 58 years after Aurangzeb's death, there are eight emperors - four of whom are murdered and one deposed.

This degree of chaos has a disastrous effect on the empire built up by Akbar. The stability of Moghul India depends on the loyalty of those ruling its many regions. Some are administered on the emperor's behalf by governors, who are members of the military hierarchy. Others are ruled by princely families, who through treaty or marriage have become allies of the emperor.

In the 18th century rulers of each kind continue to profess loyalty to the Moghul emperor in Delhi, but in practice they behave with increasing independence. The empire fragments into the many small principalities whose existence will greatly help the British in India to gain control, by playing rival neighbours off against each other.

In the short term, though, there is a more immediate danger. During the 1730s a conqueror in the classic mould of Genghis Khan or Timur emerges in Persia. He seizes the Persian throne in 1736, taking the title Nadir Shah.

Later that year he captures the stronghold of Kandahar. The next major fortress on the route east, that of Kabul, is still in Moghul hands - a treasured possession since the time of Babur. Nadir Shah takes it in 1738, giving him control of the territory up to the Khyber Pass. Beyond the Khyber lies the fabulous wealth of India. Like Genghis Khan in 1221, and Timur in 1398, Nadir Shah moves on

In December 1738 Nadir Shah crosses the Indus at Attock. Two months later he defeats the army of the Moghul emperor, Mohammed Shah. In March he enters Delhi. The conqueror has iron control over his troops and at first the city is calm. It is broken when an argument between citizens and some Persian soldiers escalates into a riot in which 900 Persians are killed. Even now Nadir Shah forbids reprisals until he has inspected the scene. But when he rides through the city, stones are thrown at him. Someone fires a musket which kills an officer close to the shah.

In reprisal he orders a massacre. The killing lasts for a day. The number of the dead is more than 30,000.

Amazingly, when the Moghul emperor begs for mercy for his people, the Persian conqueror is able to grant it. The killing stops, for the collection of Delhi's valuables to begin.

Untold wealth travels west with the Persians. The booty includes the two most spectacular possessions of the Moghul emperors - the Peacock Throne, commissioned by Shah Jahan, and the Koh-i-Nur diamond. Nadir Shah is able to send a decree home from Delhi remitting all taxes in Persia for three years. In addition to the jewels and the gold, he takes with him 1000 elephants, 100 masons and 200 carpenters. The parallel with the visit of Timur, 341 years previously, is almost exact.

Europeans in the fragmenting empire: AD 1746-1760

The raid by Nadir Shah is the greatest single disaster to have struck the Moghul empire, but a more serious long-term threat soon becomes evident. In 1746 open warfare breaks out between European nations on Indian soil, when a French force seizes Madras from the British.

In the south, where Aurangzeb spent his last years trying to impose imperial control, French and British armies now march against each other in shifting alliances with local potentates. India begins a new role as a place of importance to the European powers, and in particular to Britain. The development does not bode well for the Moghul emperors in Delhi.

Both the French and the English East India Companies, to advance their commercial interests, offer military support in dynastic struggles within powerful Indian states. Helping a candidate to the throne opens a new region of influence, a new market.

The death in 1748 of the Moghul viceroy in Hyderabad is followed by French and English assistance for rival sons of the dead ruler. Soon the two European nations are also fighting on opposite sides in a war of succession in the Carnatic (the coastal strip north and south of Madras).

The French candidate succeeds in Hyderabad, and the English favourite prevails in the Carnatic. But the most striking event in either campaign is a dramatic intervention by Robert Clive in 1751. With 200 British and 300 Indian soldiers he seizes Arcot (the capital of the Carnatic) and holds it through a seven-week siege.

His action, and his subsequent defeat of a French and Indian force in battle, wins the throne for his candidate. It also has the effect of diminishing the prestige in Indian eyes of the French army. Until now the French have had the better of the British in India (most notably in their capture of Madras in 1746).

France and Britain remain rivals in southern India for the rest of the century. It is in the north that the balance changes significantly in Britain's favour, after a disaster of 1756. In that year the nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula, overwhelms the British settlement in Calcutta and locks some of his captives overnight in a room of the fort. The details of precisely what happened that night are obscure, but the event becomes known to the British as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

To recover Calcutta, Clive sails north from Madras in October 1756. The fort is back in British hands by January 1757. But Clive now decides to intervene further in the politics of Bengal.

He aims to place a more compliant nawab, Mir Jafar, on the throne of Bengal, and he achieves his purpose after defeating Siraj-ud-Daula at Plassey in June 1757. For the next three years Clive virtually rules the rich province of Bengal, using Mir Jafar as his political puppet. In doing so he establishes the pattern by which British control will gradually spread through India, in a patchwork of separate alliances with local rulers.

In 1760 Clive returns to England, the possessor of vast and rapidly acquired wealth. Here too he sets a pattern, this time an unmistakably bad one. He is the first of the 'nabobs', whose fortunes derive from jobbery and bribes while administering Indian affairs.