Afghanistan: It's About Oil
In 1998, Dick Cheney (then CEO of Halliburton, a major US oil-services company) commented: "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian." Cheney was looking ahead to the day when some 50 billion barrels of oil and natural gas lying beneath the dry earth of Kazakstan would begin flowing into US-controlled terminals in the Caspian Sea.
Unfortunately, the most direct and cost-efficient pipeline route would cross through Iran, America's nemesis. (While Washington was loath to bargain with Iran, one private US consortium was prepared to deal: It was a British Virgin Islands firm headed by none other than former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig.)
"From the US standpoint," Brown University anthropologist William O. Beeman observed, "the only way to deny Iran everything is for the anti-Iranian Taliban to win in Afghanistan and to agree to the pipeline through their territory." That is exactly what happened—thanks to the CIA.
The first proponent of the Afghan oil route was the Bridas Group, an Argentine company. Competition quickened with the entry of Unocal's John Imle who proposed a US-controlled pipeline paralleling Bridas' route. In 1998, Unocal signed a deal with the Taliban to build an 890-mile natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, but the plan was thwarted by continuing civil war. Unocal informed the Department of Energy that the gas pipeline would not proceed until "an internationally recognized government was in place in Afghanistan."
By 2050, the US expects to import more than 80 percent of its petroleum from this region and much of that oil would be extracted from beneath the deserts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The struggle for control of this last great deposit of oil has been called "the Great Game."
In 1998, Unocal Vice President John J. Maresca told a US House Subcommittee that an oil route to the Arabian Sea would prove a "new 'Silk Road' [linking]... the Central Asia supply with the demand." This would also stymie the dreams of Iran's oil investors. A December 2000 US Energy Information fact sheet noted that, while Afghanistan's "potential includes proposed multibillion dollar oil and gas export pipelines..., these plans have now been thrown into serious question" by the rebel attacks and the instability of the Taliban regime.
Unocal, with the assistance of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, began negotiating with the Taliban to build a pipeline across Afghanistan in 1995. Taliban leaders were flown to Washington and Houston for lavish barbecues and put up in five-star hotels.
In 1996, The Telegraph (London) reported that "the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan... has been so supportive of the Taliban." As George Monbiot observed in The Guardian (London), "For the first year of Taliban rule, US policy towards the regime appears to have been determined principally by Unocal's interests."
The Taliban were Big Oil's favorite sons. When President Clinton launched cruise missiles against Osama bin Laden's training camps in 1998, the US made a point of insulating the Taliban leaders by declaring emphatically that bin Laden's terrorists were "not supported by any state."
In his book Taliban, Ahmed Rashid explains how Pakistan and the US agreed in 1994 to establish a pro-Western government in Afghanistan to guarantee the security of the Unocal pipeline.
In a widely syndicated commentary, political cartoonist Ted Rall (who visited Turkmenistan as a guest of the State Department) offered the following summation of the US attack on Afghanistan: "This ersatz war by a phony president is solely about getting the Unocal deal done without interference from annoying local middlemen.
US foreign policy is based on the concept of "full-spectrum dominance," which requires global US control of military, economic and political development. Last June, China and Russia formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to challenge the growing US presence in Asia.
"If the US succeeds in overthrowing the Taliban and replacing them with a stable and grateful pro-Western government," Monbiot writes, "it will have crushed not only terrorism, but also the growing ambitions of both Russia and China. Afghanistan, as ever, is the key to the western domination of Asia.
In 1998, when Dick Cheney headed Halliburton, the firm's clients included such petrotyrannies as Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran and Azerbaijan. At Halliburton, Cheney fought human rights sanctions imposed against Azerbaijan, lobbied against the Iran-Libya sanctions Act and accepted corruption as a necessary cost of doing business with the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. Halliburton routinely violated US trade sanctions to do business with Iran.
Cheney's profits-over-principles leadership of Halliburton prompted congressional critics to accuse the firm of "undermining American foreign policy to the full extent allowed by law."
The September 11 attack provided the Cheney-Bush team with the opportunity to use the US military to pave the way for Big Oil's long-sought Afghan oil route.
© Earth Island Journal, Spring 2002
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