Afghanistan, Central Asia,
Key to Oil Profits
by Karen Talbot
Censored 2003, pp148-163
By putting various pieces of the puzzle
together we begin to get a picture of what really is behind Bush's
"war on terrorism." We see that the groundwork for the
current us military actions in Afghanistan was being built for
What comes into focus is that the horrific
September 11 terrorist attacks have, among other things, provided
a new opportunity for the United States. Acting on behalf of giant
oil companies, the U.S. has permanently entrenched its military
in the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia, and the Caucasus,
where there are vast petroleum reserves-the second-largest in
the world. Strategically, this also positions U.S. armed might
on the western doorstep of China, posing an unprecedented threat
not only to those countries but to South Asia and the entire world.
The way is now open to jump-start projects for oil and gas pipelines
through western Afghanistan and Pakistan, including to Karachi
on the Arabian Sea-the most feasible and cheapest route for transporting
those fuels to market. Afghanistan itself has untapped oil and
gas, as does Pakistan.
The recent deployment of U.S. military
personnel in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia, ostensibly to fight
terrorists, is aimed at guaranteeing and protecting the projected
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline designed to bypass Russia
and Iran. Meanwhile, U.S. energy companies have been feverishly
exploring a section of the Caspian Sea, flouting the legalities
and disputes surrounding jurisdiction over these sectors, especially
between Azerbaijan and Iran.
Some pundits say Washington merely seeks
to guarantee supplies of oil for U.S. consumers, which would explain
why Central Asia is in our zone of "national interests."
In reality, the U.S. relies heavily on domestic sources and on
Venezuela, Canada, and Africa. No, this is about oil corporation
profits which can be greatly enhanced by selling to energy-hungry
South, East, and Southeast Asia, and by outflanking China and
Russia for those Central Asian-Caspian Sea Basin energy resources
and for the pipelines to transport them to market.
Supplies of natural gas and oil, including
those from newly discovered huge oil reserves in Kazakhstan, could
easily be piped through existing conduits traversing Russia. But
bypassing, and thus hindering, Russian petroleum operations that
rely heavily on European customers, would provide Western corporations
another benefit. They would gain greater access to the European
market. Building the Afghanistan pipelines would also mean spurning
an even more direct route to the Arabian Sea through Iran. This
would thwart the growing cooperation between Iran, Russia, and
the European oil companies, which have invested heavily in Iran's
oil and gas sectors, all of whom are pursuing that pipeline corridor.
This is a major factor in the growing rivalry between the U.S.
and Europe in the ongoing imperial quest for corporate expansion.
THE GREAT OIL GAME
Frank Viviano, in an article in the San
Francisco Chronicle asserts: "[T]he hidden stakes in the
war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil....
It is inevitable that the war against terrorism will be seen by
many as a war on behalf of America's Chevron, Exxon, and Arco;
France's TotalFinaElf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell; and
other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of
dollars of investment in the region...developing nations [are]
already convinced...of a conspiratorial collaboration between
global capital and U.S. military might."
Writing in the Hong Kong-based Asia Times,
a business-oriented publication, Ranjit Devraj states: "Just
as the Gulf War in 1991 was about oil, the new conflict in South
and Central Asia is no less about access to the region's abundant
The very nature of the system inevitably
drives corporations to expand or die. This will be done at any
cost, no matter the suffering it may bring to human beings or
the devastation it unleashes upon the environment. Such are the
characteristics of today's imperialism, the main source of war,
terrorism, and violence. Commerce in oil remains paramount in
More than ever, these imperial foreign
and military policies are being carried out by top U.S. government
leaders, from the president and vice president to CIA officials
who have direct ties to the corporations and banks that stand
to derive superprofits from them. This is particularly true of
the oil, energy, banking, and military-aerospace sectors.
UNOCAL AND AFGHANISTAN
A consortium headed by Unocal had for
years sought to build a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad
gas field through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.
Later they put together a larger consortium, the Central Asia
Pipeline Project, to carry oil from the Chardzhou oil field essentially
following the same route.
John J. Maresca, vice president of Unocal,
in testimony before a House of Representatives committee (February
12, 1998), spoke of the tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves
in the Caspian region and promoted the plan to build a pipeline
through Afghanistan as the cheapest route for transporting the
oil to Asian markets. He stated that the Taliban controlled the
territory through which the pipeline would extend. Pointing out
that most nations did not recognize that government, he emphasized
that the project could not begin until a recognized government
was in place.
Yet a major reason for Washington's support
of the Taliban between 1994 and 1997 was the expectation that
they would swiftly conquer the whole country, enabling Unocal
to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. Pakistan, the U.S., and
Saudi Arabia "are responsible for the very existence and
maintenance of the Taliban."
In his book Taliban, Central Asian expert
Ahmed Rashid said: "Impressed by the ruthlessness and willingness
of the then-emerging Taliban to cut a pipeline deal, the State
Department and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency agreed
to funnel arms and funding to the Taliban in their war against
the ethnically Tajik Northern Alliance. As recently as 1999, U.S.
taxpayers paid the entire annual salary of every single Taliban
Unocal had even secured agreement from
the Taliban to build the pipeline, according to Hugh Pope, writing
in the Wall Street Journal.
The Washington Post on May 25, 2001, reported
that the U.S. government "pledged another $43 million in
assistance to Afghanistan, [the Taliban government] raising total
aid this year to $124 million and making the United States the
largest humanitarian donor to the country.'' This was less than
four months before the September 11 attacks.
In an article in the British Daily Mirror,
John Pilger stated: "When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996,
Washington said nothing. Why? Because Taliban leaders were soon
on their way to Houston, Texas, to be entertained by executives
of the oil company, Unocal."
"With secret U.S. government approval,
the company offered them a generous cut of the profits of the
oil and gas pumped through a pipeline that the Americans wanted
to build from the Soviet Central Asia through Afghanistan. .."
"Although the deal fell through,
it remains an urgent priority of the administration of George
W. Bush, which is steeped in the oil industry. Bush's concealed
agenda is to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin
... Only if the pipeline runs through Afghanistan can the Americans
hope to control it.''
TALIBAN WANTED MORE
An Argentine oil company, Bridas, was
also in the bidding to build a pipeline. The same month Taliban
representatives were being given red carpet treatment by Unocal
in Texas, another delegation went to Buenos Aires to meet with
Bridas executives. There was an intense campaign by Unocal and
Washington to outmaneuver Bridas. The Taliban played one company
against the other.
The Taliban and Osama bin Laden were demanding,
as part of the deal, that Unocal rebuild the infrastructure in
Afghanistan and allow them access to the oil in several places.
Unocal rejected this demand.
Nevertheless, the Bush Administration
held a series of negotiations with the Taliban early in 2001,
despite the developing rift with them over the pipeline scheme.
Laila Helms, who was hired as the public relations agent for the
Taliban government, brought Rahmatullah Hashimi, an advisor to
Mullah Omar, to Washington as recently as March 2001. (Helms is
the niece of Richard Helms, former chief of the CIA and former
ambassador to Iran.) One of the meetings was held on August 2,
just one month before September 11, when Christina Rocca, in charge
of Asian Affairs at the State Department, met Taliban Ambassador
to Pakistan Abdul Salem Zaef in Islamabad. Rocca has had extensive
connections with Afghanistan including supervising the delivery
of Stinger missiles to the mujahideen in the 1980s. She had been
in charge of contacts with Islamist fundamentalist guerrilla groups
for the CIA.
"At one moment during one of the
negotiations, U.S. representatives told the Taliban, 'either you
accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet
of bombs,"' said Jean-Charles Brisard, co-author of Bin Laden,
the Forbidden Truth.
When Washington decided to break with
the Taliban, they took advantage of the fact that the U.N. had
continued to refuse to recognize their government. Then, of course,
the Taliban suddenly became more vulnerable after September 11,
for "harboring" Osama bin Laden. Thus it became much
easier to win international support for bombing them. Another
compelling reason may have been that the Northern Alliance forces,
with whom the U.S. would have to join forces, controlled the portion
of the country near Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan,
whose governments were helping to support the Alliance. This offered
convenience for the U.S. military to base troops in those countries.
The Northern Alliance consists largely of ethnic Uzbeks and Tajiks.
The Taliban is made up of Pashtun tribesmen- along with large
numbers from Pakistan, Arab countries, and elsewhere- who came
to be trained and to fight in Afghanistan as well as in Chechnya,
Kashmir, Bosnia, Kosovo, and former Soviet republics in Central
CIA SPAWNS TALIBAN
All of these disparate mujahideen forces,
led by feudal landholders and warlords and Osama bin Laden's organization,
were incubated by the CIA in the 1980s when the largest-ever covert
operation was carried out in Afghanistan. It was directed against
the newly-born government of the Saur Revolution (which gave equal
rights to women and set up health care, literacy, housing, job
creation, and land reform programs) and then against the Soviets.
The mujahideen, who had been trained and armed by the CIA, murdered
teachers, doctors, and nurses, tortured women for not wearing
the veil, and shot down civilian airliners with U.S.-supplied
The story sold to the public by the media
is that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 24,1979, and
then in response, the U.S. and some Islamic countries fought back
to repel the invasion. Actually, President Jimmy Carter secretly
approved CIA efforts to try to topple the government of Afghanistan
in July 1979, knowing that the U.S. actions were likely to provoke
Soviet intervention. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser
in the Carter Administration, confirmed this in an interview with
the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur.
A remarkable description of CIA operations
in Afghanistan can be found in the book, Victory-The Reagan Administration's
Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union.
The book carries many boastful accounts by William Casey, director
of the CIA under President Reagan. It paints a vivid picture of
how Casey, himself, convinced the Saudi Arabians to match CIA
funding of the mujahideen, and how all the money, and, training
were funneled through the Pakistan Intelligence Service (ISI).
According to the book, "The strategy
[to bring down the USSR under Reagan] attacked the very heart
of the Soviet system and included ... [among several other key
operations] substantial financial and military support to the
Afghan resistance (sic), as well as supplying the mujahideen personnel
to take the war into the Soviet Union itself ... [and a] campaign
to reduce dramatically Soviet hard currency earnings by driving
down the price of oil with Saudi cooperation and limiting natural
gas exports to the West...
We learn about the quantities of weapons
that were delivered-including Stinger missiles and increasingly
sophisticated armaments. "Tens of thousands of arms and ammunition
were going through...every year" rising to 65,000 tons by
1985. Approximately 100 Afghans living abroad were schooled in
the "art of arms shipping." Two-week courses in "anti-tank
and anti-aircraft guns, mine laying and lifting, demolitions,
urban warfare, and sabotage were offered for thousands of fighters.
Twenty thousand mujahideen were being pumped out every year by
these schools dubbed 'CIA U' by some wags...
"Specially trained units working
inside the Soviet Union would be equipped with...rocket launchers
and high-tech explosives provided by the CIA. They were to seek
out Soviet civilian and military targets for sabotage." This
is just a small taste of the details revealed in Victory.
NEW MADE-IN-THE-U.S.A. GOVERNMENT
The disparate warlord-led factions, including
the Taliban, all part of the CIA-financed mujahideen, have continued
to fight each other for years. As always, the ascendancy of one
group over another inevitably leads to more fractiousness and
The newly established "interim"
government of Afghanistan, conjured up by George W. and his entourage,
purports to include all of these militias along with various Pashtun
warlords who are linked with the Taliban.
UNOCAL EMERGES AGAIN
This "interim" government is
headed by Hamid Karzai who, according to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan,
has been a Central Intelligence Agency covert operator since the
1980s, when he helped the CIA in Afghanistan. Karzai supported
the Taliban and was a consultant for Unocal.
George W. Bush's envoy to the new government,
Zalmay Khalizad, also worked for Unocal. He drew up the risk analysis
for the pipeline in 1997, lobbied for the Taliban, and took part
in negotiations with them. After acquiring U.S. citizenship, Khalizad
became a special advisor to the State Department during the Reagan
Administration and a key liaison with the mujahideen in the 1980s.
He was under secretary of defense in the administration of the
elder George Bush; headed the Bush-Cheney transition team for
the Defense Department; worked for the right-wing think tank Rand
Corporation; and was placed on the National Security Council where
he reports to National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. Rice
is an expert on Central Asia, and is a member of the Board of
Chevron. Both Khalizad and Rice had long advocated the establishment
of U.S. military bases in the region.
ENRON AND OTHER BUSH CONNECTIONS
The connections between the Bush Administration,
the oil, energy, and military-industrial corporations, and intrigues
in Central Asian and the Caucasus are very intimate ones. Here
are only a few:
The proposed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is represented
by the law firm of Baker & Botts. The principal attorney is
James Baker, former secretary of state and chief spokesman for
the Bush campaign in the struggle over Florida votes.
In 1994, Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton,
was a member of Kazakhstan's Oil Advisory Board and helped broker
a deal between Chevron and Kazakhstan. Enron Corporation, closely
linked with Bush and Cheney, conducted the feasibility study for
the $2.5 billion Trans-Caspian pipeline-a joint venture with Turkmenistan,
Bechtel Corp, and General Electric.
Moreover, Enron had a $3 billion investment
in the Dabhol power plant near Bombay, India, one of its largest-ever
projects constituting the single biggest direct foreign investment
in India's history. There was massive public opposition to the
project in India, ultimately including the Indian government,
due to the huge costs to consumers (700 percent more than other
projects). Enron's survival depended on getting a cheap source
of gas and oil to save the project. This could be solved by building
a branch of the proposed natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan
through Afghanistan to terminate in Multan near the India border.
In addition, in 1997, Enron announced it was going to spend over
$1 billion building and improving the lines between the Dabhol
plant and India's pipeline network. In other words the gas would
be piped from Multan, Pakistan, to New Delhi, thence to Bombay
and the Enron plant.
Enron was expecting also to cash in on
the main spur of the pipeline ending on the Pakistan coast from
which hydrocarbon supplies would be exported to the other vast
Asian markets. Clearly, developments in Afghanistan were critical
of Enron. George W. became president just at the point when the
India project was in serious trouble. One month later, Vice President
Dick Cheney moved into action and held his first secret meeting
with Enron CEO Kenneth Lay. The Bush Administration is refusing
to reveal the details of this and subsequent consultations with
Lay, even in the face of a General Accounting Office suit against
Cheney for release of the papers. Nevertheless, it has been documented
that the vice president's energy task force did change a draft
energy proposal to include a provision to boost oil and natural
gas production in India in February 2001. The amendment was clearly
targeted to help Enron's Dabhol plant. Later, Cheney stepped in
to help Enron collect its $64 million debt during a June 27 meeting
with India's opposition leader Sonia Gandhi. These are but some
revelations concerning the machinations by Bush and his cohorts
to help Enron regarding the India deal. Some of the negotiations
with the Taliban, such as those led by Christina Rocca, to promote
the Trans-Afghan pipeline and thus help save Enron, coincidentally
transpired just prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Brown & Root-a business unit of Halliburton
Company where Vice President Cheney was CEO until taking office-will
be upgrading the U.S. air base in Uzbekistan. According to an
article in Stars and Stripes, "Brown & Root scouts traveled
to Central Asia [including Afghanistan] to check out U.S. bases....
By mid-June  the contractor is expected to take charge of
base camp maintenance, airfield services, and fuel supplies. For
troops' welfare the company will run the dining halls and laundry
service and will oversee the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program."
Brown & Root perform similar lucrative
services at other bases, including those in Bosnia and Kosovo-most
notably the giant and permanent Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo located
(along with satellite bases) conveniently near the soon-to-be-constructed
Trans-Balkan AMBO pipeline.
U.S. BASES IN AFGHANISTAN AND FORMER SOVIET
"If one looks at the map of the big
American bases created for the war in Afghanistan, one is struck
by the fact that they are completely identical to the route of
the projected oil pipelines to the Indian Ocean," says Uri
Averny, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, writing in the
daily Ma'ariv in Israel.
In the name of conducting the war, the
U.S. also won agreement to station troops at former Soviet airfields
in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and to build a long-term base in
Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is next.
The big payoff for the Bush Administration
is the entrenchment of a permanent U.S. military presence in oil-rich
Central Asia-which is also wide open to another coveted resource-rich
region, Siberia. Thus, realization of other goals could be closer
at hand: the further balkanization of central Asian and Trans-Caucasus
nations into easily controlled emirate-like entities, lacking
any real sovereignty; and further military encirclement of China.
All of this is icing on the cake-the "cake" being the
Trans-Afghanistan pipelines, with their access to and dominance
of the South, Southeast, and East Asian markets.
Another major goal of Bush Administration
policies appears to be to obstruct or control China's access to
the oil and natural gas of Central Asia. China has a rapidly increasing
need for those sources of energy. It has relatively few reserves
within its borders, the largest being in Tibet. China has joint
partnership with U.S. companies for the development of its oil.
Nevertheless, as is always the case, those U.S.-based oil conglomerates
would much prefer to get their hands on the whole pie and not
just a large slice. That includes unfettered access to Chinese
Potentially vast sources of petroleum
and natural gas have been discovered in the South China Sea. A
struggle is looming among the littoral states regarding jurisdiction
over these offshore reserves, with China laying claim to a large
portion of the sea including the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
The Philippine government is one of the disputants over this territory.
The Philippines are strategically located in this region and adjacent
the critically important sea lanes through which oil and other
goods are shipped to and from Japan, China, and Korea.
Brown & Root just built the largest
offshore oil platform in the world for Shell Philippines. The
current U.S. "war on terrorism" military operations
in the Philippines are clearly linked to major oil considerations.
Bush's perpetual war is already headed
towards Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Iran-not so coincidentally,
these are all rich in petroleum. So too, the ongoing U.S.-backed
brutal Israeli war against the Palestinians continues to be about
maintaining U.S. hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. U.S.
military support to Colombia is now openly admitted by the Bush
Administration to be aimed at protecting pipelines and putting
down the peoples' insurgency. Similarly, the recent U.S.-backed
coup attempt against the Chavez government of Venezuela had much
to do with controlling that country's petroleum riches.
Increasingly, U.S. and world public opinion
is awakening to the hidden agenda of the "war on terrorism"
earmarked by the corporate frenzy to plunder oil and other resources,
particularly in the petroleum-rich arch stretching from the Middle
East to Southeast Asia. The war in Afghanistan is central to reaping
super-profits from all that "black gold."
Versions of this updated article appeared
in Global Outlook, Spring 2002-Issue #1, <www.globalresearch.ca>,
and Correspondence (Paris), among other publications. It appeared
on numerous Web sites and has been translated into other languages.