Don't Mess with Unocal
The war against terrorism may really be a battle
by Craig Rosebraugh
Toward Freedom magazine, January 2002
As the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose due
to US-led bombing, evidence emerged that the alleged war on terrorism
may be yet another war for oil and political power in the Middle
East and Central Asia. It wouldn't be the first time that the
US went to war for oil, as George Bush the senior proved in Iraq.
In 1995, the US-based Unocal oil company signed a tentative
agreement with the Turkmenistan government to research the possibilities
of constructing an oil pipeline to Pakistan by way of Afghanistan.
As the project developed, Unocal began to seek the agreement of
the Taliban, who had recently risen to power. On two separate
occasions, in February and December 1997, Taliban officials were
flown to the US to meet with, and be wined and dined by, Unocal
The Taliban was simultaneously pressured by Argentinean oil
company Birdas for control of the proposed pipeline.
Taliban officials issued two demands to both companies before
any agreement could be reached. They wanted Unocal and Birdas
to construct an open pipeline, one that could be tapped into from
Afghanistan for local consumption. Second, they wanted the companies
to get involved in building roads, water supplies, telephone lines,
and electrical power lines. While Birdas agreed to meet the demands
and build an open pipeline, Unocal refused, preferring a closed
pipeline for export only. Birdas and the Taliban initially reached
an agreement, but the deal later fell through due to lack of financing.
During the mid-1990s, the Unocal project received strong support
from the US government. From 1995-98, especially after the Taliban
seized control of Kabul in September 1996, Clinton administration
officials actively lobbied Taliban officials on behalf of Unocal.
At the time, the US expressed little, if any, concern about the
mounting evidence of abuses of women's rights.
Despite an increasing lack of cooperation from the Taliban,
Unocal continued to push the project. Testifying before the House
US Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998,
Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of
the pipeline project-and the increasing difficulties in dealing
with the Taliban. "The region's total oil reserves may well
reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are
as high as 200 billion barrels .... From the outset, we have made
it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across
Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in
place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our
company." A second pipeline was proposed in
1997, this time by the Central Asia Gas Pipeline Consortium,
or CentGas, in which Unocal held the major interest. The proposed
line would run from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to markets
in Pakistan and India. Conflicts emerged again, as Maresca testified
"As with the proposed Central Asia oil pipeline, CentGas
can not begin construction until an internationally recognized
Afghanistan Government is in place."
Even after the 1998 US embassy bombings and Al Qaeda's declaration
to "kill the Americans and their allies-civilian and military,"
Unocal still hoped to see through the pipeline projects. In an
August 30,1998, interview with the BBC, Unocal spokeswoman Terry
Covington stated that Unocal "believes the project is both
economically and technically feasible and can still be carried
out once a stable government is in place in Kabul."
Due to the rising concerns of financial backers about the
instability of Afghanistan, Unocal pulled out of CentGas in December
1998. On its Website (www.unocal.com), Unocal claims to have completely
dropped the oil pipeline projects between Turkmenistan and Pakistan.
But the projects weren't altogether abandoned. An article in the
March 23, 2000, Business Recorder, titled "Unocal trying
to re-enter Turkmen gas pipeline project," stated that "the
US company is in dialogue with the Afghan authorities seeking
guaranteed protection for its personnel while working on the Afghani
Enron, another US-based oil company, also has a strong presence
in the region through its involvement in a pipeline project from
Turkmenistan to Turkey by way of Azerbaijan and Georgia. Headquartered
in Houston, TX, it was the largest contributor to George Bush
the junior's presidential campaign, giving at least $550,000 to
Bush himself and an estimated $1.8 million to the Republican Party
during the 2000 election. As its stock plummeted in October 2001,
after an admission that half a billion in debt had been hidden,
the company was swallowed by Dynergy, Inc., which is controlled
To the US government, the financial interests and political
power to be gained within the Middle East and Central Asia regions
are extremely important. By ousting the Taliban, which put up
so much resistance to US economic interests, it may succeed in
installing a puppet regime in Afghanistan, thereby gaining control
of oil resources sure to produce billions in revenues.
Craig Rosebraugh is a political activist living in Portland,
Oregon. He is a former spokesperson for the North American Earth
Liberation Front and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (503) 3351436.