Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Afghanistan? Think Oil & Gas

September 25, 2009, 8:00 a.m.

Trying to Make Sense of Why We're in Afghanistan
(brought to you by*)

Are we at war, once again, because of our need to control sources of oil, gas, pipeline and oil tanker routes and ports?

I don't know. How could I? I'm just a morning blogger. But as I try to think through what we're doing in Afghanistan, and why, it makes a lot more sense than anything else I can come up with.

Frankly, I think there might be more popular support for the Afghanistan war than there is now, a willingness to accept the loss of life and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, if Presidents Bush and Obama had candidly sold the effort to the American people on that basis. But I can understand their reluctance to take the risk that explanation would be spun by their political opponents into "going to war for oil company profits."

Consider what they have been telling us.

"Mission shift and creep" is usually not the military's creation. The Powell Doctrine calls for a very precise articulation of what the problem is, why a military presence is appropriate to its solution, exactly what the military is being asked to do, what resources that requires, the metrics for knowing whether it has ever been "successful," and an exit strategy. When that process is not followed, when the explanations for a war continue to shift over time, I have to assume it's the result of something done by the civilians in the chain of command.

Wrong Country. At the outset, however irrational, Americans were told we were bombing Afghanistan because of the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 -- something done with Saudi personnel and financial resources -- rather than going to war with Saudi Arabia. For awhile we were there to get Osama bin Laden. As the years went by less and less was said of that goal. At one time we were driving al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. If that's our purpose we can declare victory and come home, because both bin Laden and such al Qaeda as there may be in the region appear to be in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

Safe Havens. More recently we're said to be there because we want to deny al Qaeda the "safe haven" of Afghanistan. There are at least three things wrong with this rationale. (1) To the extent al Qaeda has a safe haven in the region, it's in Pakistan not Afghanistan. (2) All al Qaeda needs to plan the next terrorist attack is a rented apartment in any city in the world. (3) Aside from Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda never has been a single nation's effort; the "war on terrorism" has never been a conventional war between "nations." al Qaeda is, or can be, everywhere and anywhere at any time. To the extent it wants or needs a territory to train terrorists there are a lot of countries available besides Afghanistan. So even if we could keep every last actual and potential member of al Qaeda out of Afghanistan we would not have denied them "safe havens." See, Michael Evans, "Al-Qaeda finds three safe havens for terror training," The Times (of London), July 2, 2008 ("Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organisation, driven out of Afghanistan and defeated in Iraq, is re-emerging in strength in three alternative safe havens for training, operational planning and recruiting – Pakistan, Somalia and Algeria – according to Western intelligence and defence sources").

Drug War. There was a time when the military effort was said to be a part of our "war on drugs," as Afghanistan is the world's major source of the poppy that becomes heroin -- including America's supply. If that's our goal we should turn it over to the Taliban, because when they were in charge they pretty successfully dried up the drug trade; what we've doing has caused it to flourish.

Nation Building. We've sometimes said we are there to build a thriving economy and democracy for Afghanistan. But this is less a "country" than it is a collection of largely uneducated members of regional tribes and clans held together by war lords, riddled with corruption, with virtually no economy (aside from drugs), lacking basic infrastructure, and with a history of repression of women -- united in little more than their (understandable) opposition to invaders and occupying forces (formerly the Russians, and now us).

So how is that mission working for us? Not well -- as knowledgeable folks were predicting from the outset. Our most recent big effort at democracy-building, a national election, has resulted in revelations of corruption, thousands of apparently fraudulent votes, intimidation of voters, and war lords "delivering" votes based on deals -- thereby creating greater divisiveness than existed before, and greater American dissatisfaction with "our guy in Kabul," Hamid Karzai.

I could go on, but you get the point.

(Little) Benefit-(Enormous) Cost Analysis. None of the explanations for this "war effort" make much sense. And even if they did, the benefit-cost analysis fails. That is to say, given America's priorities at the moment -- or any other moment for that matter -- is whatever good we might get out of Afghanistan (and what might that be?) worth the hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of coalition and Afghan lives it has, is and will cost us over the additional decades of what is already America's longest war? I don't think so, and I can't imagine anyone else honestly thinking so. See, "Safe Havens," Yglesias Think Progress, September 23, 2009 ("what I really haven’t seen is anyone attempt to seriously lay out some kind of cost-benefit analysis of how important this whole Afghanistan situation really is relative to what I’m being told it would take to 'win.'").

Which brings me to oil and gas.

Let me acknowledge at the outset, in case you haven't noticed, that this is a blog entry not a doctoral dissertation. Some of what I've picked up and refer to below -- especially when it involves generalized assertions -- may be untrue. On the other hand, when it involves specific historical or geological facts and appears in a number of sources much of it seems credible.

Let's start with some excerpts from "Pipelineistan," written in 2005. You may want to read the whole article; the source is linked below these passages.

War against terrorism? Not really. . . .

A quick look at the map is all it takes. It's no coincidence that the map of terror in the Middle East and Central Asia is practically interchangeable with the map of oil. . . .

Pipelineistan is the golden future: a paradise of opportunity in the form of US$5 trillion of oil and gas in the Caspian basin and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. In Washington's global petrostrategy, this is supposed to be the end of America's oil dependence on [OPEC]. . . .

Afghanistan itself has some natural gas in the north of the country, near Turkmenistan. But above all it is ultra-strategic: positioned between the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, between Turkmenistan and the avid markets of the Indian subcontinent, China and Japan. Afghanistan is at the core of Pipelineistan.

The Caspian states hold at least 200 billion barrels of oil, and Central Asia has 6.6 trillion cubic meters of natural gas . . .. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are two major producers . . ..

The only export routes, for the moment, are through Russia. So most of the game consists of building alternative pipelines to Turkey and Western Europe, and to the east toward the Asian markets. India will be a key player. . . .

It's enlightening to note that all countries or regions which happen to be an impediment to Pipelineistan routes towards the West have been subjected either to a direct interference or to all-out war: Chechnya, Georgia, Kurdistan, Yugoslavia and Macedonia. To the east, the key problems are the Uighurs of China's far-western Xinjiang and, until recently, Afghanistan. . . .

In this geostrategic grand design, the Taliban were the proverbial fly in the ointment. The Afghan War was decided long before September 11. September 11 merely precipitated events. Plans to destroy the Taliban had been the subject of . . . discussions for months before September 11. There was a crucial meeting in Geneva in May 2001 . . .. The topic was raised again in full force at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001 when India - an observer at the summit - also contributed its own plans.

Nor concidentally, Pipelineistan was the central topic in secret negotiations in a Berlin hotel a few days after the G-8 summit, between American, Russian, German and Pakistani officials. And Pakistani high officials, on condition of anonymity, have extensively described a plan set up by the end of July 2001 by American advisers, consisting of military strikes against the Taliban from bases in Tajikistan, to be launched before mid-October.

[O]nly nine days after Hamid Karzai's interim government took power in Kabul, Bush II appointed his special envoy to Afghanistan . . . Afghan-American Zalmay Khalilzad - a former aide to the Californian energy giant UNOCAL. . . . The so-called brand-new American "Afghan policy" is being conducted by people intimately connected to oil industry interests in Central Asia.

In 1997, UNOCAL led an international consortium - Centgas - that reached a memorandum of understanding to build a $2 billion, 1,275-kilometer-long, 1.5-meter-wide natural-gas pipeline from Dauletabad in southern Turkmenistan to Karachi in Pakistan, via the Afghan cities of Herat and Kandahar, crossing into Pakistan near Quetta. A $600 million extension to India was also being considered. The dealings with the Taliban were facilitated by the Clinton administration and the
Pakistani Inter Services Agency (ISI). But the civil war in Afghanistan would simply not go away. UNOCAL had to pull out.

American energy conglomerates, through the American Overseas Private Investment Corp (OPIC), are now resuscitating this and other projects. Already last October, the UNOCAL-led project was discussed in Islamabad between Pakistani Petroleum Minister Usman Aminuddin and American Ambassador Wendy Chamberlain. The exuberant official statement reads: "The pipeline opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation, particularly in view of the recent geopolitical developments in the region." . . .

UNOCAL also has a project to build the so-called Central Asian Oil Pipeline, almost 1,700km long, linking Chardzhou in Turkmenistan to Russian's existing Siberian oil pipelines and also to the Pakistani Arabian Sea coast. This pipeline will carry 1 million barrels of oil a day from different areas of former Soviet republics, and it will run parallel to the gas pipeline route through Afghanistan.

Khalilzad . . . was always a huge Taliban supporter [and] only abandoned the Taliban after Bill Clinton fired 58 cruise missiles into Afghanistan in August 1998 . . .. [O]ne day after the attack, UNOCAL put Centgas on hold - and two months later abandoned plans for the trans-Afghan pipeline.

A little more than a year ago, Khalilzad was reincarnated in print in The Washington Quarterly, now stressing his four main reason to get rid of the Taliban regime as soon as possible: Osama bin Laden, opium trafficking, oppression of the Afghan people and, last but not least, oil. . . .

He was a strident lobbyist for more US military aid to the mujahedeen during the anti-USSR jihad - campaigning for widespread distribution of Stinger missiles. . . .

But he was not rewarded with any promotions. The required Senate confirmation would raise extremely uncomfortable questions about his role as UNOCAL adviser and staunch Taliban defender. He was assigned instead to the National Security Council - no Senate confirmation required - where he reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Rice herself is a former oil-company consultant. During Bush I, from 1989-92, she was on the board of directors of Chevron, and was its main expert on Kazakhstan. Chevron has invested more than $20 billion in Kazakhstan alone. . . .

All American secretaries of state since World War II have been connected with the oil industry - except two: one of them is Colin Powell, but in his case the president, vice president and national security adviser are all part of the oil industry anyway.

So everybody in the ruling plutocracy knows the rules of the ruthless game: Central Asia is crucial to Washington's worldwide petro-strategy. So is a "friendly" government in Afghanistan - now led by . . . Hamid Karzai. . . .

As for US . . . media - from TV networks to daily newspapers - they just exercise self-censorship and remain mute about all of these connections.
Pepe Escobar, "The War for Pipelineistan," Asia Times, January 26, 2005.

Here are excerpts from another account, unfortunately equally devoid of footnotes or other citations to sources:

As soon as the Soviets discovered the vast Caspian Sea oilfields in the late 1970's, they attempted to take control of Afghanistan to build a massive north-south pipeline system to allow the Soviets to send their oil directly through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean seaport. The result was the decades long Soviet-Afghan war. The . . . U.S. government saw the danger of a Russian north-south pipeline and the CIA trained and funded armed terrorist groups, including Osama bin Laden, who defeated the Soviets in the late 1980's.

The Russians then tried to control the flow of oil and gas through its monopoly on pipelines. The Southern Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union--Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan--saw through this Russian monopolistic ploy and began to consult with Western companies.

The . . . U.S. government now plans to thrust further along the 40th parallel from the Balkans through these Southern Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union. The U.S. military has already set up a permanent operations base in Uzbekistan. The so-called anti-terrorist strategy is clearly designed to simultaneously consolidate control over Middle Eastern and South Asian oil, and contain and neutralize the former Soviet Union. With that strategy, Afghanistan is exactly where they need to be. . . .

Afghanistan will now become the base of operations in destabilizing, isolating, and establishing control over the South Asian Republics and the Middle-East. After the conquest of this area is complete and the permanent military posts are set up, they will begin construction of a pipeline through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to deliver petroleum to the Asian market.

UNOCAL, the spearhead for Standard Oil interests, has been trying to build the north-south pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean for several decades. . . . The pipeline was to stretch 1,271 km from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad fields to Multan in Pakistan at an estimated cost of $1.9 billion. An additional $600 million would have brought the pipeline to energy-hungry India. . . .

UNOCAL cut off its earlier agreement with the Taliban in 1998 when it became clear that the Taliban could not control all of Afghanistan and provide a stable political environment for a north-south pipeline construction project. It was likely at this juncture that a new "war against terrorism" ploy was conceived by the . . . U.S. government. The "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan has come to a hiatus, with war-lords once again ruling the country, and the Bush administration has put their own man, Karzai, in power to control Afghanistan.

Karzai was a top adviser to UNOCAL during the negotiations with the Taliban to construct a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline from Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan to Pakistan. Karzai is the leader of the southern Afghan Pashtun Durrani tribe. A member of the mujaheddin that fought the Soviets during the 1980s, Karzai was a top contact for the CIA, maintaining close relations with CIA Director William Casey, Vice President George Bush, and their Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) Service go-between. After the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the CIA sponsored the relocation of Karzai and a number of his brothers to the U.S.

The real motives for the Bush administration's war in Afghanistan are clear for all to see. The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, met with Pakistan's oil minister, Usman Aminuddin, in January, 2002 to continue plans for the north-south pipeline, encouraging the construction of Pakistan's Arabian Sea oil terminus for the pipeline.

President Bush says our military will continue its presence in Afghanistan, which means that while the U.N. forces serve as a paramilitary police force, U.S. soldiers will be guarding the construction of the north-south pipeline.

To assure that the pipeline project will proceed apace, the Afghani-American Zalmay Khalilzad, a previous member of the CentGas project, became President Bush's Special National Security Assistant. Khalilzad has recently been named presidential Special Envoy for Afghanistan. Khalilzad is a Pashtun and the son of a former government official under King Mohammed Zahir Shah. [H]e was a special liaison between UNOCAL and the Taliban government. Khalilzad also worked on various risk analyses for the project under the direction of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a former member of the board of Chevron.
Norman D. Livergood, "The New U.S.-British Oil Imperialism," Part I.

And for what it's worth, here's a brief and somewhat updated entry from Wikipedia:

The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP or TAPI) is a proposed natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank. The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. Proponents of the project see it as a modern continuation of the Silk Road. The Afghan government is expected to receive 8% of the project's revenue.

The original project started in March 1995 when an inaugural memorandum of understanding between the governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan for a pipeline project was signed. In August 1996, the Central Asia Gas Pipeline, Ltd. (CentGas) consortium for construction of a pipeline, led by Unocal was formed. On 27 October 1997, CentGas was incorporated in formal signing ceremonies in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan by several international oil companies along with the Government of Turkmenistan. In January 1998, the Taliban, selecting CentGas over Argentinian competitor Bridas Corporation, signed an agreement that allowed the proposed project to proceed. In June 1998, Russian Gazprom relinquished its 10% stake in the project. Unocal withdrew from the consortium on 8 December 1998.

The new deal on the pipeline was signed on 27 December 2002 by the leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.[1] In 2005, the Asian Development Bank submitted the final version of a feasibility study designed by British company Penspen. Since the United States military overthrew the Taliban government, the project has essentially stalled; construction of the Turkmen part was supposed to start in 2006, but the overall feasibility is questionable since the southern part of the Afghan section runs through territory which continues to be under de facto Taliban control.

On 24 April 2008, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan signed a framework agreement to buy natural gas from Turkmenistan.[2]

The 1,680 kilometres (1,040 mi) pipeline will run from the Dauletabad gas field to Afghanistan. From there TAPI will be constructed alongside the highway running from Herat to Kandahar, and then via Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka, near the border between Pakistan and India.[3]
"Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline," Wikipedia.

I don't know that I'm any happier about the war in Afghanistan now that I have some idea of what may be our real purpose for being there. But it's at least better than thinking we're taking all those lives, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars, for vague, shifting, unarticulated, irrational reasons designed to cover up what's really going on.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

# # #

1 comment:

Nick said...

Notice Regarding Advertising: This blog runs an open comments section. All comments related to the content of blog entries have (so far) remained posted, regardless of how critical. Although I would prefer that those posting comments identify themselves, anonymous comments are also accepted.

The only limitation is that comments unrelated to the essay, such as advertising posing as comments, or with links to unrelated sites, will be removed. That is why one or more of the comments posted on this blog entry are no longer here.

-- Nick