Afghanistan, Central Asia, Caucasus: Key to oil profits

A picture is emerging of what is behind Bush's 'war on terrorism.'

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have provided a qualitatively new opportunity for the U.S., acting especially on behalf of giant oil companies, to permanently entrench 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. This also positions U.S. armed might on the western doorstep of China, posing an unprecedented threat to South Asia and the entire world.

The way is now open to jumpstart oil and gas pipeline projects through western Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which also have untapped oil and gas reserves. Likewise, the recent deployment of U.S. military personnel in 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 legalities and ignoring jurisdiction disputes.

Some say Washington merely seeks to guarantee oil supplies for U.S. consumers. But in fact, U.S. consumption 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 in grabbing Central Asian-Caspian Sea Basin energy resources and the pipelines to transport them to market.

Supplies of natural gas and oil, including those from newly discovered huge oil reserves in Kazakhstan, can easily be piped through existing conduits traversing Russia or a proposed pipeline through Iran. But bypassing, and thus hindering, Russian petroleum operations, which rely heavily on European customers, would provide western corporations greater access to the European market. Bypassing Iran would thwart the growing cooperation between Iran, Russia and European oil companies, which have invested heavily in Iran's oil and gas sectors. This is a major factor in the growing rivalry between the U.S. and Europe.

The great oil game

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 petroleum resources.'

The very nature of the capitalist system inevitably drives corporations to expand or die - expand at any cost, in human suffering or environmental devastation. Such are the characteristics of today's imperialism, the main source of war, terrorism and violence. Commerce in oil remains paramount in this process.

More than ever, these imperial 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 which stand to derive superprofits from these policies, particularly the oil, energy, banking and military-aerospace sectors.

Unocal and Afghanistan

A consortium headed by Unocal had for years sought to build gas and oil pipelines from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.

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 there.

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 government official ...'

'When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Washington said nothing,' John Pilger wrote in The British Daily Mirror. '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.'

According to Ishtiaq Ahmad, of Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus, the Bush administration held negotiations with the Taliban early in 2001, despite a developing rift over terms of the pipeline scheme. Laila Helms, public relations agent for the Taliban (and niece of Richard Helms, former CIA chief), brought an advisor of Mullah Omar to Washington as recently as March 2001. One of the negotiating meetings was held just one month before Sept. 11.

'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 Charles Brisard, co-author of the popular French book, 'Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth.'

After Sept. 11, it became much easier to win international support for bombing the Taliban.

CIA spawns Taliban

All the mujahideen forces, and Osama bin Laden's organization, were incubated by the CIA in the 1980's. This largest-ever covert operation was directed against the newly-born government of the Saur Revolution (which gave equal rights to women, set up health care, literacy, housing, job creation and land reform programs) and then against the Soviets. The mujahideen murdered teachers, doctors, and nurses, tortured women for not wearing the veil, and shot down civilian airliners with U.S.-supplied stinger missiles.

A revealing 1994 book, 'Victory - The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union,' includes boastful accounts by William Casey, Reagan's CIA Director, of how he convinced the Saudi Arabians to match CIA funding of the mujahideen, and how money, arms and training were funneled through Pakistan.

The book says, 'The strategy attacked the very heart of the Soviet system and included ... 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 ...'

New made-in-the-USA government - Unocal emerges again

The head of the newly established 'interim' Afghan government conjured up by the Bush administration, Hamid Karzai, has been a CIA covert operator since the 1980s, according to the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan. Karzai supported the Taliban and was a consultant for Unocal.

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. Khalizad was a special advisor to the State Department under Reagan and a key liaison with the mujahideen. He is now on the National Security Council, reporting to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

Enron and other Bush connections

The direct connections between Bush administration personnel and the oil, energy, and military-industrial corporations are very intimate. Here are only a few:

The proposed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline is represented by the Baker & Botts law firm. The principal attorney is James Baker, former secretary of state and chief Bush campaign spokesman in the Florida vote struggle.

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. Rice is a member of the board of Chevron.

Brown & Root - a unit of Halliburton - will be upgrading the U.S. air base in Uzbekistan. According to an article in Stars and Stripes, 'Brown & Root ... is expected to take charge of base camp maintenance, airfield services and fuel supplies ... run the dining halls and laundry service and oversee the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program.'

Brown & Root performs similar lucrative services at other bases, including those in Bosnia and Kosovo, notably the giant permanent Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo conveniently near the soon-to-be constructed trans-Balkan AMBO pipeline.

Enron Corp., 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.

Enron had a $3 billion investment in the Dabhol power plant near Bombay, India, the single biggest direct foreign investment in India's history. There was massive opposition to the project in India, due to the huge costs to consumers (700 percent more than from other sources). Enron's survival depended on getting a cheaper source of gas and oil to save the project. This could be solved by the building of a branch of the proposed natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan, to terminate in Multan, Pakistan, near the India border. Also, in 1997 Enron announced it was going to spend over $1 billion building and improving lines within India, so the gas would be piped from Multan to the Bombay 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 vast Asian markets.

Clearly, developments in Afghanistan were critical to Enron. George W. became president just when the India project was in serious trouble. One month later, Vice President Dick Cheney 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 GAO suit for release of the papers. Nevertheless, it has been documented that the Vice President's energy task force changed a draft energy proposal to include a provision to boost oil and natural gas production in India, clearly targeted to help Enron's Dabhol plant. These are but some of the machinations by Bush and his cohorts to help Enron regarding the India deal. Some of the negotiations with the Taliban to promote the trans-Afghan pipeline and thus also help save Enron transpired just prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. bases in Afghanistan and former Soviet republics

'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 Israeli daily Ma'ariv.

In the name of conducting the war, in addition to placing troops in Georgia, the U.S. also won agreement to station troops in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and to build a long-term base in Kyrgyzstan. Kazakhstan is next.

This entrenchment of a U.S. military presence in Central Asia opens access to another coveted resource-rich region, Siberia. It brings other goals within reach - balkanization of central Asian and trans-Caucasus nations into easily controlled emirate-like entities, lacking any real sovereignty - and further military encirclement of China.

Bush's 'perpetual war' is taking aim at Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Iran - all rich in petroleum. The U.S. backed brutal Israeli war against the Palestinians seeks to maintain 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 popular 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' - the corporate frenzy to plunder oil and other resources in the petroleum-rich arc stretching from the Middle East to southeast Asia. The war in Afghanistan is central to reaping super profits from all that 'black gold.'

The author can be reached at icpj@igc.org