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Muslimedia: Central Asian Oil and Gas: The Real Reason for War
By Zafar Bangash
20/11/2001 2:07 am Tue
By Zafar Bangash
While America has couched its 'war' on Afghanistan in the
language of morality, more sinister motives are at work: desire to
control the Caspian Sea's oil and gas, as well as the destruction
or removal ('neutralisation') of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. The
Caspian Sea region possesses proven reserves of more than 200
billion barrels of oil (second only to Saudi Arabia) and trillions of
cubic metres of gas; Pakistan's nuclear capability is viewed with
alarm in the West as well as by Israel and India. American journalist
Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker (November 5), revealed
that US and Israeli commandos have been conducting joint
exercises aimed at "taking out" Pakistan's nuclear warheads if
general Pervez Musharraf is overthrown. Even before the strikes on
Afghanistan, observers in Pakistan had said that the US really had
its sights on Pakistan's nuclear armoury.
Amid growing anti-Musharraf feeling because of his acquiescence
in the US's anti-Taliban policy, Washington's policy-makers are
now openly discussing post-Musharraf possibilities. Despite
assurances from Islamabad, the Americans have said that
Pakistan's nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of
"fundamentalists"; hence the frantic efforts to take them out.
According to the US, any Muslim who challenges or criticises
America's hegemony and arrogance is a "fundamentalist."
There have also been arrests of several Pakistani nuclear
scientists. Dr Sultan Basheeruddin Mahmood, Dr Abdul-Majid and
Dr Mirza Yusuf Baig have been arrested and interrogated
extensively by the ISI. The first two resigned from the Pakistan
Atomic Energy Commission in 1998 in protest against then prime
minister Nawaz Sharif's plans to sign the Comprehensive Test-Ban
Treaty. Dr Mahmood then established a welfare organisation,
Ta'meer-e Millat, whose purpose is to help the Afghans build
roads, construct dams for irrigation and electricity generation, and
set up and run factories. Details of his organisation's activities
have been published in the Lahore Urdu monthly Baidar (October
2001). Yet so paranoid are the Americans, and so willing is
Musharraf to oblige them, that these scientists were arrested and
interrogated at length. It does not need much understanding to
realise that scientific knowledge alone cannot produce nuclear
weapons. It is impossible to assemble even a motor car, much less
a nuclear bomb, in the mountains of Afghanistan because of lack of
parts, machinery and power, but American paranoia ignores this.
The cigar-chewing oilmen from Texas are salivating at the prospect
of getting their hands on the Caspian Sea riches. Before becoming
vice president, Dick Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton, a
major oil-services company. No wonder he exclaimed in 1998: "I
cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as
suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian."
And George Bush Sr is a consultant to the Carlyle Group, headed
by Nick Carlucci, whose brother Frank was defence secretary
during the Reagan era. The Carlyle Group, a private Washington
equity firm that according to the New York Times has become
America's eleventh largest defence contractor, has close
connections with the Bin Ladin family. To the uninitiated this may
seem a minor detail, but such connections have a strong bearing
on the manner in which US policy is conducted.
The race to reach and control Caspian oil and gas was also behind
the emergence of the Taliban, with the US's knowledge and
cooperation, in 1996. Until December 1998, the Americans feted
the Taliban. Between 1996 and 1998 an American oil company,
Unocal, actively lobbied the US government and congress for
accommodation with the Taliban so that a pipeline could be built
across Afghanistan to transport Caspian/Central Asian oil and gas.
In October 1998, when the Taliban announced that Bridas, an
Argentinian company, would build the pipeline, the Americans'
mood changed: the Taliban had to be removed; hence Usama bin
Ladin became their latest bogeyman.
The Americans refuse to allow oil to go through Islamic Iran, the
most natural and economical route. They are also averse to
pipelines going through Russia or Azerbaijan, because that would
give Moscow access to a vital energy source and enable the
former colonial power to re-emerge as the dominant player in
Central Asia. The only route the Americans favour is through
Afghanistan, but the Taliban and Usama are in the way. That is one
of the real reasons for the military assault to dislodge them. There is
also the China route, but in addition to being prohibitively
expensive America's desire to control oil and gas is partly to deny
free access to Beijing, the emerging superpower.
China has tripled its gross domestic product (GDP) in the last 20
years, a feat unmatched in history. If it continues to achieve this
growth rate, its economy will outstrip the US's in another 20 years.
China's economic growth, however, is predicated on access to
cheap and reliable energy sources, with Central Asia and the
Caspian being the most natural choice. So American attempts to
control these energy sources assume added significance. Similarly,
gas is economical when used closer to its source; unlike oil, gas
transportation is expensive. It can be moved via pipelines or in
liquefied form: pipelines make it available for use only in
land-linked areas; turning it into liquid is again expensive and
As the military campaign in Afghanistan becomes a stalemate, other
plans come into play. For instance, the US's latest deal with
Russia means allowing Moscow a free hand in Chechnya while
American troops can be stationed in Central Asia, mainly
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Much more sinister is the plan that,
should the Taliban lose control of Herat in the northwest and
Mazar-i Shareef in the north, both America and Russia will
establish permanent bases there. An American base in Herat will
then threaten Iran as well. It is this prospect that raises legitimate
concerns in Tehran.
US foreign policy is governed by the doctrine of "full-spectrum
dominance": the US must control military, economic and political
developments everywhere. China has responded by seeking to
expand its interests in Central Asia. The defence white paper that
Beijing published last year argued that "China's fundamental
interests lie in... the establishment and maintenance of a new
regional security order." In June China and Russia pulled four
Central Asian republics into the Shanghai Cooperation
Organisation. Its purpose, according to Chinese president Jiang
Zemin, is to "foster world multi-polarisation", ie. challenge the
US's role as the "sole superpower".
The outcome of the struggle in Afghanistan will determine whether or not the US succeeds in its designs. If the 'war' drags on, it is likely that China will begin to supply weapons to the Taliban. Should that happen, the Russians may jump in too, in retaliation for their own defeat in Afghanistan. We may yet see a replay of Vietnam in Afghanistan, but the Americans can only blame themselves if that humiliation repeats itself.