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America, oil and Afghanistan
IT HAS finally happened. American imperialism has begun its unilateral war against Afghanistan. Ominously, it has formally notified the U.N. Security Council that the military operations would expand beyond Afghanistan. Other countries would be targeted. It is a greater tragedy that this ``war against terrorism'' will consume innocent lives in gruesome proportions. Is all this being done really to exterminate terrorism?
Before we answer this question, it is necessary to reiterate that the perpetrators of the horrendous attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 must be brought to book. This, however, must be done, as many countries in the world had voiced, on the basis of unquestionable evidence in accordance with international laws and under the auspices of the United Nations. The U.S. and its President, Mr. George W. Bush, by launching attacks on Afghanistan have dismissed with imperialist arrogance and contempt, this widely-held international opinion.
For appearances sake, ``evidence'' was shared with trusted U.S. allies - Britain and Pakistan. Mr. Tony Blair made a mockery of sharing this ``evidence'' with the British Parliament by stating that this is not to be judged on a strictly legal basis. In a much-publicised live press conference, Gen. Pervez Musharraf echoed Mr. Blair in stating that it was immaterial whether the ``evidence'' would stand legal scrutiny. The issue, according to him, was that ``evidence'' points towards Osama bin Laden.
Once the initial shock and hysteria gave way to reason, it became clear that the U.S. was using, in a diabolic way, this human tragedy to further its imperialist hegemony worldwide and to invoke a more draconian domestic rule by curtailing democratic rights and freedom in the name of combating terrorism. The crucial element in this strategy of zeroing in on Osama bin Laden, however, goes largely unnoticed.
Afghanistan occupies the central position in the U.S. strategy for the economic control of the oil and gas resources in the entire Middle East. The U.S. currently imports 51 per cent of its crude oil - 19.5 million barrels daily. The Energy Information Administration estimates that by 2020, the U.S. will import 64 per cent of its crude - 25.8 million barrels a day. Caspian region oil reserves might be the third largest in the world (after Western Siberia and the Persian Gulf) and, within the next 15 to 20 years, may be large enough to offset Persian Gulf oil. Caspian Sea oil and gas are not the only hydrocarbon deposits in the region. Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert holds the world's third largest gas reserves - three trillion cubic meters - and has six billion barrels of estimated oil reserves. Current estimates indicate that, in addition to huge gas deposits, the Caspian basin may hold as much as 200 billion barrels of oil - 33 times the estimated holdings of Alaska's North Slope and a current value of $4 trillion. It is enough to meet the U.S.' energy needs for 30 years or more. The presence of these oil reserves and the possibility of their export raises new strategic concerns for the U.S. and other Western industrial powers. As oil companies build oil pipelines from the Caucasus and Central Asia to supply Japan and the West, these strategic concerns gain military implications.
Before we proceed further, it is necessary to remind ourselves that both Mr. Bush and the Vice-President, Mr. Dick Cheney, were intimately connected with the U.S. oil industry, serving as senior executives in many companies. Jon Flanders, in an article, ``The World Trade Center attack... Caspian Oil and Gas and the Afghanistan Pipeline Connection'', quotes Michael Klare, author of the book ``Resource Wars'', which has a major focus on the oil resources in the Caspian region, who in a recent interview to ``Radio Free Europe'' has said: ``We (the U.S.) view oil as a security consideration and we have to protect it by any means necessary, regardless of other considerations, other values''.
The U.S. Government Energy Information factsheet on Afghanistan dated December 2000 says that: ``Afghanistan's significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographic position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan.
The Caspian Sea region has oil and gas resources worth $4 trillion, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Mr. Cheney, as CEO of Halliburton, a major player in the oil industry, a Fortune 200 company, told oil industry executives 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''. The oil and gas from this region currently moves northward towards European markets. According to Mr. Bob Todor, executive vice-president of Unocal, the company that is leading an international consortium to construct the central Asian pipeline through Afghanistan, ``Western Europe is a tough market. It is characterised by high prices for oil products, an aging population, and increasing competition from natural gas. Furthermore, the region is fiercely competitive''.
Among the many advantages of the Afghanistan route, according to Mr. Todor, is that it would terminate in the Arabian Sea, which is much closer than the Persian Gulf or northern China to key Asian markets. The pipeline becomes crucial for U.S. oil giants because it would allow them to sell their oil in an expanding and highly prospective Asian market. The profits here are viewed to be substantially higher than in the European market. But, the construction of this promising route can only begin if and when an internationally recognised Government is formed in Afghanistan.
This is the crux of the matter. Though the oil companies have the agreement of all warring groups in Afghanistan for the proposed pipeline, the situation is far from being comfortable. The bombing of U.S. Embassies in North Africa in 1998 allegedly by Osama bin Laden's terrorists and the U.S. retaliatory response and the consequent bombing of Afghanistan had created predictable complications. Even if the U.S. were to have succeeded in separating Osama bin Laden from the Taliban leadership and the Government, problems still continued with the uncertainty concerning the attitude of the Northern Alliance. The pipeline would have been an easy target to blow up by either side. Even threats could be used as instruments of blackmail by Afghan groups.
Hence, it becomes clear that to advance the interests of its oil majors and to establish effective control over the oil resources in the region, the U.S. requires a pliant Government in an unified Afghanistan. The proposal to bring back the ousted monarch, Zahir Shah, and the open patronage being provided by the U.S. to the Northern Alliance reflects this desire. Mr. Bush's candid admission that he had given the Taliban two weeks to hand over Osama bin Laden was also an effort to, once again, separate the two and to do business with the Taliban. This having failed, now the effort seems to be to install a pliant Government at the expense of destroying what remains of Afghanistan and possibly killing thousands of innocent people.
It is chilling to realise that it is such cold-blooded pursuit of economic interests and profits that defines U.S. maneouvres in the region and its attacks on Afghanistan. That all this should happen in the name of grieving the death of nearly 3000 innocent American lives is plain cruelty. The world today is being asked to side with the U.S. in a fight against global terrorism. This is only a cover. The world is being asked today, in reality, to side with the U.S. as it seeks to strengthen its economic hegemony. This is neither acceptable nor will be allowed. We must forge together to state that we are neither with the terrorists nor with the U.S.