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Peace With Taliban? commerce

Posted by The Agonist on March 14th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Commerce: Brzezinski wrote, “the most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from Eurasia or even to diminish significantly its decisive arbitration role.” (The Grand Chessboard)

The Soviet Union collapse in 1991 created several new nations around the Caspian Sea. Major US oil companies, including Exxon, Mobil, Texaco, Unocal, BP Amoco, Shell and Enron, invested billions in these Central Asian nations, bribing heads of state to secure equity rights in the huge oil reserves. US companies owned approximately 75% of the rights. However, Russia owned the pipelines and could control the quantity and price of transporting the oil. (New Yorker 7/9/01, Asia Times 1/26/02)

The natural route for pipelines would be across Iran but the US had a muddled history with Iran. In 1946, the Soviet presence in Iran convinced Truman that the Soviets planned to use Iran for expansion and asked the UN to intervene. “Unless Russia is faced with an iron fist and strong language another war is in the making,” Truman wrote. March 1947, Truman stated to Congress, “I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The policy came to be known as the Truman Doctrine. (PBS The American Experience;

Eisenhower gave Iran its first nuclear materials and encouraged Iran to develop nuclear energy as part of his “Atoms for Peace” project. Eisenhower also undermined Iran’s democratically elected president and installed the Shah on the throne. It was that last act that was remembered by the rebels who overthrew the tyrannical Shah and took those in the US Embassy hostage. Carter attempted to negotiate the release of the hostages but refused to sell Iran weapons because it was illegal; Iran had been declared a state sponsor of terror. Reagan agreed to the arms sale through Israel but also supplied Iraq, that had attacked Iran, with weapons including agents necessary for making Weapons of Mass Destruction. Iraq used WMD created from agents supplied by the US to kill Iranian soldiers and Iraqi Kurds. (New York Times, 8/18/02; 1994 Report by the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; General Accounting Office, 2/7/94; Washington Post 12/30/02; National Security Archive, 2003).

Many of the arms to Iran went to Hezbollah that subsequently blew up the US Embassy in Beirut and a former hotel housing Marines killing more than 240 of them, the highest one day death toll of Marines since Iwo Jima. Hezbollah was also linked to kidnappings, the bombing of the Embassy annex, and hijacking of a TWA airliner in Beirut. Those acts and Hezbollah attacks on Israel exacerbated relations between the US and Iran. Iran’s grievance, beyond the overthrow of its government, was Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorism inside Iran.Some of those terrorists had been recruited, trained and equipped by Reagan.

The story of two US corporations, Enron and Unocal. both with offices in Texas, will illustrate the difficulty of dealing with the Taliban.

The Indian government approved construction of Enron’s Dabhol liquified natural gas power plant, near Mumbai on the coast of India. Enron’s $3 billion was the largest single foreign investment in India’s history and bought 65% of the world’s largest power plant, intended to provide one-fifth of India’s energy needs by 1997. (India Express 2/27/00; Asia Times 1/18/00) The World Bank believed the plant was “not economically viable” and refused to invest in it. (New York Times 3/20/01)

1996, Uzbekistan signed a deal with Enron “that could lead to joint development of the Central Asian nation’s potentially rich natural gas fields.” (Houston Chronicle, 6/25/96) The $1.3 billion venture teamed Enron and the state companies of Russia and Uzbekistan. (Houston Chronicle, 6/30/96) The US government gave $400 million to help Enron develop the natural gas fields. (Oil & Gas Journal, 7/8/96)

In 1995 the Indian government temporarily cancelled the Dahbol agreement. Kenneth Lay and US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown went to India backed with lobbying by other US officials. Summer 2001, the National Security Council formed a “Dabhol Working Group” with officials from various cabinet agencies to get the plant completed and functioning. US pressure on India intensified until shortly before Enron filed for bankruptcy in December 2001. US officials claimed their lobbying supported the $640 million the US government had already invested in the project. Critics claimed that the plant received unusually strong support from both Clinton and Bush. (New York Daily News, 1/18/02); Washington Post (1/19/02)

1998, Enron’s agreement to develop natural gas with Uzbekistan was not renewed. Enron closed its office there. The reason for the “failure of Enron’s flagship project” was an inability to get the natural gas out of the region. “Uzbekistan is extremely concerned at the growing strength of the Taliban and its potential impact on stability in Uzbekistan, making any future cooperation on a pipeline project which benefits the Taliban unlikely.” (Alexander’s Gas & Oil Connections 10/12/98)

12/2/01 Enron filed for bankruptcy—the biggest bankruptcy in history at that time, (BBC 1/10/02) and in 2002 reorganized as a pipeline company that would continue work on its controversial Dabhol power plant. (Houston Business Journal, 3/15/02) Associated Press reported that Enron bribed Taliban officials for a pipeline deal in Afghanistan.” Atul Davda, a senior director in Enron’s International Division stated, “Enron had intimate contact with Taliban officials.” In 1997, Enron executives met with Taliban officials in Texas. They were “given the red-carpet treatment and promised a fortune if the deal (went) through.” According to a CIA source, “Enron proposed to pay the Taliban large sums of money in a ‘tax’ on every cubic foot of gas and oil shipped through a pipeline they planned to build.” This source claimed Enron paid more than $400 million for a feasibility study on the pipeline and “a large portion of that cost was pay-offs to the Taliban.” Enron continued to court the Taliban even after Unocal officially gave up on the pipeline in the wake of the African embassy bombings. An investigation after Enron’s collapse in 2001 determined that some of this pay-off money ended up funding al-Qaeda. (AP, 3/7/02)

In 1996, Unocal was given permission by Taliban for the pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. Other interested companies were Amoco, BP, Chevron, Exxon and Mobile. (Frankfurter Rundschau 10/96)Unocal was hopeful that the Taliban would stabilize Afghanistan and allow its pipeline plans to go forward. According to some reports, “preliminary agreement (on the pipeline) was reached between the (Taliban and Unocal) long before the fall of Kabul .… Oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.” (Daily Telegraph UK,10/11/96)

The Wall Street Journal reported (5/23/97), “Like them or not the Taliban are the players most capable of achieving peace in Afghanistan.” The New York Times reported (5/26/97), “The Clinton Administration has taken the view that a Taliban victory…would offer the possibility of new trade routes that could weaken Russian and Iranian influence in the region.”

Halliburton, a company headed by future Vice President Dick Cheney, announced a new agreement to provide technical services and drilling for Turkmenistan. The press release stated, “Halliburton has been providing a variety of services in Turkmenistan for the past five years.” On the same day, a consortium to build a pipeline through Afghanistan was formed. Called CentGas, the two main partners were Unocal and Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia. (Halliburton, 10/27/97; Centgas, 10/17/97)

December 1997, representatives of the Taliban came to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. The Taliban seemed to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but only if the US officially recognized the Taliban regime. According to the Daily Telegraph UK(12/2/01) “the US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban’s policies against women and children ‘despicable,’ appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract.” A BBC reporter said that “the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.” (BBC,12/4/97) The 9/11 Commission concluded that some State Department diplomats were willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might bring stability to Afghanistan and allow the pipeline to be built.

Henry Kissinger, a Unocal consultant, called the agreement “a triumph of hope over experience.” (Washington Post, 10/5/98) Taliban hired Leili Helms, niece of Richard Helms former director of the CIA, as their PR representative in Washington. (Inter Press Service 11/16/ 01) Another Unocal adviser, Zalmay Khalilzad, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post supporting the Taliban regime. “It is time for the United States to reengage.…The Taliban does not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran-it is closer to the Saudi model.” The US should help the Taliban “put Afghanistan on a path toward peace.” Violence “has been a source of regional instability and an obstacle to building pipelines to bring Central Asian oil and gas to Pakistan and the world markets.” (Washington Post, 10/7/96) Khalilzad was an official in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, worked under Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and was a member of the Project for the New American Century. Other members were Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.

The Asia Times noted (12/25/03), “It was Khalilzad-when he was a huge Taliban fan-who conducted the risk analysis for Unocal” regarding the pipeline. Khalilzad later turned against the Taliban and after 9/11 was appointed as special envoy to Afghanistan, and US ambassador to Afghanistan. A London Times article (10/5/04) was titled: “US Envoy Accused of Being the Power Pulling Karzai’s Strings.” BBC reported (4/6/05) that Khalilzad was accused of “frequently overshadowing President Karzai… No major decisions by the Afghan government (are) made without his involvement.”

Unocal Vice President of International Relations John J. Maresca (later to become a Special Ambassador to Afghanistan) testified before the House of Representatives that Unocal’s pipeline would extend across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean and suggested that with the pipeline the Caspian basin could produce 20 percent of all the non-OPEC oil in the world by 2010. However, he warned, “It’s not going to be built until there is a single Afghanistan Government.” (US Congress, 2/12/98)

August 1998, The Northern Alliance capital was captured by the Taliban with the support of Pakistan’s ISI. An intercepted message of an ISI officer stated, “My boys and I are riding into Mazar-i-Sharif.” (New York Times/12/8/01) Taliban controlled 90% of Afghanistan, including the proposed pipeline route. However, the pipeline could not be financed unless the Taliban government was officially recognized. “Diplomatic sources said the Taliban’s offensive was well prepared and deliberately scheduled two months ahead of the next UN meeting” where members were to decide whether the Taliban should be recognized. (Daily Telegraph UK, 8/13/98.) Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia recognized the regime. Clinton refused diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, making business there legally problematic. (New York Times, 12/5/98)

Major sources for this report are: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000, by Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph UK, and The War on Freedom, Tree of Life Publication, 2002, by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development UK.

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