Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

The other side of US strategy in Afghanistan


The other side of US strategy in Afghanistan

By 1989, it became very clear that Soviet forces residing in Afghanistan would leave the country due to reasons more than one. The new situation created power vacuum in Central Asia prevailed with the disintegration of Soviet Union and feuding among the ruling Mujahideen in Afghanistan. At the juncture, the United States of America was lured by the prospects of controlling the oil and natural gas resources of Central Asia as well as being right next to the underbelly of Russia and China. Now the US oil giants were pushed by the US government for humouring the Taliban to access the Central Asian oil and gas through pipelines that would touch the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lures of financial gains and strategic needs combined to make the whole region very important for outside powers. Central Asian leaders became obsessed with projected pipelines, potential routes and the geopolitics that surrounded them, which led some of them like Turkmenistan to deal even with the Taliban regime. The new US game started in the early 1990s especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
US economic interests in the region
The energy and other resources of Central Asia attracted major regional and international powers. During the cold war days the US had been romancing religious Jihadi groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were important to position US multinationals favourably, to control the considerable resources of the region and to complete the encirclement of the world’s major energy resources in the area. After the Soviet collapse, the United States sought to harness these groups to serve US geopolitical interests in energy–rich Central Asia. In between 1994-96, the CIA–ISI nexus and its arms pipeline marginalised more traditional tribal–based parties and moderated leadership in Afghanistan and catapulted the radical Islamists into the forefront of Afghan civil war.The US was not reluctant to forceful intervention, if deemed appropriate to achieve its interests. The region, although could not compare with West Asia in terms of reserves, it was attractive to exploration and production (E&P). For instance, Turkmenistan, which borders the northwest of Afghanistan, holds the world’s third largest gas reserves and have an estimated six billion barrels of oil reserves. Enough, experts say, to meet American energy needs for the next thirty years.
In mid-1990s, in particular, America showed keen interest in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia, which was estimated to have 200 billion barrels of untapped oil. The American oil giants–Enron and Unocal had been known for their interest in Caspian Sea region projects and were negotiating with the Taliban for permission to construct an oil pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and out to the Arabian Sea. Enron had carried out a feasibility study for pipeline from Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the border of Malta for bringing this oil to the market. In December 1997, a delegation of Taliban mullahs travelled to America and even met US State Department officials. George William Bush and Dick Cheney have both worked with oil business and have close ties with major corporations in the oil sector. Consumer countries in Europe, the US and Japan are already dependent on the Saudi-dominated Middle East Oil Producing European Countries (OPEC) suppliers for 40 per cent of the world demand for crude oil. The dependence on a single region will be dangerous for the US and her allies in the years to come. Thus, tapping in to the reserves in the Caspian Sea region was viewed as a strategic goal to meet the growing energy demand and to reduce the US dependence on oil from the Middle East. Then it is natural for the US to turn her attention to the only alternative major source of ‘boundless’ supply in Central Asia.
Taliban regime and its aftereffects
In between chaos and uncertainty, the Taliban regime commenced in 1996 and at the time the US government did not criticise it, rather a State Department spokesperson told reporters that there was “nothing objectionable” about the Taliban’s coming to power.  In fact the US hoped that the Taliban would provide stability. They were expected to provide security for roads and, potentially oil and gas pipelines that would link the states of Central Asia to the international market through Pakistan rather than through Iran. Between 1994 and 1997, the US was supporting the Taliban in the sense that it was allowing Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, its two allies in the region, to back the Taliban. This was because the US and US oil companies were interested in building oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia across Afghanistan, through Pakistan to the Gulf. In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement that would allow a proposed natural gas pineline project led by Unocal oil company of the US. For the realisation of other projects the US financed and encouraged the Taliban through its surrogates in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. At that time the US was least bothered about the human rights record of the Taliban.
The victory of Taliban in Afghanistan opened a new chapter in its history. During Taliban’s days in power another version of the great game was being played–there were efforts to create a world of fundamentalist Islam. Both state and non-state actors for mutual advantage used religion. The interests of Pakistan and the fundamentalist groups converged. The world that was to be created in this region would provide mutual depth to both fundamentalist Islam and Pakistan and other states that were willing to be integrated to this project. The key to this project however lay in converting Central Asia into a zone of instability and religious fundamentalism. In the calculation of religious radicals and their backers, Central Asia with vast resources like oil and natural gas, uranium and other rare metals was critical to their global plan. This apart, the nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism in the golden crescent became a major reason for political and social instability in the region. Afghanistan during the last decade emerged as the second largest producer of drugs in the world. From a relatively modest level of around 200-300 tons in 1979, opium production in that country went up to 4,500 tons by 1999. This gave the Taliban government enormous financial benefits that went to training, arming and campaign of the militant groups. The attempt of religious forces has been to identify nation with religion.
US hopes belied and terror attacks intensified
However, the US dislikes towards the Taliban began only when they realised that Taliban could not be a dependable instrument for the realisation of their interests in Central Asia. As early as 1997 Madeleine Albright was already publicly expressing her distaste for the Taliban. It indicated that an influential section in and out of the US government were becoming convinced that the Taliban were not going to deliver what was required of them. Further the US-Taliban relationship went into some rough waters after the bombing of US embassies in Africa in August 1998. In retaliation the US attacked on Sudan and Afghanistan. The attacks on US embassies were allegedly organised by Osama bin Laden.
After the event of 9/11 the US attitude towards international terrorism emanating from Afghanistan changed dramatically and it successfully led the campaign to oust Taliban from power and destroy terrorist training centres. The fate of Taliban was finally sealed the day terrorists bombed the World Trade Centre building and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. In response to the attack the war in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001 and this marked the beginning of US’s campaign known as the “War on Terrorism”.

Rajkumar Singh is Professor and the Head of P.G.Department of Political Science in BNMU, West, Bihar, India.

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