The oil behind Bush and Son's campaigns

The oil behind Bush and Son's campaigns

By Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI - Just as the Gulf War in 1991 was all about oil, the new

conflict in South and Central Asia is no less about access to the 


abundant petroleum resources, according to Indian analysts.

"US influence and military presence in Afghanistan and the Central 


states, not unlike that over the oil-rich Gulf states, would be a major

strategic gain," said V R Raghavan, a strategic analyst and former 


in the Indian army. Raghavan believes that the prospect of a western

military presence in a region extending from Turkey to Tajikistan could

not have escaped strategists who are now readying a military campaign

aimed at changing the political order in Afghanistan, accused by the

United States of harboring Osama bin Laden.

Where the "great game" in Afghanistan was once about czars and 


seeking access to the warm water ports of the Persian Gulf, today it is

about laying oil and gas pipelines to the untapped petroleum reserves 


Central Asia. According to testimony before the US House of

Representatives in March 1999 by the conservative think tank Heritage

Foundation, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan 


have 15 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. The same countries also

have proven gas deposits totaling not less than nine trillion cubic

meters. Another study by the Institute for Afghan Studies placed the 


worth of oil and gas reserves in the Central Asian republics at around

US$3 trillion at last year's prices.

Not only can Afghanistan play a role in hosting pipelines connecting

Central Asia to international markets, but the country itself has

significant oil and gas deposits. During the Soviets' decade-long

occupation of Afghanistan, Moscow estimated Afghanistan's proven and

probable natural gas reserves at around five trillion cubic feet and

production reached 275 million cubic feet per day in the mid-1970s. But

sabotage by anti-Soviet mujahideen (freedom fighters) and by rival 


in the civil war that followed Soviet withdrawal in 1989 virtually 


down gas production and ended deals for the supply of gas to several

European countries.

Major Afghan natural gas fields awaiting exploitation include Jorqaduq,

Khowaja, Gogerdak, and Yatimtaq, all of which are located within 9

kilometers of the town of Sheberghan in northrern Jowzjan province.

Natural gas production and distribution under Afghanistan's Taliban 


is the responsibility of the Afghan Gas Enterprise which, in 1999, 


repair of a pipeline to Mazar-i-Sharif city. Afghanistan's proven and

probable oil and condensate reserves were placed at 95 million barrels 


the Soviets. So far, attempts to exploit Afghanistan's petroleum 


or take advantage of its unique geographical location as a crossroads 


markets in Europe and South Asia have been thwarted by the continuing

civil strife.

In 1998, the California-based UNOCAL, which held 46.5 percent stakes in

Central Asia Gas (CentGas), a consortium that planned an ambitious gas

pipeline across Afghanistan, withdrew in frustration after several

fruitless years. The pipeline was to stretch 1,271km from 


Dauletabad fields to Multan in Pakistan at an estimated cost of $1.9

billion. An additional $600 million would have brought the pipeline to

energy-hungry India.

Energy experts in India, such as R K Pachauri, who heads the Tata 


Research Institute (TERI), have long been urging the country's planners 


ensure access to petroleum products from the Central Asian republics, 


which New Delhi has traditionally maintained good relations. Other

partners in CentGas included the Saudi Arabian Delta Oil Company, the

Government of Turkmenistan, Indonesia Petroleum (INPEX), the Japanese

ITOCHU, Korean Hyundai and Pakistan's Crescent Group.

According to observers, one problem is the uncertainty over who the

beneficiaries in Afghanistan would be - the opposition Northern 


the Taliban, the Afghan people or indeed, whether any of these would

benefit at all. But the immediate reason for UNOCAL's withdrawal was

undoubtedly the US cruise missile attacks on Osama bin Laden's 


training camps in Afghanistan in August 1998, done in retaliation for 


bombing of its embassies in Africa. UNOCAL then stated that the project

would have to wait until Afghanistan achieved the "peace and stability

necessary to obtain financing from international agencies and a 


that is recognized by the United States and the United Nations".

The "coalition against terrorism" that US President George W Bush is

building now is the first opportunity that has any chance of making

UNOCAL's wish come true. If the coalition succeeds, Raghavan said, it 


the potential of "reconfiguring substantially the energy scenarios for 


21st century".

(Inter Press Service)


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