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What's Behind the War in Afghanistan?

The Facts Behind the War in Afghanistan
[SLP] Behind the War in Afghanistan



VOL. 111 NO. 8


for the war in AFGHANISTAN?

By Diane Secor

The Bush administration has told the American public to prepare for a

long war on terrorism, ostensibly in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on

the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There seems to be a general

consensus among the administration, most members of Congress and most of

the U.S. media that the U.S. role in this war is a clear-cut case of

self-defense and that violence is necessary to prevent more terrorist

strikes on U.S. soil. For all intents and purposes, however, the "war on

terrorism" is a war on Afghanistan, and there is substantial evidence

indicating that an Afghan war was planned several months ago and that,

in reality, this is another war over oil.

Last March, long before Sept. 11, Jane's International Security News

reported on an agreement that had all the earmarks of a multinational

coalition aimed at undermining the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. "India

is believed to have joined Russia, the U.S.A. and Iran in a concerted

front against Afghanistan's Taliban regime," Jane's reported. "India is

believed to have supplied the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmed Shah

Massoud, with high-altitude warfare equipment. Indian defense advisors,

including air force helicopter technicians, are reportedly providing

tactical advice in operations against the Taliban....Military sources

indicated that Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are being used as bases to

launch anti-Taliban operations by India and Russia."

In short, something resembling the multinational coalition so much in

the news since Sept. 11 has been in place for at least six months.

Furthermore, this pre-September coalition also had a basic strategy in

place to throw out the Taliban. This certainly calls into question the

U.S. media's clear overall implication that it was only after Sept. 11

that a multinational force banded together and concluded that the

Taliban had to be replaced.

The following statement from Jane's March 15 report is even more

revealing: "Several recent meetings between the newly instituted

Indo-U.S. and Indo-Russian joint working groups on terrorism led to this

effort to tactically and logistically counter the Taliban. Intelligence

sources in Delhi said that while India, Russia and Iran were leading the

anti-Taliban campaign on the ground, Washington was giving the Northern

Alliance information and logistic support."

Why does the United States want to overthrow the Taliban and put another

Afghan regime in power? Why is Bush taking the risk of a larger regional

war and possibly igniting future terrorist attacks against Americans?

Zalmay Khalilzad may hold the key to unraveling this mystery.

According to a May 23 White House press release, Khalilzad was selected

for the post of "special assistant to the president and senior director

for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues, National Security


Khalilzad does have the political connections to get the job. Eli J.

Lake, United Press International, on Jan. 18 reported that Khalilzad

"who served under President Reagan's State Department and President

Bush's Pentagon and influenced the last American adventure in [the]

region when the CIA helped ship surface-to-air missiles to the

mujaheddin, the holy warriors who fought against the Soviets. Khalilzad

now finds himself in a position to influence the next administration's

policy for cleaning up the mess created by the mujaheddin's struggle in

the 1980s, as the man in charge of staffing the Pentagon for the

Bush-Cheney transition team."

Interestingly, according to the Center for Strategic International

Studies' Washington Quarterly, Winter 2000, Khalilzad's Afghan policy

seemed to fit right in with the scenario outlined in the Jane's report.

He "argue[d] in no uncertain terms for supporting the Pashtun majority

in Afghanistan to roll back the Taliban government and working

'discreetly' with Iran and Russia to destabilize the government in


However, as recently as 1999, Khalilzad favored some degree of

"engagement," as opposed to "destabilization" of the Taliban regime. In

a white paper for the House International Relations Committee, he said

that "U.S. policy toward Afghanistan should follow two parallel and

complementary tracks, one of which extends a hand to the Taliban and the

other of which prepares for a much tougher policy should the Taliban

reject U.S. overtures."

What accounts for Khalilzad's change of heart? UPI also reported that he

is "an analyst for the Rand Corp. and before that the chief consultant

for Unocal, the oil company that sought to build a pipeline through


The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA)

issued a September document on Afghanistan which noted the stormy

relationship between the Taliban and Unocal affecting two pipelines that

Unocal had planned to construct through Afghanistan:

A $2 billion Central Asian Gas Pipeline would have transported natural

gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, then be "linked with Pakistan's

natural gas grid at Sui." In June 1998, the consortium consisted of

these firms: "Unocal and Saudi Arabia's Delta Oil held a combined 85

percent stake in Centgas, while Turkmenrusgas owned 5 percent. Other

participants in the proposed project besides Delta Oil include the

Crescent Group of Pakistan, Gazprom of Russia, Hyundai Engineering &

Construction Co. of South Korea, Inpex and Itochu of Japan."

"Besides the gas pipeline," the EIA added, "Unocal also had considered

building a 1,000-mile, 1-million barrel-per-day...capacity oil pipeline

that would link Chardzou, Turkmenistan to Pakistan's Arabian Sea Coast

via Afghanistan. Since the Chardzou refinery is already linked to

Russia's Western Siberian oil fields, this line could provide a possible

alternative export route for regional oil production from the Caspian

Sea. The $2.5 billion pipeline is known as the Central Asian Oil

Pipeline Project. For a variety of reasons, including high political

risk and security concerns, however, financing for this project remains

highly uncertain."

In January 1998, Unocal and the Taliban hammered out the gas pipeline

agreement. But by the end of 1998, both of the pipeline deals collapsed

and the Unocal consortium gave up on working with the Taliban regime. It

then became increasingly clear that the Taliban were an obstacle to gas

and oil flowing through Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, Khalilzad took a

more "hard line" position on the Taliban.

If this story of another war over oil and natural gas deposits begins to

sound like a "broken record," it is because the history of capitalism is

filled with these cases. In the pursuit of new markets and raw

materials, the risks of war and terrorist acts are the rule, not the

exception. Nationalistic fervor and an understandable tendency to panic

when the trauma of terrorism hits so close to home often obscure these

basic realities. But workers who are aware of the real causes of this

war will not be hoodwinked.

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