18 June 2012

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Was an Oil Pipeline Behind the War in Afghanistan?

To a great many outside observers, both partial and impartial, it seems that former American President George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ was little more than a smokescreen for a motive that had less to do with systematically dismantling the world’s foremost terrorist organisations and more to do with securing a new source of natural oil and gas to alleviate the perceived monopoly on fuel exports currently enjoyed by Russia and the Middle East. The theorists who believe that the war in Afghanistan is based more upon economic and commercial principles than humanitarian crusading make much of the fact that they see the discovery of important oil and gas reserves in Central Asia as more than a coincidental factor for America’s interest in Afghanistan.  

The problem of bringing Central Asian oil to the global market
Afghanistan itself has little to offer in the way of fossil fuels, but its neighbours to the north - Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – have rich oil and gas fields ripe for extraction and export to the world’s markets. The most economic route for transportation of oil from these areas is a pipeline south, through Afghanistan and to Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast. The interest of a number of American oil companies, and specifically the Unocal Corporation became apparent in the late 1990s.

The problem, for those who subscribe to the theory of oil economics as America’s prime motivation for war in Afghanistan, was that it would be impossible for the construction of such a pipeline to be carried out whilst Afghanistan lacked a unified and pro-American government. At the time, the Taliban – under the leadership of Osama bin Laden – was the governing faction of Afghanistan’s northern territory. Negotiation with the Taliban, criticised for funding terrorism and harvesting opium, was clearly not a viable way forward for American oil companies. How convenient then, argue the theorists, that the removal of the Taliban forces as part of the ‘War on Terror’ would also resolve the ‘difficulties’ of routing an oil pipeline through northern Afghanistan.

Is an oil pipeline really sufficient justification for war?
At face value, those who believe that an oil pipeline was behind the war in Afghanistan seem to have a fair point. But deep-rooted historical, political and religious complexities mean that the issue is not as clear-cut as the oil-economics theorists like to believe. On closer inspection, there are flaws exist in the argument that the war in Afghanistan was purely to facilitate the construction of an oil pipeline. For example, given the political instability that remains in Afghanistan despite, or perhaps because of, the deposition of Osama bin Laden exactly how likely is it that the country will ever have a unified government that would ally with the West? The vehemence of American defence policy since 9/11 has been viewed by many in the Middle East and Central Asia not merely as a war on terror, but as a war on the Muslim faith.

Clearly, the institution of long-term pro-American governance is likely to be virtually impossible. And given that there are alternative and potentially more stable routes via which oil and gas could be piped from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan which would avoid Afghanistan and its problems, why would America commit so strongly to this particular solution that it would consider going to war over it? As one commentator pointed out, surely an unprecedented act of warfare such as the destruction of the financial headquarters and attempted destruction of the military headquarters of a country, with the associated loss of civilian lives, is sufficient impetus to launch large-scale military retaliation against the aggressor irrespective of any secondary economic concerns?

In the current global financial climate, economic and political gain will inevitably form a significant part of any foreign policy, but accumulated evidence rather than speculation and conjecture is required to conclusively prove that a proposed oil pipeline was behind the war in Afghanistan.

About today's Guest Writer:

John is a freelance writer in the UK who works for Blockbusters

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