by Eric Margolis
Did the US go to war with Afghanistan for Central Asian oil and gas? That's
what many readers keep asking me. They clearly distrust the White House's
jingoistic bombast about defending freedom and western values from evil
The answer: no and yes. The US attacked Afghanistan to exact revenge for the
11 Sept attacks on America. But it quickly occurred to former oil men George
Bush and Dick Cheney that retribution against Taliban and Osama bin Laden
offered a golden opportunity to expand American geopolitical influence into
South and Central Asia, scene of the world's latest gold rush, the Caspian Basin
The ex-Soviet states of Central Asia and the Caucasus- Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya
contain the world's most recently discovered major oil and gas deposits.
The world has ample oil today. Today, total global consumption is 60-70
million barrels. But, according to CIA estimates, when China and India reach
South Korea's current level of per capita energy use, within 30 years, their
combined oil demand will be 120 million barrels daily. In short, the major
powers will be locked in fierce competition for scare oil, with the Gulf and
Central Asia the focus of this rivalry.
Central Asia's oil and gas producers are landlocked. Their energy wealth
must be exported through long pipelines. Competition over potential pipeline
routes has become the 21st Century's geopolitical equivalent of the great power
race to build strategic railroads, a rivalry that helped spark World War I.
He who controls energy, controls the globe. The United States imports only
7% of its energy from the Mideast, but holds on to this vital region in order to
control the energy source of its European and Japanese allies.
Russia, the world's second largest oil exporter, wants Central Asian
resources to be transported across its territory. Iran, also an oil producer,
wants the energy pipelines to debouche at its ports, the shortest route. But
America's powerful Israel lobby has blocked Washington's efforts to deal with
The United States and Pakistan have long sought to build pipelines running
due south from Termez, Uzbekistan, to Kabul, Afghanistan, then down to
Pakistan's Arabian Sea ports, Karachi and Gwadar. Oilmen call this route, `the
new Silk Road,' after the fabled route used to export China's riches. But this
requires a stable, pro-western Afghanistan.
Iran has intrigued in Afghanistan since 1989 to keep that nation in
disorder, thus preventing rival Pakistan from building its long-sought
When Pakistan ditched its ally, Taliban, in September, and sided with the
US, Islamabad and Washington fully expected to implant a pro-American regime in
Kabul and open the way for the Pak-American pipeline. But this was not to be.
In a dazzling coup, Russian leader Vladimir Putin stole a march on the Bush
Administration, which was so busy trying to tear apart Afghanistan to find bin
Laden it failed to notice the Russians were taking over half the country.
The wily Russians achieved this victory through their proxy Afghan force,
the Northern Alliance. Moscow, which has sustained the Alliance since 1990,
re-armed it after 11 Sept with new tanks, armored vehicles, artillery,
helicopters, and trucks. The Alliance's two military leaders, Gen Rashid Dostam
and Gen Muhammed Fahim, were stalwarts of the old communist regime with close
links to KGB.
Putin put Chief of the Russian General Staff, Col. Gen. Viktor Kvashnin, and
the deputy director of KGB, in charge of the Alliance. During the Balkan
fighting in 1999, the hard-charging Kvashnin outfoxed the US by seizing
Prishtina's airfield, thus assuring a permanent Russian role in Kosovo.
Now, he's done it again. To the fury of Washington and Islamabad, in a coup
de main, Kvashnin rushed the Northern Alliance into Kabul, in direct
contravention of Bush's dictates. The Alliance is now Afghanistan's dominant
force, and, heedless of multi-party political talks in Germany this week, styles
itself the new `lawful' government, a claim fully backed by Moscow.
The Russians have regained influence over Afghanistan, revenged their defeat
by the US in the 1980's war, and neatly checkmated the Bush Administration
which, for all its high-tech military power, understood little about
America's ouster of the Taliban regime meant Pakistan lost its former
influence over Afghanistan and is now cut off from Central Asia's resources. So
long as the Alliance holds power, the US is equally denied access to the much
coveted Caspian Basin. Russia has regained control of the best potential
pipeline routes. The `new Silk Road' will become a Russian energy super-highway.
By charging like an enraged bull into the South Asian china shop, the US
handed a stunning geopolitical victory to the Russians and severely damaged its
own great power ambitions. Moscow is now free to continue plans to dominate
South and Central Asia in concert with its strategic allies, India and Iran.
The Bush Administration does not appear to understand its enormous blunder,
and keeps insisting, `but the Russians are now our friends.' The president
should try to understand that where oil is concerned, there are no friends, only
competitors and enemies.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster,
and author of the just released War
at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and
Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]
["What causes the documented high level of civilian casualties -- 3,000 -
3,400 (October 7, 2001 thru March 2002) civilian deaths -- in the U.S. air
war upon Afghanistan? The explanation is the apparent willingness of U.S.
military strategists to fire missiles into and drop bombs upon, heavily
populated areas of Afghanistan."--Marc W. Herold, "A Dossier on
Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan,"
Copyright © 2001 Eric Margolis - All Rights