TAPI-ing Around Afghanistan: The Great Energy Game

Via The Progressive Review, an detailed history of the West’s recent involvement in Afghanistan and why it has likely been driven by a new round of the Great Game … over oil.  As the article notes:

“…A glance at a map and a little knowledge of the region suggest that the real reasons for Western military involvement may be largely hidden.

Afghanistan is adjacent to Middle Eastern countries that are rich in oil and natural gas. And though Afghanistan may have little petroleum itself, it borders both Iran and Turkmenistan, countries with the second and third largest natural gas reserves in the world. (Russia is first.)

Turkmenistan is the country nobody talks about. Its huge reserves of natural gas can only get to market through pipelines. Until 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union and its gas flowed only north through Soviet pipelines. Now the Russians plan a new pipeline north. The Chinese are building a new pipeline east. The U.S. is pushing for “multiple oil and gas export routes.” High-level Russian, Chinese and American delegations visit Turkmenistan frequently to discuss energy. The U.S. even has a special envoy for Eurasian energy diplomacy.

Rivalry for pipeline routes and energy resources reflects competition for power and control in the region. Pipelines are important today in the same way that railway building was important in the 19th century. They connect trading partners and influence the regional balance of power. Afghanistan is a strategic piece of real estate in the geopolitical struggle for power and dominance in the region.

Since the 1990s, Washington has promoted a natural gas pipeline south through Afghanistan. The route would pass through Kandahar province. In 2007, Richard Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of state, said: “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan,” and to link South and Central Asia “so that energy can flow to the south.” Oil and gas have motivated U.S. involvement in the Middle East for decades. Unwittingly or willingly, Canadian forces are supporting American goals.

The proposed pipeline is called TAPI, after the initials of the four participating countries (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India). Eleven high-level planning meetings have been held during the past seven years, with Asian Development Bank sponsorship and multilateral support (including Canada’s). Construction is planned to start next year. . .

Ukraine is the main gateway for gas from Russia to Europe. The United States has pushed for alternate pipelines and encouraged European countries to diversify their sources of supply. Recently built pipelines for oil and gas originate in Azerbaijan and extend through Georgia to Turkey. They are the jewels in the crown of U.S. strategy to bypass Russia and Iran.

The rivalry continues with plans for new gas pipelines to Europe from Russia and the Caspian region. . . Meanwhile, Iran is planning a pipeline to deliver gas east to Pakistan and India. Pakistan has agreed in principle, but India has yet to do so. It’s an alternative to the long-planned, U.S.-supported pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.

A very big game is underway, with geopolitics intruding everywhere. U.S. journalist Steven LeVine describes American policy in the region as “pipeline-driven.” Other countries are pushing for pipeline routes, too. . .


Peter Symonds, Bangkok Post, 2002 – A little publicized agreement signed in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad has highlighted once again the real motives behind the US military intervention into Afghanistan – access to and domination of Central Asian oil and gas. The deal between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan establishes the basis for construction of a $1.9 billion pipeline from the Turkmen natural gas fields at Daulatabad through to the south-western Pakistani port of Gawadar. A parallel oil pipeline as well as road and rail connections are also being considered, along with processing facilities at Gawadar to enable the shipment of liquefied gas. All three leaders – new Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov – anticipate substantial benefits from the project. War ravaged Afghanistan is hoping to garner at least $100 million a year in government revenue from transit fees and to create up to 10,000 jobs in the construction and maintenance of the pipeline and associated industries. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have already indicated backing for the project.
The lion’s share of the profits, however, will not go to the three countries but to the transnational energy giants that have been scrambling for ways to exploit the huge oil and gas reserves in Central Asia – the world’s second largest after the Middle East. . .

Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney’s ties to the US oil industry are well known, but the connections do not stop there. Bush’s special envoy to Afghanistan is Zalmay Khalilzad, also a key adviser to the National Security Council. In the mid-1990s, Khalilzad was the Unocal consultant hired to push through the pipeline project in Afghanistan. Ten days after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in 1996, he wrote a comment in the Washington Post extolling the virtues of the pipeline for Afghanistan. But he added, referring to the Taliban: “These projects will only go forward if Afghanistan has a single authoritative government.”. . .

Most of the major energy giants including Chevron Texaco, Exxon Mobil, BP and Halliburton have invested substantial sums in the region. Over the last five years, total US investment in Central Asia has risen from incidental sums to $20 billion, with the largest amounts destined for oil-rich Kazakhstan. And while it pays lip service to the “war on terrorism”, [A recent article in Business Week] pointed to the underlying purpose of the US military presence: “What is fast evolving is a policy focused on guns and oil. The guns are to protect the local regimes from Islamic radicals and to provide a staging area for attacks on Afghanistan. . . The guns, of course, will also protect the oil _ oil that Washington hopes will lessen the West’s dependence on the Persian Gulf and also lift the nations of the Caucasus and Central Asia out of their grinding poverty.”

BBC, 2002: Afghanistan hopes to strike a deal later this month to build a $2 billion pipeline through the country to take gas from energy-rich Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India. Afghan interim ruler Hamid Karzai is to hold talks with his Pakistani and Turkmenistan counterparts later this month on Afghanistan’s biggest foreign investment project, said Mohammad Alim Razim, minister for Mines and Industries told Reuters. “The work on the project will start after an agreement is expected to be struck at the coming summit,” Mr Razim said. The construction of the 850-kilometre pipeline had been previously discussed between Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime, US oil company Unocal and Bridas of Argentina. The project was abandoned after the US launched missile attacks on Afghanistan in 1999. Mr Razim said US energy company Unocal was the “lead company” among those that would build the pipeline, which would bring 30bn cubic meters of Turkmen gas to market annually. Unocal – which led a consortium of companies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Japan and South Korea – has maintained the project is both economically and technically feasible once Afghan stability was secured. “Unocal is not involved in any projects (including pipelines) in Afghanistan, nor do we have any plans to become involved, nor are we discussing any such projects,” a spokesman told BBC News Online.

Daniel Fisher Forbes, 2002 – It has been called the pipeline from hell, to hell, through hell. It’s a 1,270-kilometer conduit, 1.2 meters in diameter, that would snake across Afghanistan to carry natural gas from eastern Turkmenistan-with 700 billion cubic meters of proven reserves-to energy-hungry Pakistan and beyond. Unocal of the U.S. and Bridas Petroleum of Argentina vied for the $1.9 billion project in the 1990s. Now, with the collapse of the Taliban, oil executives are suddenly talking again about building it. “It is absolutely essential that the U.S. make the pipeline the centerpiece of rebuilding Afghanistan,” says S. Rob Sobhani, a professor of foreign relations at Georgetown University and the head of Caspian Energy Consulting. The State Department thinks it’s a great idea, too. Routing the gas through Iran would be avoided, and Central Asian republics wouldn’t have to ship through Russian pipelines.

Larry Chin Online Journal, 2002 – For years, Enron (along with Unocal, BP Amoco, Exxon, Mobil, Pennzoil, Atlantic Richfield, Chevron, Texaco, and other oil companies) has been involved in a multi-billion dollar frenzy to extract the reserves of the three former Soviet republics, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. . . According to Alexander’s Oil & Gas Connections, Enron signed a contract in 1996, giving it rights to explore 11 gas fields in Uzbekistan, a project costing $1.3 billion. The goal was to sell gas to the Russian markets, and link to Unocal’s southern export pipeline crossing Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. . . Enron recently conducted feasibility studies for a $2.5 billion trans-Caspian gas pipeline to be built jointly with General Electric and Bechtel. Enron’s goal was to link this pipeline to another line through Afghanistan.

As described in many accounts, notably the recently published “Osama Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth” by Jean Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasique, a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) consortium led by Unocal had plans for a 1,005 mile oil pipeline and a 918 mile natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. This project stalled because of the political instability in Afghanistan.

Former Unocal lobbyist Hamid Karzai now heads a bombed and gutted Afghanistan. Bush’s US envoy is Zalmay Khalizad, another former Unocal representative, who helped draw up the plans for the original CentGas pipeline. . . If Enron had not made the mistake of collapsing, Kenneth Lay and his team would be in the thick of it. MORE

Ranjit Devraj, Asia Times, 2002 – Where the “great game” in Afghanistan was once about czars and commissars 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 of Central Asia . . . “US influence and military presence in Afghanistan and the Central Asian 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 general 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 . . . [A] study by the Institute for Afghan Studies placed the total 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 . . . According to observers, one problem is the uncertainty over who the beneficiaries in Afghanistan would be – the opposition Northern Alliance, the Taliban, the Afghan people or indeed, whether any of these would benefit at all . . . 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 has the potential of “reconfiguring substantially the energy scenarios for the 21st century.”

Peter Schweizer, USA Today, 2002 – Now that the war in Afghanistan is essentially over, pulling off the country’s reconstruction will not be easy. . . As the United States looks toward rebuilding Afghanistan, geography may prove to be the country’s best asset. North and west of Afghanistan are enormous oil and natural gas reserves in countries such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan. The region’s available but untapped energy resources are second only to those of the Middle East. Production in this area now is about 1 million barrels a day. But daily production could rise to 3.4 million barrels or more by 2010 if a way is found to get the energy onto world markets. That’s where Afghanistan becomes an intriguing option. During the 1990s, several groups of international energy companies considered building a massive pipeline from Central Asia to the sea, where ships could transport the oil to the world. One option was a pipeline to Turkey via Azerbaijan. Another was a pipeline across Iran to the Persian Gulf. A third option, considered by Unocal and others, was to construct a 1,040-mile pipeline that would cross Afghanistan to the Pakistani coast. The Afghan option made the most sense geographically, but never really went anywhere because of concerns about the Taliban and political instability. But the Bush administration now has the unique opportunity to push through the Afghan option. Almost everyone would reap enormous rewards:
In Afghanistan, it would create jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in fees. It also would help Afghanistan, which suffers from chronic energy problems but has no known oil or gas reserves, develop its coal resources. Additionally, with the relative prosperity that pipeline money could bring, many Afghans might reduce their incentives to produce illicit drugs such as opium.

Building the pipeline would help Pakistan, where an oil terminal would have to be built. Pakistan has stood firmly with us during the war on terrorism. Like Afghanistan, the country is desperately in need of economic development.

The Central Asian governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would also benefit economically.
The oil pipeline would send a powerful political message to the region: The United States will support those countries that support it.

The United States would benefit from greater world energy production, which brings down prices. Lower oil prices are like a tax cut. They put more money in the pockets of U.S. consumers and businesses and strengthen the economy. M

Julio Godoy, Inter Press Service, 2001 – In the book “Bin Laden, la verite interdite” (“Bin Laden, the forbidden truth”), the authors, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, reveal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy director John O’Neill resigned in July in protest over obstruction. Brisard claim O’Neill told them that “the main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it”.

The two claim the U.S. government’s main objective in Afghanistan was to consolidate the position of the Taliban regime to obtain access to the oil and gas reserves in Central Asia. They affirm that until August, the U.S. government saw the Taliban regime “as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction of an oil pipeline across Central Asia”, from the rich oilfields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean . . . Confronted with Taliban’s refusal to accept U.S. conditions, “this rationale of energy security changed into a military one”, the authors claim. “At one moment during the negotiations, the U.S. representatives told the Taliban, ‘either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs’,” Brisard said in an interview in Paris.

According to the book, the government of Bush began to negotiate with the Taliban immediately after coming into power in February. U.S. and Taliban diplomatic representatives met several times in Washington, Berlin and Islamabad. To polish their image in the United States, the Taliban even employed a U.S. expert on public relations, Laila Helms. The authors claim that Helms is also an expert in the works of U.S. secret services, for her uncle, Richard Helms, is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The last meeting between U.S. and Taliban representatives took place in August, five weeks before the attacks on New York and Washington, the analysts maintain.

Ben Aris & Ahmed Rashid, Telegraph, London – For all the talk of international alliances and the future of Afghanistan, the real game in Central Asia is control of the region’s lucrative oil supply. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia has kept Central Asia’s huge oil and gas reserves bottled up by restricting access to export pipelines – all of which run over Russian territory. The United States has been pushing alternative pipeline projects out of the region that do not run over Russian soil. The US National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, assured the Kremlin last week that Washington had no designs on Central Asia even as a new oil pipeline started up, strengthening Russia’s influence in the region . . . Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have some of the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world, but Russia cut them off from international markets as all their export pipelines run over Russian territory. The US tried aggressively to break the Kremlin’s stranglehold over the region, but Dr Rice’s comments were the strongest sign yet that Washington is prepared to concede Russia’s dominance of the region . . . The war in Afghanistan may have brought an end to America’s ambitions in the area as a quid pro quo for Russia’s co-operation in the US-led campaign. But when peace and a stable government eventually comes to Kabul, US oil companies will be looking closely at Afghanistan because it offers the shortest route to the Gulf for Central Asia’s vast quantities of untapped oil and gas. The companies have invested $30 billion in developing oil and gas fields in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan but exporting to the West involves lengthy and expensive pipelines. Washington is currently proposing a $3 billion pipeline from Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia, to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – a lengthy and expensive project. US companies could build a similar pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Karachi at half the cost, if the next Afghan government can guarantee its security. Russia fears that is exactly what the Americans want and, now that US troops are based in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, they will not leave.

Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian, London. 2001 – A new and potentially explosive Great Game is being set up and few in Britain are aware of it. There are many players: far more than the two – Russia and Britain – who were engaged a century ago in imperial rivalry in central Asia and the north-west frontier. And the object this time is not so much control of territory. It is the large reserves of oil and gas in the Caucasus, notably the Caspian basin. Pipelines are the counters in this new Great Game. There are plans for pipe-lines through Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran, Bulgaria, Macedonia – and Albania. Traditional rivalries between east and west are complicated by other threats – from Chechen separatists, Kurds, Albanian guerrilla groups, the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh and, throughout the region, Islamic groups whose activities are causing deep concern to Moscow, Tehran and Washington alike . . . This is the region both west and east have their eyes on. It is rich in untapped oil and gas while US reserves are running down, China is desperate for more oil, and no one outside the Gulf wants to rely on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Iraq – which have the biggest oil reserves.

Department Of Energy, 2001: Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, although these plans have now been thrown into serious question . . . On November 29, 1999, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a report on Afghanistan which listed the country’s major problems as follows: civil war (which has caused many casualties and refugees, and which has devastated the country’s economy), record opium production, wide-scale human rights violations, and food shortages caused in part by drought. According to the 2000 CIA World Factbook, Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country, highly dependent on farming and livestock raising (sheep and goats). Currently, the country is experiencing a severe drought . . . The Soviets had estimated Afghanistan’s proven and probable natural gas reserves at up to 5 trillion cubic feet. Afghan gas production reached 275 million cubic feet per day in the mid-1970s. However, due to declining reserves from producing fields, output gradually fell to about 220 Mmcf/d by 1980 . . . Soviet estimates from the late 1970s placed Afghanistan’s proven and probable oil and condensate reserves at 95 million barrels. Despite plans to start commercial oil production in Afghanistan, all oil exploration and development work were halted after the 1979 Soviet invasion. Afghanistan’s various provinces receive refined products from neighboring countries . . . Besides oil and gas, Afghanistan also is estimated to have significant coal reserves (probable reserves of 400 million tons) . . .

John J. Maresca, Vice President Unocal in testimony before a House committee, February 12, 1998: Today we would like to focus on issues concerning this region, its resources and U.S. policy: The need for multiple pipeline routes for Central Asian oil and gas. The need for U.S. support for international and regional efforts to achieve balanced and lasting political settlements within Russia, other newly independent states and in Afghanistan . . . The Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves, much of them located in the Caspian Sea basin itself. Proven natural gas reserves within Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves may reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil — enough to service Europe’s oil needs for 11 years. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels . . .

[An] option is to build a pipeline south from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. One obvious potential route south would be across Iran. However, this option is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route option is across Afghanistan, which has its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades. The territory across which the pipeline would extend is controlled by the Taliban, an Islamic movement that is not recognized as a government by most other nations. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of our proposed pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, lenders and our company. In spite of this, a route through Afghanistan appears to be the best option with the fewest technical obstacles. It is the shortest route to the sea and has relatively favorable terrain for a pipeline. The route through Afghanistan is the one that would bring Central Asian oil closest to Asian markets and thus would be the cheapest in terms of transporting the oil.

Unocal envisions the creation of a Central Asian Oil Pipeline Consortium. The pipeline would become an integral part of a regional oil pipeline system that will utilize and gather oil from existing pipeline infrastructure in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. The 1,040-mile-long oil pipeline would begin near the town of Chardzhou, in northern Turkmenistan, and extend southeasterly through Afghanistan to an export terminal that would be constructed on the Pakistan coast on the Arabian Sea. Only about 440 miles of the pipeline would be in Afghanistan. This 42-inch-diameter pipeline will have a shipping capacity of one million barrels of oil per day. Estimated cost of the project — which is similar in scope to the Trans Alaska Pipeline — is about $2.5 billion . . .

The pipeline would benefit Afghanistan, which would receive revenues from transport tariffs, and would promote stability and encourage trade and economic development. Although Unocal has not negotiated with any one group, and does not favor any group, we have had contacts with and briefings for all of them. We know that the different factions in Afghanistan understand the importance of the pipeline project for their country, and have expressed their support of it.

A recent study for the World Bank states that the proposed pipeline from Central Asia across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea would provide more favorable netbacks to oil producers through access to higher value markets than those currently being accessed through the traditional Baltic and Black Sea export routes.

Sabrina Tavernise, NY Times, 2001: Breaking a logjam that has held up Western-led oil development in Russia for years, Exxon Mobil said that it was ready to spend $4 billion over five years to develop large offshore oil and gas fields in far eastern Russia. The project, which could grow to $12 billion over its life of 30 to 40 years, will be Russia’s largest single foreign investment so far. In recent months the Russian government has been passing measures to clear the way for the project, which had languished since the mid- 1990’s awaiting new regulations and commitments to fixed tax rates that Exxon Mobil called vital. But the crucial new development was the warming of relations between Moscow and Washington after last month’s pledge by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to support the United States in its war against terrorists in Afghanistan.

Frank Viviano, San Francisco Chronicle, 2001: Beyond American determination to hit back against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, beyond the likelihood of longer, drawn-out battles producing more civilian casualties in the months and years ahead, the hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil. The map of terrorist sanctuaries and targets in the Middle East and Central Asia is also, to an extraordinary degree, a map of the world’s principal energy sources in the 21st century. The defense of these energy resources – rather than a simple confrontation between Islam and the West – will be the primary flash point of global conflict for decades to come, say observers in the region. “You cannot discuss the violence of this region outside the context of oil, ” says Vakhtang Kolbaya, deputy chairman of the parliament in the republic of Georgia. “It’s at the heart of the problem.” . . . The combined total of proven and estimated reserves in the region stands at more than 800 billion barrels of crude petroleum and its equivalent in natural gas. By contrast, the combined total of oil reserves in the Americas and Europe is less than 160 billion barrels, most of which, energy experts say, will have been exhausted in the next 25 years. It is inevitable that the war against terrorism will be seen by many as a war on behalf of America’s Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Arco; France’s Tota Fina Elf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell and other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the region. There is no avoiding such a linkage or the rising tide of anger it will produce in developing nations already convinced they are victims of a conspiratorial collaboration between global capital and U.S. military might.”

This entry was posted on Sunday, August 23rd, 2009 at 2:28 pm and is filed under Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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