Afghan agenda becomes clearer — OIL!
It was reported last week that Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan were involved in armed clashes with Taliban or al Qaida forces. According to the reports the Australian troops suffered no casualties. The coverage of the events in Afghanistan is sketchy. Some reports say the war is over; others that there are "pockets" of resistance. Civilian casualties are seldom mentioned, although reports suggest they already exceed 3000 people. The stated purpose of the US war in Afghanistan was to get bin Laden. That aim has not been achieved. In the US the patriotic propaganda, mixed with a good dose of frightening possibilities of biological, nuclear and all other kinds of attacks, continues. At the same time there appears to be a healthy sign that US policies unleashed in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world after September 11, are being questioned. And from Afghanistan concrete evidence is emerging as to why foreign troops, including Australian ones, are there. At the end of this month Afghan Interim ruler Hamid Karzai will hold talks with his Pakistani and Turkmenistan counterparts about plans for a pipeline through Afghanistan. The pipeline is to export Turkmenistan's rich oil and gas reserves to the Indian sub-continent. This meeting will follow an earlier one between Karzai and Turkmen President about this huge project which is estimated to cost US$2 billion. Says Mohammad Alim Razim, Afghan Minister for Mines and Industries: "The meeting will take place later this month in Pakistan. It is hoped that they will reach an agreement after thorough talks over the nuts and bolts of the project." Competition for who would build the 850km long pipeline, described as the "Great Game" of the new millennium, was being fought out between the American oil company UNOCAL Corp and Bridas of Argentina during the five years' rule of the Taliban regime. The Taliban regime is gone. UNOCAL is left as the "lead company", according to Mr Razim, to build the pipeline. The pipeline is expected to deliver 30 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas annually to Pakistan and beyond through southern Afghanistan. Mr Razim said that Hamid Karzai would propose the building of a road parallel to the pipeline, subsidiary pipelines to villages close to the main line and also the injection of Afghan gas from northern areas, as well as from the south-western province of Helmand for export. "The work on the project will start after an agreement is expected to be struck at the coming summit", Mr Razim said. The Afghan Government, according to the minister, would press to take over ownership of the pipeline after 30 years. The pipeline is the biggest foreign project in Afghanistan's history and "the Afghan side assures all sides about the security of the pipeline and will take all responsibilities for it", said Mr Razim. Mr Razim said that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been surveying routes for transferring local gas from northern Afghanistan areas to Kabul and also to iron ore mines at the Haji Gak pass to the west of Kabul. "ADB will announce its conclusions soon. One pipe is planned to bring gas to Kabul and the second one will pass through the mountains to Haji Gak for iron exploitation purpose", Mr Razim said. Earlier in the year, when USA planes were still pounding Afghanistan, there was a donor conference in Tokyo on raising money to help rebuild Afghanistan. Now, according to Mr Razim, funds from donor countries will be used to build the pipeline as well as money from ADB loans. One of the roles of the foreign military forces in Afghanistan is to make sure that UNOCAL gets the project. Another is to ensure the security of such a big project in a country which still does not have a proper government structure or security forces, and with a population which has been trying to scratch a living after years of war, drought and dislocation. Which raises a simple question: why should Australian troops risk their lives for an US corporation?