The Afghanistan Pipeline Story Is a Floppy Red Herring

Many people, especially folks who think they know a thing or zip about Afghanistan, believe that the International Coalition is only there to support American lust for cheap natural resources. This is wrong on so many levels. Let's review a few.

If petroleum - the mineral most favored by the Bush Administration - were the primary motivation for stationing NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, then why would former President Bush have diverted a majority of the resources necessary to secure the country (including soldiers, supplies and money) so early in the game to Iraq?

Answer: Even he's not that dumb. There really is an Al Qaeda, and the Taliban really did give them safe haven in Afghanistan to train and plan acts global terrorism. In fact, said training took place in the Aynak Valley.

NATO is in Afghanistan to rebuild and stabilize the country. It's really true. If petroleum was the agenda, rest assured, the Shrub-in-Chief would have put more effort into preventing a return of the Taliban, which consistently targets anyone working to develop the country and improve the lives of its citizens.

Earlier this year, it became known that, shock of shocks, there's other valuable rocks in them there Hindu Kush. This is true. The most valuable natural resource in Afghanistan is copper. In fact, the same Aynak Valley where Al Qaeda members trained for the September 11th attacks, is home to the world's seventh largest copper mine. In 2007, the China Metallurgical Group purchased a 30-year lease on the mine from the Afghan government for $3 Billion. That's China, not the United States. Copper mining in Afghanistan dates back to Alexander the Great, so it's a pretty good bet, that mine was not a secret.

But the favorite chant of the bleating sheep is, "It's about the pipeline!"


The gas pipeline to which they refer is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Pipeline (TAP). Nine years after the arrival of Coalition Forces, not one inch of pipe has been lain. In fact, that particular pipeline will probably never be built.

Years before the TAP was even a twinkle in oil giant, Unocal's, eye, negotiations for another pipeline were already well underway. The Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline (IPI), sometimes called the Peace Pipeline, was first conceptualized in 1989 by R. K. Pachauri of India, in partnership with Ali Shams Ardekani, former deputy foreign minister of Iran. It's called the Peace Pipeline because energy interdependence could prove to be a powerful tool to reduce hostilities between India and Pakistan, which have existed since Pakistan's creation in 1947. Pakistan and Iran finalized their end of the deal in May 2009. Construction on Iran's section of the pipeline has now been completed. India's participation has been on-again-off-again, over pricing issues, but this year the Indians have indicated they wish to resume negotiations.

Simply put, in Pakistani terms, survival trumps greed - make that perceived survival. What does this mean?

Pakistan has a rapidly growing economy, and though it produces quite a bit of oil and gas, it still has to import petroleum. Turkmenistan (in 1995, a newly liberated Central Asian Republic, eager to develop alternative outlets to old Mother Russia for its products) and Afghanistan (a country in desperate need of any possible resource to rebuild itself) would have made ideal negotiating partners. Pakistan could have easily dictated whatever terms it liked. So why is it that the TAP remains un-built?

Pakistan's military leaders have been recruiting, training, paying and supplying Islamic fundamentalists and Maoists to terrorize, destabilize and/or control Afghanistan on their behalf since 1973. They do this because they fear that if they don't, like Yugoslavia, Pakistan will break apart.

In 1893, Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated a treaty with the Emir of Afghanistan, establishing what has come to be known as the Durand Line. The Durand Line was so arbitrarily drawn that it not only divides large swaths of Pashtun and Baloch ethnic regions, it actually runs through the middle of towns and even properties. There are places along the border where it is possible to each lunch in Pakistan and go to the loo in Afghanistan. When the British were leaving India in 1947, the Afghans began to eagerly assert that it was time for reunification of their country. Instead, Pakistan was created.

Pakistan is primarily comprised of four ethnic regions: Punjab, Sindh, the Khaiber Pakhtunkhwa (Pashtun lands) and Balochistan. For centuries, the Pashtun and Baloch peoples have been fighting against Punjabi domination of their lands, yet that is exactly the situation in which the British left them. Punjabis are the largest ethnic population in Pakistan. More importantly, Punjabis dominate the military in this country where the military is the government.

Because there have been Pashtun and Baloch separatist movements in Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan, and because many of Pakistan's Pashtun are inclined towards reunification with their brethren in Afghanistan, ISI believes that in order to keep its territory from fracturing down the middle (the Indus River), it must keep Afghanistan either unstable or under Pakistani, i.e., Taliban, control. On its own side of the border, the government has been massively oppressing its people. In the past four years, more than eight thousand Baloch have been disappeared, and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that, even before this past summer's floods, over three million Pakistani Pashtun had been displaced by Taliban violence. Ironically, the oppressive action being taken by Pakistan's government is strengthening both the Pashtun and Baloch independence movements, thus practically guaranteeing a Balkan-like outcome.

Getting back to the TAP -- in 1995, Unocal approached the Administration of then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto about building a pipeline, from Turkmenistan, across Afghanistan and onwards to Lahore. She asked her advisers what they thought of the project. Since they themselves were well aware of Pakistan's heavy handed involvement in Afghanistan's ongoing instability (a policy they call "strategic depth"), the Prime Minister's inner circle advised against participation in the TAP.

The clever Mrs. Bhutto understood that saying no to the pipeline would not be positively received by her friends in the Clinton Administration. As the architects of the Taliban and their predecessors, the Mujahideen, the Pakistani leadership knew full well that their country would never leave Afghanistan alone long enough for such a pipeline to be built. Nevertheless, for the sake of maintaining good relations with Washington, Mrs. Bhutto told Unocal that if they built it, she would buy the gas. It didn't cost her a penny to say that. She knew it never would. Which is why, 16 years later, there is still no TAP pipeline. Odds are there never will be.