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The Oil behind Bush and Son's Campaigns

by Ranjit Devraj  (6 October 2001)

Just as the Gulf War in 1991 was all about oil, the new conflict in South and Central Asia is no less about access to the region's abundant petroleum resources, according to Indian analysts....

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. According to testimony before the US House of Representatives in March 1999 by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan together have 15 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. The same countries also have proven gas deposits totaling not less than nine trillion cubic meters. Another 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. But sabotage by anti-Soviet mujahideen (freedom fighters) and by rival groups in the civil war that followed Soviet withdrawal in 1989 virtually closed down gas production and ended deals for the supply of gas to several European countries....

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. But the immediate reason for UNOCAL's withdrawal was undoubtedly the US cruise missile attacks on Osama bin Laden's terroism training camps in Afghanistan in August 1998, done in retaliation for the bombing of its embassies in Africa. UNOCAL then stated that the project would have to wait until Afghanistan achieved the "peace and stability necessary to obtain financing from international agencies and a government that is recognized by the United States and the United Nations".

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".

- Asia Times  (6 October 2001)

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revised 18 November 2005