Nov 19, 2001
Afghanistan produces almost no oil. But this country is situated between Iran and Pakistan astride a mountain chain which separates the two regions with the world’s largest petroleum reserves: the Persian Gulf to the south and the Caspian Sea Basin in the north.
The Gulf is today the world’s biggest oil-producing region. Its oil reserves are relatively easy to ship to the rest of the world via short oil pipelines and a huge armada of petroleum tankers.
On the other hand, the countries bordering the Caspian Sea – including Azerbaijan, the southern part of Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan – which have more reserves than the Persian Gulf, produce only modest amounts of oil. The oil companies, especially the American and European ones, are contesting for the rights to exploit this oil.
But, today, there are few ways to get the oil from the region to the areas of the world which consume the most oil, that is, Europe, Japan and the U.S.
The area is cut off from easy access to the world’s oceans and there are few pipelines to get this oil into tankers. And the longstanding political instability in the region adds to the difficulties of getting the oil out of the Caspian Basin. Projects to create more modern pipelines collide with political risks and war.
The few pipelines which do exist are mostly old and inadequate. At the moment, the pipeline going north into the Russian Caucasus is the only one more or less still functioning at full capacity. But it does not get oil out to the Western oil tankers.
Today, there is a project to build a pipeline from Kazakhstan to China, but it would take oil only into China. The other possibilities are to go through Georgia, a politically unsettled region; Kurdistan, equally unsettled; or Iran or Afghanistan. But Iran has been on the U.S. blacklist ever since the Shah, the U.S.-backed dictator, was overthrown.
Thus, there remains only... a route through Afghanistan and a part of Pakistan.
The support the U.S. gave to the Taliban, from 1993 to 1996, allowing it to come to power and consolidate its control over the country was aimed at ending the instability of Afghanistan. This U.S. support carried more than a whiff of oil. The open connections of the American oil group Unocal with the Taliban testify to that.
Today the U.S. is searching to put a new regime in place. No matter which regime is cobbled together and held in power by U.S. military aid, one of its first projects will be to let Unocal finish the plans it started with the Taliban.