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Changing fortunes of modern Afghanistan
9/19/2020 12:22:11 AM

Dr. Rajkumar Singh

Afghanistan emerged during the nineteenth century as a buffer state squeezed between the Russian and British empire. From the beginning it was a pawn in the battles between world powers. It had to accommodate different ruling regimes of diverse character in her state structure through coups, counter coups, strife, invasions, etc. entailing into a permanent war–like culture especially from the early 1970s. At the juncture, invasion into Afghanistan, the US immediately strengthened its support to the opposition parties in Afghanistan. Taking Pakistan as a base, the US supplied with abundant financial, military and staff assistance as a guarantee for the final military success of Afghanistan’s opposition powers. It was during this period that the religions of the Gulf Bay, mainly the Wahabi, entered Afghan with the slogan of ‘Jihad’. Osama bin Laden was the most active participant and organiser. He also set up a fund named ‘Volunteers’ home’ enrolling volunteers from Saudi Arabia and other Arabic countries to go into Afghanistan for Jihad.
American reactions of the invasion
To flush out the Soviets, Islamic zealots were brought from all parts of the Islamic world to Pakistan and Afghanistan forging a unity among those who shared nothing in common but willingness to die for a cause they considered Islamic. This convergence, enabled by western powers, not only made a superpower to retreat and eventually fall apart but made Islamists aware of the potential of Jihad and force multiplication effect of networking. Its aftermath saw ascendancy of Taliban–recruited, trained, weaponised and militarily backed up by Pakistan, an ally of the West. More sinisterly, Taliban under the patronage of Pakistan, converted Afghanistan into a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists with training bases and infrastructural support to extremists from Turkey to Indonesia, Chechnya to China and Europe to Africa. It became the home of Al-Qaeda and gave Islamists a geographical space to pursue their global agenda with impunity. The situation aggravated in Afghanistan when Jihad was launched by the Mujahideens sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia through ISI of Pakistan against Soviet occupation. The fact is that the motivations of those who finance and train them are hardly religious per se. From Al-Qaeda to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorist organisation misuse the faith of Islam to justify terrorism in its name, even though their principal terrorist motivation is political. For the next ten years after intervention there was a continuous conflict between the Soviet troops and the Mujahideen and the US actively supported the latter throughout the period.
By 1989, mounting casualties, dissatisfaction among the troops and international pressure led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Further the power vacuum in Central Asia prevailed with the disintegration of Soviet Union and feuding among the ruling Mujahideen in Afghanistan. In the situation the United States of America was lured by the prospects of controlling the oil and natural gas resources of Central Asia as well as being right next to the underbelly of Russia and China. Now the US oil giants were pushed by the US government for humouring the Taliban to access the Central Asian oil and gas through pipelines that would touch the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lures of financial gains and strategic needs combined to make the whole region very important for outside powers. Central Asian leaders became obsessed with projected pipelines, potential routes and the geopolitics that surrounded them, which led some of them like Turkmenistan to deal even with the Taliban regime. The new US game started in the early 1990s especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Attractions of Afghanistan
The energy and other resources of Central Asia attracted major regional and international powers. During the cold war days, the US had been romancing religious Jihadi groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
These were important to position US multinationals favourably, to control the considerable resources of the region and to complete the encirclement of the world’s major energy resources in the area. After the Soviet collapse, the United States sought to harness these groups to serve US geopolitical interests in energy–rich Central Asia. In between 1994-96, the CIA–ISI nexus and its arms pipeline marginalised more traditional tribal–based parties and moderated leadership in Afghanistan and catapulted the radical Islamists into the forefront of Afghan civil war. The US was not reluctant to forceful intervention, if deemed appropriate to achieve its interests. The region, although could not compare with West Asia in terms of reserves, it was attractive to exploration and production (E&P). For instance, Turkmenistan, which borders the northwest of Afghanistan, holds the world’s third largest gas reserves and have an estimated six billion barrels of oil reserves. Enough, experts say, to meet American energy needs for the next thirty years.
In mid-1990s, in particular, America showed keen interest in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia, which was estimated to have 200 billion barrels of untapped oil. The American oil giants–Enron and Unocal had been known for their interest in Caspian Sea region projects and were negotiating with the Taliban for permission to construct an oil pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and out to the Arabian Sea. Enron had carried out a feasibility study for pipeline from Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the border of Malta for bringing this oil to the market.
In December 1997, a delegation of Taliban mullahs travelled to America and even met US State Department officials. George William Bush and Dick Cheney have both worked with oil business and have close ties with major corporations in the oil sector. Consumer countries in Europe, the US and Japan are already dependent on the Saudi-dominated Middle East Oil Producing European Countries (OPEC) suppliers for 40 per cent of the world demand for crude oil. The dependence on a single region will be dangerous for the US and her allies in the years to come. Thus, tapping in to the reserves in the Caspian Sea region was viewed as a strategic goal to meet the growing energy demand and to reduce the US dependence on oil from the Middle East. Then it is natural for the US to turn her attention to the only alternative major source of ‘boundless’ supply in Central Asia.
Effects of super power rivalry
In between chaos and uncertainty, the Taliban regime commenced in 1996 and at the time the US government no criticism of it, rather a State Department spokesperson told reporters that there was “nothing objectionable” about the Taliban’s coming to power. In fact, the US hoped that the Taliban would provide stability. They were expected to provide security for roads and, potentially oil and gas pipelines that would link the states of Central Asia to the international market through Pakistan rather than through Iran. Between 1994 and 1997, the US was supporting the Taliban in the sense that it was allowing Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, its two allies in the region, to back the Taliban. This was because the US and US oil companies were interested in building oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia across Afghanistan, through Pakistan to the Gulf. In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement that would allow a proposed natural gas pipeline project led by Unocal oil company of the US. For the realisation of other projects the US financed and encouraged the Taliban through its surrogates in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. At that time the US was least bothered about the human rights record of the Taliban.
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