Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Afghan Pipeline Conspiracy

I love a good Internet conspiracy theory, so this one from Internet journalist Webster Tarpley caught my eye. He’s arguing that the recent US-led assault on the southern Afghan town of Marjah in restive Helmand province wasn’t aimed at striking a deadly blow at the heart of the Taliban insurgency, but rather was designed to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan’s Belujistan region directly to the south. And why would the US want to push more of the Taliban into our supposed ally Pakistan? To disrupt the construction of an oil pipeline that would ship Iranian oil directly to China, of course.

What makes a conspiracy theory, like Tarpley’s ‘drive the Taliban into Pakistan’ notion, great is the inability to disprove it. But not being able to disprove something doesn’t automatically make it true, and Tarpley’s piece plays into an idea that’s become something of an obsession among some people – to explain the US/NATO/Western involvement in Afghanistan in terms of oil. The genesis for these theories likely go back to the days following the demise of the Soviet Union when it was believed that the newly-accessible Caspian Sea region (once in the midst of the Soviet heartland) might contain as much oil as Saudi Arabia. That sparked a round of speculation on how to get that oil out of the Caspian Sea and to the West via a route that didn’t cross either Russia or Iran, since both were considered to be unreliable partners in such an endeavor. The most direct path left was via Afghanistan and on to the coast of Pakistan where it could then be loaded onto tankers and shipped around the world.

But it turned out that the Caspian Sea wasn’t another Saudi Arabia, at least as far as oil was concerned and the oil pipeline plans were put on a shelf, except in the minds of people who want to see oil at the heart of any US foreign policy exercise. To confuse matters, there is a pipeline project well into the planning stages that would cross Afghanistan – the TAPI pipeline.

“TAPI” stands for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India; the projected route of the pipeline, that’s meant to bring gas from Turkmenistan, which has the third-largest reserves in the world, to the P and I countries. The Asian Development Bank is backing TAPI to the tune of around $7 billion and the project is being touted as something that could help to stabilize Afghanistan in the long run. But even with that level of backing TAPI isn’t a sure thing. A Canadian study notes that in addition to having to build a pipeline across some of the most rugged, most remote mountains in the world, TAPI will also have to cross an area heavily landmined during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, as well as running through the heartland of the Taliban movement, including the aforementioned Helmand province.
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