China wins struggle for Pipelinestan

A common explanation for the US presence in Afghanistan is Washington’s interest in Central Asian fuel sources– natural gas in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and petroleum in Kazakhstan. The idea of Zalmay Khalilzad and others was to bring a gas pipeline down through Afghanistan and Pakistan to energy-hungry India. Turkmenistan became independent of Moscow in 1991, making the project plausible. For this reason some on the political Right in the US actually supported the Taliban as a force for law and order.

If that was the plan, it has failed. Instead, China has landed the big bid to develop a major gas field in Turkmenistan, along with a pipeline to Beijing. Turkmenistan had strongly considered piping the gas to Moscow instead, but developed conflicts with Gazprom.

So the US is bogged down in an Afghanistan quagmire, and China is running off with the big regional prize.

On Tuesday, radical guerrillas deployed a bomb to kill 8 persons and wound 40 in an upscale area of Kabul where foreigners, including Indian aid workers, live– in another sign of the deterioration of security in Afghanistan’s capital. It is obvious how long a gas pipeline would last under these circumstances.

I’m not sure very many politicians in Washington were ever really so interested in the gas pipeline. For someone like then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, making Afghanistan a US base may have aimed at surrounding and weakening Russia and keeping it from reemerging as a peer (a la the attempted push of NATO into places like Georgia.)

Some US leaders, however, were pushing for it. In recent years a Turkmenistan pipeline was seen as a way of forestalling India from breaking the embargo on Iran. And I remember that in fall 2001, when congressmen asked Colin Powell how the Afghanistan war would be paid for, he replied that the region is rich in resources. Since Afghanistan is not, he must have been speaking of places like Turkmenistan.

In any case the Chinese just demonstrated that you don’t need war to get resources. Avoid costly adventurism and grow your economy like hell, and it all falls into your lap.

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10 Responses

  1. It is truly sad that America will launch a war against the Afghani people as an attempt to keep China from succeeding. There is no god.

  2. Well, there's a certain amount of karmic justice for the US on that one, no?

    Too bad that thousands of people on all sides had to die for this mess. And the Chinese win without firing a single shot.

    Once upon a time, we seemed to have less insane leaders. Now, it's as if all of DC has blown their collective frontal lobes out using Meth. Angry, twitchy, violent, and not thinking clearly at all. Obama may project a "Mr. Cool" image, but ramping up the Afghanistan conflict is a mistake that will have epic consequences.

    Trying to out-macho the insanely macho posturing of the Bushies will further harm the US.

  3. I don't think Bush was ever keen on invading or occupying Afghanistan. imho Dubya's agenda was simply: Daddy's failure to cut taxes; Daddy's failure to kill Saddam Hussein; and Daddy's failure to convert the political capital of "being a War Leader" ie., ending it too soon w.r.t. the election cycle ~ into getting re-elected. In that regard in Bush's Brain I am sure that he sees himself as being entirely successful.

    You will recall that in those very early days of our actions in Afghanistan Donald Rumsfeld seemed more concerned about George Tenet's C.I.A. getting the upper hand on his own Department of Defense, rather than any strategic military interests. Rummy sandbagged initial U.S. efforts in Afghanistan until he finally wrested control of "the GWOT" = his "prize" from Tenet ~ in effect, subordinating the CIA and FBI and many other functions of the Federal government under what would become that gigantic dominion that is today our current D.O.D. Surely Cheney and other capitalists scrambled to see what prizes they could pursue ~ ex post facto the invasion. But as we quickly learned Cheney saw in "Afghanistan" and "GWOT" that Grand Prize of establishing the power of The Unitary Executive, and for that purpose Over Here, any old War Over There would do.

    This, (not OIL a priori) was the post-9/11 political context and historical timeline of Afghanistan. (recalling these things now is a sobering reminder; it makes the escalation of our occupation of Afghanistan seem all the more absurd). fwiw For these reasons I feel that Pepe Escobar's narrative of "Pipelineistan" informative, though somewhat obsessive; Fun to read, though wrought with hysterical rhetoric ~ more than real history writ.

  4. Has anyone had a chance to prospect the Afghanistan territory for minerals and oil?
    Warlords and territorial disputes keep NGOs from reaching inner regions, so i am not sure that the area is so devoid of resources.

    How to stabilize tribal conflict and establish transport routes is the problem. Must go back to history books to read the blood trail before the silk road.

  5. "I any case the Chinese just demonstrated that you don't need war to get resources. Avoid costly adventurism and grow your economy like hell, and it all falls into your lap."

    Well….the world is just a little more complex and subtle than that: what other nations need is the patience and guile to finesse the US into serving their interests. And either through skinning them of money directly (Israel/Egypt), or indirectly, as in this case, the game remains the same.

    To put Powell's remarks and this pipeline in context, look at the map. Notice that 50 mile wide backdoor into china in NE afghanistan and that big border with Iran to the West. Eventually, the US will be spent and neutered, and a pipeline between the 2 (and/or India) would be a natural.

    There are no absolutes when gazing into the future. BUT, our interests there are nil, except for the geopolitical imperatives of balancing the power of India, China, and assuring out own energy supply. So this is the real story.

    PRECISELY how the various players are approaching the chessboard of the map is open to a lot of improvisation, but rest assured THIS is where the real game lies.

  6. A failed war – since it actually strengthened China and strengthened Iran. It appears the military leadership of the US is stupid and working against US interests, while the greedy profiteers loot the treasury.

    And god has nothing to do with the actions of men. Free will is real. And what stunted men use their free will to destroy and dominate. No better than chimpanzees. Sub-human.

  7. Has anyone had a chance to prospect the Afghanistan territory for minerals and oil?

    Yes, radar satellite showed it both close to the surface, I read a study some were on line about a year ago.

    China, what a concept pay for the rights to the oil and minerals, how strange and unAmerikan.

  8. Steve Coll might have to update this part of Ghost Wars now. Poor feckless Unocal, looks like there might be a pipeline after all, just not for them!

  9. Nadinada: Yes, geo-surveys were made in the 70's by the Soviet Union in an agreement with President (Sardar) Daoud before he was overthrown. At the time, the word in the bazaar & among the less educated was that this was why Daoud was ousted. Daoud wanted to sell it but Russia chose to take it. Geo-political factors were not well known except for the educated elite, who saw a broader picture. A common aphorism was "Displaying wealth invites thieves." This was the first nation wide mineral inventory made. I no longer remember the details of the results, but copper in the north was one. And the Russians mined a mountain of it during their occupation. A small amount of oil or gas, not far north of Kabul, was already known & the few wells may still be producing. Of that I have no recent information.

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