Oil from Central Asia

Jackpot Afghanistan

Western nations and their oil companies early focused their attention on the exploitation of oil fields of the Caspian Sea, in particular in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. [document 5]
The Caspian Basin's geological composition is still poorly researched. Optimistic estimates, based on the proven amount of oil, place the potential reserves at about ten times that much. Not even including extensive natural gas deposits, such a wealth of oil is surpassed only by the Gulf region. The prospect of such enormous energy resources drew many multinational oil companies to a region that had been off limits to foreign investors during seven decades under communism. But the fall of the Soviet Union and the creation of new states around the Caspian Sea reshuffled the cards. To whom would this bonanza fall? Who would control the oil and gas exports? And who would finally "civilize" Afghanistan and use it as a transit passage for Central Asian gas and oil products?

The Political Landscape

Known as Turkestan under the czars, the whole territory of Central Asia came under Communist control following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. After defeating the Basmachi -- Muslim rebels opposed to communist rule -- the Soviets carved five separate republics from Turkestan: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, they became independent countries that reached out to the West, joining NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russia remains their main economic partner, and millions of ethnic Russians live in Central Asia.

As to Kazakhstan, the largest Central Asian country, the West is highly interested in its rich oil reserves. Turkmenistan, that directly borders Afghanistan, has huge natural gas reserves. Even Afghanistan seems to own some remarkable gas reserves, though there is no idea of their extent due to the country's long lasting history of war and civil war that made a regular exploitation up to now almost impossible. Nevertheless, there should be a smaller pipeline already in use near the town of Mazar-i-Sharif, a key position in the actual battle between the Taliban and their enemies. [document 7]

The remaining countries, generally considered to be poor, have suffered in recent years from attacks by Islamic rebels. Uzbekistan, now a military partner of the U.S. in their fight against the Taliban government of Afghanistan, is known to suppress any manifestation of Muslimic belief. Its government says the threat posed by Islamic militants justifies limiting civil liberties. Unsanctioned expressions of Islam, including wearing beards or traditional women's head coverings, are punished with jail, expulsion from universities and harassment, human rights groups say. A series of bombings in 1999 was blamed on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. [document 3]

In Central Asia where more than 60% of the population is living below the poverty line, reaching up to 90% in Kyrgystan and Tadjikistan, religion has become the essential pillar for its inhabitants in their struggle for survival. It is therefore clear that Islamic fundamentalism will put a severe threat on the economic interest of Western nations who are trying to change political realities in a region they have never been invited to.

Even China's Western provinces seem to be affected by Islamic infiltration. A 4,200-km gas pipeline, linking gas fields beneath the deserts of Xinjiang province to the city of Shanghai and considered to bring energy security to the wealthy east and development to the indigent west, might therefore be seen as a potential source of political trouble. Discontented Muslim minorities, Uyghurs and Tajiks, deeply resent the dominance of the Han Chinese. This is not yet Ussama bin Ladin territory, but occasional riots in the old Silk Road city of Kashgar have rattled nerves in Beijing. [document 1]

Transportation of Gas and Oil

Transportation of hydrocarbons from the distant and land-locked countries of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia to Western Europe is the biggest challenge for the Western oil companies operating in that region. [document 4] Furthermore, the strong national interest of independent GUS countries involved makes it a risky affaire. [document 6]

Now, Russia appears to be leading in the race for oil exports of Caspian Sea resources. A new pipeline across Russian territory has been completed and the Western idea of a natural gas pipeline from Central Asia to Turkey (Baku-Ceyha-pipeline) has fallen victim to a competing project from Moscow. Both undertakings mark setbacks for American policy.

As to the gas exports from Turkmenistan, the American situation isn't much better. For years, Washington pushed for the desert republic to find new options for exporting its sizable gas reserves. Aside from a small pipeline to Iran, Turkmenistan is totally dependent on Russia as recipient of its gas exports, and in the past Moscow has not hesitated to shut the valve now and again. But American support for alternative routes has been fruitless. Two projects have bogged down: a pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, and a trans-Caspian underwater pipeline to Azerbaijan. Like the Baku-Ceyhan oil route, a natural gas line from Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey was intended to form a western corridor and thus create new geopolitical realities in the Caspian region. [document 2] [document 7]

Recent military attacks, intended to destabilize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, could therefore be seen as just another effort of U.S. politicians to bring that region under their control in order to drain gas and oil from Central Asia. Equipped with the armored vehicle "Fox" ( Spürpanzer Fuchs ), a movable laboratory developed in Germany and originally intended to detect traces of chemical weapons, U.S. troops could search for leaks of natural gas even on unsafe territory. Regarding terrorism as the official reason for U.S. activities in that area, one could say: If there were no Ussama Bin Ladin, he should have to be invented. As this enterprise is obviously doomed to trigger nothing else but another political disaster for the West and lead to an overall destabilization of the whole Middle East, U.S. president Bush and his companion Rumsfeld have to be stopped as soon as possible. While the president has often been regarded as an elected lobbyist of the oil industry who doesn't even care for severe changes of the global climate when the shareholder values of his mighty sponsors could be affected, his secretary of state Rumsfeld isn't any better. A relict from the times of cold war, he is grinning into the camera like any sharp-tongued Alzheimer candidate when telling us that "this war will be a long and dirty one". Whatever the daily topic in that dirty war for natural gas and crude oil might be, it will remain a costly enterprise. As the people of Afghanistan cannot be "domesticated" by Western force and "culture", it is quite within the bounds of probability that the final outcome of such conflict might frighten all of us. (November 2001)

Wolfgang Wiesner
editor of BLUEPRINT magazine

As to the documents cited, please note:
The most important "document 7" is an official website maintained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration EIA (http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/afghan.html), an U.S. government source.
"Document 5" is another semi-official site from Azerbaijan, established by SOCAR, an organization in charge of the exploitation of Caspian oil (http://www.socar-cc.com/summary/index.html). The other documents speak for themselves.

As some relevant websites show a certain tendency to suddenly disappear from the net without further notice ("SHELL - Afghanistan"), I looked for mirror sites of the documents cited, in order to ensure a preservation of the information included. As to the link dealing with Ussama Bin Ladin (peace be upon him and writing of his name according to the vocalization usually applied in Standard Arabic), it leads to an interview held by a Pakistani journalist. When that interview is cited here, it is only for "folkloristic reasons".

In August 2002, after many months of fierce fighting in the Afghan mountains and Bin Ladin's Al-Qaeda still being active, Afghanistan seems to be far away from peace. Even though a new government, lead by president Karzai, is trying to do its best, the situation remains unstable. Nevertheless, an ambitious U.S. government under president Bush is aiming at their maximum goal of making Central Asia a future basis of oil and gas resources and a geopolitical joker in the "Great Game", shared by Russia, India and China, and effecting such regional nations like Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. ARAB NEWS, a Saudi-Arabian daily, recently published an evaluation of the present situation (US at crossroads in Afghanistan, 03/08/2002), following the line of interesting documents cited above. - Faced with the most explosive problems in Palestine, Kashmir and probably soon in Iraq, yet warned by most of their western and Arabic allies, the U.S. meanwhile should have known better !

Top 10 list of U.S. politicians receiving money from the oil and gas industry and therefore being considered as lobbyists. All donations took place during the 1989-2000 election cycles and were released by the Federal Election Commission. Note that George W. Bush, his father George Bush senior and their Republican friends got the biggest part of that cake...
courtesy Center for Responsive Politics (http://www.opensecrets.org)

Total contributed to all candidates:



Total contributed to incumbents: 



Total to Democratic Candidates:



Total to Republican Candidates:







Bush, George W (R)



Gramm, Phil (R-TX)



Hutchison, Kay Bailey (R-TX)



Nickles, Don (R-OK)



Dole, Bob (R)



Young, Don (R-AK)



Bush, George (R)



Barton, Joe L (R-TX)



Inhofe, James M (R-OK)



Breaux, John B (D-LA)


 En la primera semana de ataques,
 EE UU se ha gastado 60 millones
 de dólares en misiles, una cif-
 ra superior a la que necesita 
 Naciones Unidas para salvar la
 vida de los refugiados afganos.
 El Gobierno de Bush ha lanzado
 en Afganistán ayuda humanitaria
 por valor de 148.000 dólares.
 CAMBIO 16, Madrid
 No. 1.559,  22 octubre 2001
 One of the first victims 
 in the U.S. bombardment of 
 Kabul city, as reported by 
 Al-Jazeera TV, Qatar.
 During their first week of 
 attack, the U.S. have spent 
 $ 60 million on missiles, a 
 sum surpassing the amount of 
 money needed by the United 
 Nations to save the lives of 
 Afghan refugees. Humanitarian 
 help, simultaneously launched 
 in Afghanistan by the Bush 
 administration, amounts to 
 $ 148.000.
 published in the reputed 
 Spanish magazine CAMBIO 16 

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