by Bernard Schaer
I admit it. My wife and I watch “Hardball with Chris Matthews” over our customary afternoon cup of coffee. Chris loves his job, you can tell. Despite the show’s title, though, most of his questions are of the softball kind, the kind one would expect from an MSM politcal program.
Last Thursday, however, my ears perked up when Chris Matthews asked NYT columnist Thomas Friedman at the end of the lead-in to discuss the Afghanistan escalation: “Why is the land of Afghanistan somehow critical to our need to fight terrorism?”
Oh, boy, this is going to be good, I thought, temporarily forgetting what type of show I was watching. Finally we are going to get to the bottom of this nonsensical war! Finally we are going to get past the artfully interchanged al Qaeda, Taliban, Pashtun smoke and mirrors, the endlessly rerun training camp footage… I was going to be disappointed. I think Mr. Matthews is a very smart and well connected man. I think he knows why the land of Afghanistan is somehow critical to our need to fight terrorism – or more correctly – why the land of Afghanistan is somehow critical.
Anyone who’s read the book “Charlie Wilson’s War” by George Crile or watched the movie by the same name, would know by now, that we – the CIA – turned primitive but fierce Afghan tribesmen into techno-holy warriors, armed to their teeth, to fight the Soviets during their 10-year occupation of Afghanistan. In the end the Russians left, the Soviet Union crumbled, the Berlin wall fell – Afghanistan was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, it helped brake the USSR economically. The US soon turned its back on Afghanistan and funding to help rebuild Afghanistan was cut off under Clinton – despite Charlie Wilson’s best efforts – in 1993.
Under the umbrella of the CIA’s program to assist the Afghan mujahideen, various loosely-aligned Afghan opposition groups, in their fight against the Soviet occupiers (and the then communist Afghan government), Afghanistan became a gathering place for Islamist volunteer jihadists from all over the world. Afghan commanders on the CIA’s payroll included Pakistan’s former intelligence chief Hamid Gul and Jalaluddin Haqani, the host to Rep. Charlie Wilson on several of his visits to Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was one of those volunteer-jihadists and a major financier of the mujahideen groups. He was frequently found in the same area as Haqani.
Robin Cook, former leader of the British House of Commons and Foreign Secretary from 1997-2001, wrote in The Guardian on Friday, July 8, 2005,
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.
After the tragedy of 9/11/2001, many of the CIA’s former allies, who had received bags of US taxpayer money each month became top targets of the US forces in Afghanistan. When we turned our backs on Afghanistan and cut off funding, the Taliban, one of the many mujahideen fractions – this one backed by Pakistan – rushed in and rapidly filled the vacuum.
It is worth noting, that the Afghan mujahideen did attribute their victory over the Soviet military to Allah, not the support, weaponry and billions of US taxpayer dollars (think education, healthcare, infrastructure here at home etc.) provided by the CIA. In fact many began to see the US – lone super power by now – as a threat. From the book “Charlie Wilson’s War”: “As early as the Gulf War, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, long the main receipient of CIA weaponry, articulated his belief that the United States was seeking world domination and control of Muslim oil”.
Why is the land of Afghanistan somehow critical?
The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAPI) is a proposed natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank. The pipeline was designed to transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan’s Southern region around Kandahar into Pakistan and then to India.
The original project started in March 1995 when an inaugural memorandum of understanding between the governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan for a pipeline project was signed. In August 1996, the Central Asia Gas Pipeline, Ltd. (CentGas) consortium for construction of a pipeline, led by U.S. oil company, Unocal was formed. On October 27, 1997, CentGas was incorporated in formal signing ceremonies in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan by several international oil companies along with the Government of Turkmenistan. In January 1998, the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan signed an agreement that allowed the proposed project to proceed. In June 1998, Russian Gazprom relinquished its 10% stake in the project. Unocal withdrew from the consortium on December 8, 1998. The pipeline negotiations with the Taliban run Afghan government broke down definitively in August of 2001. The Toronto’s Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin wrote at the time, “Washington was furious, leading to speculation it might take out the Taliban. After 9/11, the Taliban, with good reason, were removed — and pipeline planning continued with the Karzai government. U.S. forces installed bases near Kandahar, where the pipeline was to run. A key motivation for the pipeline was to block a competing bid involving Iran, a charter member of the ‘axis of evil.'”
With the Taliban out of the picture, a new deal, a Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement to build a U.S.-backed $7.6 billion pipeline was signed on December 27, 2002 by the leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan (now US-backed Karzai government) and Pakistan. In 2005, the Asian Development Bank submitted the final version of a feasibility study.
However, since 2003 and the beginning of the Iraq war, the Taliban was slowly able to regroup and re-surge and are now in control of most of Southern Afghanistan. Construction of the Turkmen part was supposed to start in 2006, but the overall feasibility is questionable since the southern part of the Afghan pipeline section runs through territory around Kandahar, which continues to be under de facto Taliban control. The project has essentially stalled. It is once again time to clear out the Taliban so the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project can come to fruition. That is what our brave men and women are fighting for. After all, most if not all wars are fought for economic reasons if you bother to look close enough.
And that’s why the land of Afghanistan – or at least the part of land through which the pipeline will eventually run – somehow is critical to our need to fight terrorism, Mr. Matthews, but you already knew that, didn’t you?