At the first warning signs that the oligarchic Middle East regimes are becoming vulnerable to future Islamist fundamentalist instability, the West in general and the USA in particular look for an alternative source of oil: Central Asia.
Two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves are in the Middle East, the majority of these being in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the world’s two largest suppliers. Having alienated the regime in Baghdad, the United States finds itself in a position in which it relies on Saudi Arabia, mainly, for 20% of its oil imports. With the rise in Islamist fundamentalism, a sudden stoppage of supplies would be catastrophic for the US economy.
Having only 3% of the world’s oil reserves, the USA is forced to look elsewhere. Central Asia, keen for investment and with an estimated 250 billion barrels (a quarter of the world’s reserves) is the ideal region for investment. Chevron was first in, with a 20 bn. USD deal in 1993 to exploit the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, in which American companies have a 70% share.
Exploitation, however, is only half the problem solved. Transportation is the other half and the only way is by pipeline to a port, where the oil or gas can be loaded onto a tanker. Possible routes westwards for Central Asian oil are to the Black Sea or the Mediterranean, through Turkey. Both options pass through some of the most unstable regions on the planet, including Chechnya, Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. The other alternative, southwards, is impossible because actions by the United States in the past have made this country a persona non grata in Iran and Iraq.
There is another option eastwards: Afghanistan. The plan to build a pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan southwards to the Arabian Sea was begun in 1997, after negotiations between the Taleban and the State Department, to allow American company Unocal to carry out the project.
The State Department had not taken the Bin Laden factor into account, possibly because, so it is rumoured, the Bin Laden family had many dealings with American oil companies. The family, not Osama the renegade.
If Afghanistan is perceived as the easiest option to implement the project, a prolonged American influence in this country makes a lot of sense.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru