The Taliban and U.S. foreign policy toward Central Asia

In the story of the competition for Afghan route to Central Asian oil by Bridas and Unocal, we seem to anticipate the story of Western oil companies and the Middle Eastern oil producing countries: initial contract for oil exploration with a percentage of profit split, and later renegotiation of profit sharing, but the story of Turkmenistan and the Argentinean Bridas company took a twist here, in the post-colonial and post-Communist world, where the oil producing countries were more ready to take control, and where the global flow of capital, plus the sellers' market, enabled the oil producing countries to freely pick which oil company/country they wanted.  Therefore Turkmenistan could have oil concessions to Bridas but use Unocal to build its proposed pipelines via Afghanistan to Pakistan because of its desire to have an American connection.

A post-Communist global economy means the free flow of goods and ideas, which not only promotes free market capitalism, but also other ideas, including Islamic fundamentalism, partly as a result of the international airfare competition that enabled fundamentalist Muslims from Saudi Arabia to shuttle between the Middle East and Southeast Asian Muslim countries such as Indonesia.  In the case of Afghanistan, Islamic fundamentalism from Saudi Arabia freely flowed into Afghanistan, with the consent of the U.S. because the Saudis are a U.S. ally.

1. The beginning of a U. S. central Asian policy:

i) It began with the fall of the Soviet Union (1991) and the emergence of independent central Asian states split from the former USSR: Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, all oil rich states.  Afghanistan became prominent on the U.S. foreign policy agenda associated with the plan of transportation of oil of these central Asian states to Pakistan.

ii) The U.S. stake in central Asia was also in competition with Russia's attempt to develop the oil resources along the Caspian Sea, now mostly within states independent of Russia.  U.S. foreign policy toward central Asia (Rashid, 174).  The old sphere of influence continued to operate, to some extent, in the U.S. grip on Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan while Russia controlled the other states, and the alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan, Turkey, Israel, in the region. (Rashid, 163)

iii) The U.S. stake in central Asia led the Clinton administration to back Unocal in Turkmenistan when Bridas filed a lawsuit against it in Houston, Texas (Bridas also filed a lawsuit against Turkmenistan with the International Chamber of Commerce for breach of contract, c.f. the result with the Western oil companies in the M.E., Bridas' rights of oil exploration in Turkmenistan were blocked.) (Rashid, 165).

iv) in the wooing of Taliban by Bridas and Unocal, the Taliban paid more attention to the latter's proposal for a pipeline because it implied U.S. recognition should the Taliban succeed as a regime. (Rashid, 167)

v) U.S. involvement in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan almost led to U.S. recognition of the Taliban, and at least led to the U.S. government's silence on the extremities of the Taliban at first. (Rashid, 166).

vi) U.S. government support to Unocal and pipeline via Afghanistan depended on the fortune of the Taliban: reversals in its fortune would lead to withdrawal of U.S. government backing of Unocal (1997) (Rashid, 172-73, 182)

Q: What were the differences and similarities in Turkmenistan's dealings with the oil companies and those between the Middle Eastern countries and Western oil companies? What are their implications?

Q. Do you agree with Iran and Russia's identification of Unocal in Afghanistan and U.S. support to the Taliban? (Rashid, 171)

 vii) U.S. policy toward the Taliban then came under pressure of American feminist groups after 1997, especially in election years.

2. U.S. and the Taliban: the failed attempt to build a second Saudi Arabia?

Q: What prevented the Taliban from becoming a second Saudi government? Do you agree with Rashid's charge that the U.S. failed to take "real responsibility" in Afghanistan? (181)