2 December, 2021

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Afghanistan – I: America’s Oil Jihad

By Sachithanandam Sathananthan –

Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan

The members of NATO are in indescribable shock.

The former European colonial masters led by their current political and military avatar, the US are struggling to digest their historic defeat at the hands of an opposition they contemptuously dismissed as “rag tag Afghan tribals” and despised as “towel heads”. How, they agonize, did our Bunker Busters, high tech weaponry and robotic (drone) warfare fail so ignominiously?

What’s more they are staggered by the seismic consequences for the ineffectiveness of NATO as their main instrument for global domination. Could NATO expand and dominate Eastern Europe? Would the burgeoning Peoples Republic of China and a resurging Russian Federation take its threat seriously? For how long will the NATO powers’ diplomatic and military intervention to buttress the medieval Sheikhdoms in West Asia (or “Middle East”, for former European colonialists) keep at bay that region’s gathering social forces for change?

Many, including some in the traditional anti-Imperialist Left, who imbibed the West’s Islamophobia and succumbed to its demonization of radical Muslims grieved the victory of the Taliban and worried about renewed “Islamic terrorism”.

Most analysts sought to make sense of the melee among the plethora of Mujahidin organisations and shifting loyalties. Equally important if less acknowledged is the legitimating ideology at the core of the West’s intervention: namely, the 20th Century version of White Man’s Burden insinuated by the US-led NATO nations.  It claimed to “civilize” the peoples of Afghanistan by rolling in “democracy” on the backs of battle tanks and dropping it from 60,000 feet!

The 19th Century West-European predecessors, while supposedly “civilizing” the Asians and Africans if necessary over the barrel of a gun, had their eyes riveted on looting natural resources – land, minerals – of the people being “civilized”. In the 20th Century, US-led NATO strove to control Afghanistan because of its strategic location on then Soviet Union’s border in the context of the Cold War; the economic rationale was to open up the country’s estimated $1 trillion-worth mineral wealth to American mining corporations.

The US administration redoubled it efforts in 1979 to control Afghanistan after Ayatollah Khomeini-led Islamic Revolution swept away America’s ally, the Shah of Iran.

The disintegration of the USSR opened access to the Caspian Sea region’s vast energy resources – oil and gas – conservatively estimated at about $6 Trillion. The former Soviet Central Asian Republic of Turkmenistan’s oil and gas reserves, for example, were ripe for the picking. Controlling Afghanistan, the land bridge between Central and South Asia, is crucial to pump Caspian Sea resources through Afghanistan to an Arabian Sea port in Pakistan and onwards to the global market or across the border to energy hungry India.

UNOCAL (Union Oil Company of California), a giant American Oil conglomerate, greedily eyed the construction of two 1,700 km long TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipelines – one for oil and the other for natural gas. The energy transnational had invested $10 billion on geological surveys for pipeline construction while Chevron (with Condoleeza Rice) and Haliburton (with Dick Cheney) waited in the wings. Afghanistan’s ruling elite was to be rewarded with a paltry $400m per year in transit fees.

However, the West’s political classes and mainstream media repeatedly threw up the propaganda smokescreen that highlighted the US and its allies’ self-proclaimed altruism to instill a democratic system in the country, and to improve opportunities for women and minorities”. The game of smoke and mirrors, cunningly crafted to bamboozle the politically unsophisticated, cleverly masked the schemes of US transnationals working hand in glove with the US political class to grab Afghan and Caspian Sea resources.

The missing link was a pro-West regime in Kabul willing to do US administration’s bidding.

The US intelligence agencies laid, or so they thought, the foundation to turn non-aligned Afghanistan into an American outpost. The CIA took a leaf out of the 19th Century Great Game to nurture Mujahidin, who opposed the reformist President Mohammed Daoud Khan, in order to undermine his non-aligned government in the 1970s. To cut a long story short, President Jimmy “Pacifist” Carter authorised the first tranche of $695,000 in July 1979 to fatten and arm the Mujahidin, who hated even more Khan’s successor Nur Mohammad Taraki. Taraki’s secular Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) dared to legislate for land reform and emancipating women and looked to Moscow’s backing to counterbalance US support for forces threatening his government; the Red Army marched in across the border six months later, in December. 

Soviet intervention further enraged the socially regressive feudalistic landlords and Mullahs, many of whom are affluent landlords themselves, who together cried that Islam is in danger under the “communist” DRA. The CIA’s “regime change” conspiracy, Codenamed Operation Cyclone, contrived to install the same degenerate and misogynous forces in power and, through the 1980s, cobbled together the Al Qaeda.

The then Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson (Democrat) is widely credited as the firm hand that orchestrated Operation Cyclone, which imported Osama bin Laden, bankrolled the Al Qaeda and recruited Mujahidin enticed from numerous Muslim countries.

Afghanistan’s largely secular culture and especially the youth were not at first receptive to the exhortations of a minority of Islamic fanatics; indeed they were opposed by the mainstream Islamic orthodoxy. The CIA worked through USAID to break down the resistance: the Washington Post reported that for more than two decades, from the mid-1980s onwards, they funded the University of Nebraska to write schoolbooks preaching violent Islamic extremism; tens of thousands of copies were printed in Pakistan. Some were distributed to Pakistan’s Madrassahs but the bulk was trucked into Afghanistan’s schools. The books, “filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum.” The textbooks were designed to offset Marxism’s intellectual influence by glorifying terrorism; they prodded Afghan children to “pluck out the eyes of the Soviet enemy and cut off his legs.”

Anyone anguished by the cruelty of the Taliban need go no further to understand the tragedy than examine America’s exploitative ideological conditioning and callous brutalisation of the Afghan children. One may legitimately wonder what action, if any, the UNICEF took to arrest the unfolding disaster.

President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski helpfully explained the radicalised Afghan Muslims would not only attack the non-aligned Kabul regime but also serve as the bridgehead to destabilise the neighbouring Soviet Islamic Republics. In a 1998 interview to Le Nouvel Observateur Brzezinski elaborated on his rather questionable grasp of history: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

In stark contrast Sarah Chayes, boomed as Advisor to several senior U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan and then to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hallucinated otherwise. “The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging.”

The truth is that the military establishment in Pakistan cunningly rode the American juggernaut to successfully achieve its own geopolitical objective, of Strategic Depth in Afghanistan.

The cost of the NATO-backed America’s Jihad against the Kabul regime ballooned to $630 million per year by 1987, the bulk of which went to the Mujahidin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin party.

Not one to take his eyes off the ball, President Ronald Reagan invited Mujahidin leaders to the While House in 1985 and again in 1987, when he arranged a meeting with some Members of Congress in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. Reagan lionised the visitors as “Afghan Resistance Leaders” (not “warlords” or “terrorists”, yet).

The western corporate media kept mum about Mujahidin atrocities. The probable reason was the negotiations in progress: in return for US government support, the Mujahidin, when in power, were to grant concessions to US corporations to exploit Afghanistan’s vast mineral resources.

In the following year, the USSR ended its 9-year intervention. The Red Army began its retreat in May and finally left Afghanistan by February 1989; Operation Cyclone came to an end. Congressman Wilson, however, merrily continued to secure congressional funds, albeit reduced, for the Mujahidin well into 1991.

The Neo-Cons or “crazies”, among them Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Adviser) and Richard Perle (Assistant Secretary of Defense), and ”bleeders” like Walter Slocumbe (Under Secretary of Defence) thirsted to “teach the Russians a lesson” by sucking them into a “a Vietnamese quagmire”. However, amidst popping champagne corks and congratulatory backslapping over the success of Operation Cyclone, the US-led NATO powers apparently failed to notice that the Soviets had in fact nimbly stepped back thereby leaving the NATO powers to clean up the “Afghan quagmire”.

Nevertheless they couldn’t resist lionizing Wilson; a British TV journalist lauded him for “sponsoring the only successful jihad in modern history.” Hollywood celebrated Wilson’s Operation Cyclone with the cinematic version under the same title as the book, “Charlie Wilson’s War”. A dispassionate observer couldn’t be faulted for concluding that Wilson was Superman in flesh and blood!

But the plot thickened. The Taliban – the legacy of Operation Cyclone – took centre stage. Pashtun students from Madrassahs in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and southern Afghanistan – indoctrinated by US-supplied Jihadi textbooks, trained by the Pakistani military and funded by Saudi Arabia – barrelled into battle against the Red Army around the early 1980s. Over time the battle-hardened Taliban coalesced around their Pashtun ethnic identity in the early 1990s.

Led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, reinforced by the fiercely loyal Pashtun people in southern Afghanistan and relying on their rear base in Pakistan’s Pashtun-dominated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Taliban rapidly gained control of southern and eastern Afghanistan. The US administration sensed a winner and Taliban’s battlefield advances attracted CIA’s funding and supplies that enhanced their military prowess; the US administration is said to have paid the salaries of Taliban officials in Kabul up to 1998. As anticipated by the US, the Taliban emerged as the predominant force, controlling about three-quarters of Afghanistan by 1996.

From 1991 to 1996 the western corporate media carried hardly any gory report about the US-backed Taliban’s extremes and excesses for they, after all, were US allies!

However, by 1998 it was clear the Taliban would not grant economic concessions to US corporations; they threw UNOCAL out and invited an Argentinian company to execute the pipeline project. Almost on cue, the corporate press shovelled out blood curdling stories Taliban brutality. “Resistance Leaders” turned into “warlords” and “terrorists” virtually overnight.

The wheels came off America’s oil Jihad as well as the Neo-Cons delusions about the post-Cold War Project for the New American Century (PNAC)

*To be continued..

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Latest comments

  • 7
    6

    Thank you very much for this detailed historical account.
    It could have been written as shorter separate essays for ease of reading.

    • 2
      2

      Ah, the demands of bite-size learning of modular education as in universities these days :-)

      • 1
        1

        Long essays on the Internet are seldom read as many people find it tiresome (unless one has deep interest, or is used to the e-book culture. (Even then one an essay on a website is different.
        A series of essays is helpful.
        Even a long essay on a specific subject is modular in content, you may appreciate.
        *
        BTW, what is your take on the essay itself?

    • 1
      0

      SJ, this Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan, wrote a series of excellent articles leading up to the election of Gota. This was the last of them.
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/how-we-came-to-this-pass-vi/
      .
      Yes, they were long, but they may have been necessarily so.
      .
      The latest news about Afghanistan is sad, but predictable:
      .
      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58520146
      .
      The Taliban are clearly horrible:
      .
      https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/his-body-should-rot-taliban-after-killing-amrullah-saleh-s-brother-101631290310933.html
      .
      However, I can’t help admiring the duo form the Panjshir Valley. I know that the prevailing mood appears to be to say that “realpolitik” has no place for such heroism, but help but laud these doomed heroes as showing us how nobly some humans can act.
      .
      These were men whose first choice was Peace. I see no flaws in them, and consequently regard those who dismiss their sterling qualities as anachronisms as lacking in the qualities that make it possible to say that some men display such heroism as is unknowable to other life forms.

      • 0
        0

        S.M,
        Here is a documentary about Pakistan by him. From the horse’s mouth, literally.
        https://youtu.be/PO6ZxE_Rg2c

      • 0
        0

        Thanks, amazng Old Codger,
        .
        An amazingly well-made documentary, judging by the four minutes I’ve looked at.
        .
        However it’s been made in 2017, but the comments (all adulatory) are all relatively recent.
        .
        I will return to see it all.
        .
        If I work really hard will I become as knowledgeable as you?

        • 0
          0

          S.M,
          “However it’s been made in 2017, but the comments (all adulatory) are all relatively recent.”
          That’s because it was put on YouTube recently. You would have noted that not all Pakistani women are Islamic slaves in purdah?
          .

  • 3
    4

    Come to think of failure of warfare, one cannot go past Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s military took thirty years to quieten LTTE, a ragtag outfit, not even one-tenth of its size.
    One should not ignore China’s rise in wartime resources in the two decades US was bogged down in Afghanistan. US did right to retreat to halt China in its stead.

    • 3
      1

      Anything to stop China I guess. Even another round of bombing?

  • 3
    0

    This is a good piece and exposes many points not seen in popular narrative of the Afghan situation. Thanks.

    • 5
      0

      Yes, it lets many cats out of the bag. Useful for people with shortemories.

      • 4
        0

        The many well researched links add authenticity to the writing. Many authors make bold statements without any evidence.

        • 3
          1

          OC
          The last issue of Frontline (publication of The Hindu ) offers an extensive study that I recommend to writers of articles and comments.

          • 0
            0

            S.J,
            Did you see this doc by SS?

            https://youtu.be/PO6ZxE_Rg2c

            • 0
              0

              I just saw it.
              Brilliant.
              OC, thanks very much.

  • 3
    4

    What a joke!

    A bunch of Brown-Sahibs …….. poring scorn and derision at the source of their Brown-Sahib-ness

    If ye want to be true to yourselves …….. get over your insecurities first!

  • 1
    0

    We are more interested about the change in Afghanistan than our own country which is now facing a threat of survival internally and externally by all forces. Sri Lanka is not in balance, Similarly world is not in balance. Power struggle continues and changes continue but there is no winners or no losers. What happened in Afghanistan is a power change but we cannot predict the future. In Sri Lanka, some celebrated the victory of LTTE Terrorism in 2009 and a paradise since then but still we talk about Terrorism without the presence of LTTE and paradise become pandemonium begging around the world.

    • 1
      1

      A
      Is your suggestion that we should be absolute frogs in the well who will be tutored on the International Community, USA, UNHRC and even India by our ‘leaders’ as they consider necessary.
      *
      “…some celebrated the victory of LTTE Terrorism in 2009… “
      Are you sure?

      • 1
        0

        SJ,
        Who said you (who we?) should be absolute frog(s) of UNHRC, USA, International community and India or of China, Russia and Sri Lanka. You mention, USA and India because they are now together but India was together with Russia as well. Similarly, Sri Lanka was with USA and China depends on who are powerful Buddhist Sinhala. The reality is that the power struggle between super powers continues and small countries have to dance according to their needs. The rich and poor are common in China or USA or India.

        Are you sure?
        I am not sure but that is what Rajapaksas including Chinese wing Communist party told the people and majority Buddhist Sinhala believed it. Still some believe that China will take over Sri Lanka and world soon?

        • 0
          0

          My comment was based on the attitude that emerged from your earlier comment.

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