First Iraq and oil, now Afghanistan and natural gas
Before U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the bombing of Iraq in 2003, some analysts were saying the war was really about oil. At the time, it had been 23 years since former president Jimmy Carter revealed the heartbeat of Washington policy by linking U.S. security - "the vital interests of the United States" - to the control of oil in the Persian Gulf. In March, 2003, Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, told me in an interview for the Star that Washington was convinced the combination of its control of Gulf oil and military technology decades ahead of anyone else "would guarantee American supremacy for the next 50 to 100 years."
Now, moving east from the Gulf states, we recognize a familiar theme, this time in a report suggesting Canadian troops could find themselves guarding a U.S.-backed natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Once again, what's really at stake appears to be control over energy resources. That's the view of international energy economist John Foster, who believes Canadian troops face another danger in Afghanistan: that of being played in what he calls the new "Great Energy Game."
Foster outlines the searing scenario in a report, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, that says Canadian troops could find themselves under orders to protect the natural gas pipeline in the most dangerous region of Afghanistan. That would be an extremely risky proposition, even by the standards of the ongoing war. To date, 85 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in that country, by every lethal means from suicide bombers to insurgent attacks and landmine explosions.
Educated at Cambridge University, with experience in the oil business, including Petro-Canada as lead economist, and at the World Bank, Foster writes that the pipeline could turn Afghanistan into "an energy bridge" between Central and South Asia. His report - A Pipeline Through a Troubled Land - documents how the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline is slated to transport natural gas 1,680 kilometers from southeast Turkmenistan through southern Afghanistan, to Pakistan and India. Construction is set to begin in 2010, with natural gas flowing through the $7.6 billion (U.S.) pipeline by 2015. (Construction costs are almost certainly expected to soar.)
On April 25, 2008, the four nations involved signed a "Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement," committing themselves to construction deadlines.
Still, it's in the proposal stage, which is why Foster decries the absence of debate over how its construction would affect the lives and efforts of Canadian soldiers. The absence of such discussion - indeed, even a mention in speeches or media releases, despite the presence of MPs and officials at regional energy meetings - could explain the Conservative government's single-minded goal of having Canadian troops stay beyond the original 2009 date for withdrawal. According to the report, it's as if no meetings have ever taken place. Have promises been made to the U.S. Administration for reasons we don't know about?
Bruce, Campbell, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think-tank based in Ottawa, also criticizes the lack of debate on the proposed pipeline. Campbell wants to know if Canadian Forces will become "guardians of this pipeline."
Says Foster in his report:
The U.S. is our ally and it clearly asserts the geopolitical importance of the region. But the quest for energy security risks drawing Canada unwittingly into a new Great Energy Game."