Dying for Oil: Business as Usual-Canada and the TAPI Pipeline

Dying for Oil: Business as Usual-Canada and the TAPI Pipeline

As published in the Peace and Environment News: September / October 2011.

Canada’s original public justification for joining NATO’s Afghanistan mission was the perceived necessity of destroying Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden after 911. The mission subsequently changed to defeating the Taliban and finally to promoting democratization and development. The protection of a major natural gas pipeline has never been a public part of Canada’s mission although at one point Defense Minister Peter MacKay had vaguely committed to protecting pipelines if such protection was requested. The Harper government recently announced that the Afghanistan mission has been an unqualified success, in spite of the 156 combat deaths and hundreds of seriously-wounded soldiers with little to show for their sacrifice. Furthermore, Harper actually enunciated the fantasy that the threat of insurgent terror in the region had been largely eliminated. Therefore, Canada’s future commitment to train the Afghan Army in counter-insurgency tactics can be considered be a purely academic exercise.

The Canadian public does not share Stephen Harper’s certainty about Afghanistan and the role of the military in general. A June, 2011 Ipsos Reid study; commissioned by the Department of National Defense; indicated that, “…Canadians were under-informed about the Canadian Forces role in Afghanistan, and that they did not know why the Canadian Forces were still there. “ (Ottawa Citizen: August 28, 2011.) Further, the survey of 1651 respondents indicated that, “…a majority of Canadians would like to see the military return to a more traditional peacekeeping role instead of a combat one. (Ibid) While these expressed sentiments may be simply a case of public fatigue over Canadian casualties; the survey indicates Harper’s utter indifference to the democratic wishes of Canadian voters since the government plans to continue expanding and technologically-upgrading the Forces.

This program applies especially to the Canadian Special Forces Operation Command (CANSOFCOM), a most useful tool in Canada’s aggressive new foreign policy. Canada’s elite JTF2 have been active in Afghanistan since 2002 and the government’s national security reasoning makes it impossible to verify their continued presence or absence. In spite of the dark and violent history of covert Special Forces since their World War Two genesis; CANSOF (Special Operations Forces) Commander Brigadier General Thompson recently said, “There is nothing that CANSOF does that would violate the Criminal Code of Canada that is outside the rule of law, the laws of armed conflict or the Geneva Convention.” (Vanguard: April/May 2011) Considering the opaque cloak masking Canadian Special Forces’ activities; Canadians will have to take Thompson’s word for it.

Now that Canada is easing its Afghan burden by adopting a non-combat training role, revisionists are busily sanitizing Canada’s military and civil exploits to avoid the impression that those Canadian lives may have been wasted during a brutal military adventure that didn’t even qualify as an official war. Did Canadian troops die in an effort to pacify the route of a future natural gas pipeline and facilitate efficient and profitable resource extraction? This vital question must enter our public discourse if Canadians are to understand the Canadian Forces past and current activities in Afghanistan. The ugliness of Canada’s U.S. proxy Afghanistan policy is exacerbated by Harper’s [and Martin before him] duplicitous pretense of nobility while sacrificing the lives of dedicated soldiers for myopic political gain and the bottom line of energy corporations. The whole mess would be more palatable if the powers-that-be would drop the pretense and simply and publicly acknowledge this reality.

Afghanistan is located at the centre of the oil and natural gas producing nations Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. The U.S government and the transnational energy corporations (Unocal, Exxon-Mobil et al) it serves must control access to these and other resources. Controlling access to Afghanistan’s considerable natural resources is vital to these concerns. Hence, the Afghan people remain burdened until at least the 2014 elections with the corrupt puppet government of Hamid Karzai who attained power after being "selected" to run by the U.S. government in 2002. According to Tobi Cohen, “…the international community quietly welcomes the news that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has decided not to seek re-election…” (Ottawa Citizen: August 12, 2011) However, Mr. Karzai, in spite of his familial reputation for corruption; is still deeply involved in negotiating the latest incarnation of TAPI pipeline deal.

According to Dr. Robert M. Cutler writing in the January 19, 2011 issue of the Central Asian–Caucasus Institute (CACI) Analyst, “…in Ashgabat on December 11, 2011, Turkmenistan signed an intergovernmental agreement with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India for the so-called TAPI gas pipeline, a 1,050 mile project that would link the four countries.” This pipeline deal is just the latest chapter in a long list of stalled and suspended deals involving companies like Argentina’s Brida, Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsubishi, Gaz de France and Enron.

The author first learned of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline after reading a 1998 Globe and Mail article about a Unocal-sponsored deal to run a natural gas pipeline From Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan’s Helmat and Kandahar province. At that time the deal was derailed by the rain of U.S. bombs and cruise missiles intended for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda associates; then believed to be sheltered by the Taliban. According the Rashid Ahmed, author of Taliban, Unocal later claimed that they withdrew from the deal because of, “…pressure from shareholders [who] objected to the project because of the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women.” This claim is weakened by the reality of Unocal previous and extensive negotiations with the Taliban, whose ignorance of the oil business made the process nightmarishly slow and onerous.

Apparently, Kandahar province has been sufficiently pacified to again seriously consider running an expensive buried pipeline through the territory. According to Cutler, “…the central [Afghan] government has bruited the deployment of 7,000 soldiers (to be trained by NATO) to safeguard the route.” It may only be coincidental that Canada has recently committed over 900 troops to remain in Afghanistan and train the regular Afghan army under NATO auspices. Ironically, theses Afghan troops will be deployed to defend the pipeline against “terrorist” elements of the same Taliban who were originally engaged in protracted negotiations with Unocal during the period 1995-1998. We might remind ourselves that the Taliban are native Afghans, and not some species of alien invader.
According to John Foster, a Canadian energy economist writing in the December 23, 2010 Toronto Star, “The U.S. has been pushing hard for the TAPI pipeline – and against an alternative pipeline from Iran… [the] TAPI countries say the next step is to find a global energy company to run the project…The stated reasons for Canadian involvement in Afghanistan keeps evolving, but they [the Harper government] ignore geopolitics…” However, Canada’s ongoing military involvement in Libya indicates that this habit may be changing.

Now, to complicate matters further, “The recent assassination of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the chairman of the Kandahar Provincial Council and President Hamid Karzai's half-brother, is an enormous propaganda and moral boost for the Taliban.” (Telegraph, July 25, 2011) The effect of Wali Karzai’s death on TAPI is unclear, but the Afghan’s people’s tenuous confidence in the NATO-backed government of Hamid Karzai has been shaken. This killing will also interfere with Afghan Army and police recruitment.

The TAPI pipeline, it it’s ever completed; may benefit Afghanistan economically since 13,000 jobs are expected to result from its construction and maintenance. Some proponents also believe the pipeline will help pacify the region if Afghanistan’s numerous factions learn to play a role in the process. However, the ever-present threat of insurgent violence remains omnipresent and military violence derailed the original TAPI plan. Needless to say, the pipeline guardians will never receive a direct share of the profits. As former Canadian Defense Minister Art Eggleton once stated in a written reply to my critique of Canada's military policy, “That’s not how capitalism works.”

Author Bio: Morgan Duchesney is an Ottawa writer, photographer and Karate instructor. His work on politics, war and martial arts has appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Tone, Adbusters, Humanist Perspectives and the Peace and Environment News.