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January 9, 2012

Afghanistan's TAPI Pipeline - We Stand on Guard for Free

Morgan Duchesney

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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."

Furthermore, 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.”

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.

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 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 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, as brutish as they are; are mainly native Afghans, not foreign invaders bent on conquest.

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 recent and evolving Libya role indicates that this habit may be changing.

The TAPI pipeline, if 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 threat of insurgent violence remains omnipresent and military violence derailed the original TAPI plan. Naturally, the pipeline’s uniformed guardians will never receive a direct share of the profits although their “investment risk” is arguably greater than that of the project’s financiers.

Morgan Duchesney is an Ottawa writer and self-defense instructor who holds an MA in Political Economy from Carleton University and a variety of martial arts teaching credentials. His work on political philosophy and the fighting arts has appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Tone, Adbusters, Humanist Perspectives and the Peace and Environment News.

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