The New Great Game

Written by Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq  •  Cover Stories  •  January 2012 PDF Print E-mail

The hidden agenda behind the War on Terror is securing control over oil and gas reserves. The Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project has brought this fear to the forefront and has heightened regional involvement.

A statement by US Ambassador to Pakistan at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on November 25, 2011 that “Pak-Iran gas pipeline is not a good idea….however, the plan to get gas from Turkmenistan is a better idea,” was not a mere reiteration of the economic interests of the United States and its allies. The statement, in effect, has serious political connotations that relate to an area that has always been the battlefield of the Great Game. The Pakistan government reacted strongly against Cameron Munter’s statement, saying, “Islamabad will not accept any dictation regarding its internal affairs from any foreign country. Gas from Iran is in the country’s best interest.”

After India’s pullout from the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project (IP), following its civil nuclear deal with the US, both China and Russia have shown interest in the project. The Russian gas-export monopoly, Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corporation have promised to help build the 780-kilometer pipeline. It is worrisome for the US and its allies that China and Russia are emerging as supporters of IP — their cooperation with Iran would certainly be harmful for American geopolitical interests in this region.

Pakistan Federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Dr. Asim Hussain, in a TV interview in October 2011, said: “Our dependence on Pak-Iran pipeline is very high and there is no other substitute at present to meet the growing demand of energy.” This statement irritated the Unites States, which has been pleading the case for the Turkmenistan Gas project (TAPI) since the 1990s. TAPI was initially designed to provide Turkmen gas to Pakistan through Afghanistan. In April 2008, India was also invited to join. Pakistan’s cabinet gave approval to the Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement (GPFA) for TAPI in its meeting on October 27, 2010. On November 13, 2011, Pakistan and Turkmenistan initiated the Gas Sales and Purchase Agreement (GSPA), which is likely to bring the multi-nation project into operation by 2016.

The US and its allies want Pakistan to abdicate from IP and pursue TAPI. This is not only unacceptable to Pakistan but Iran, China and Russia have also expressed serious apprehensions about this project as the main financial control over Turkmenistan gas reserves lies with giant Western companies. Additionally, its viability is doubtful as pipelines will pass through Taliban-controlled regions and Pakistan’s troubled border regions. The cost as compared to IP is also too high — Turkmenistan originally estimated the total cost at $3.3 billion but later raised it to $ 7.6 billion. Other estimates are as high as $10 billion.

Iran wants to diversify gas sales to Asian markets and Asian countries. Tehran’s projection of IP as a peace pipeline has the support of Russia and China. While regional powers desire to find a stable, reliable source of gas supplies, America and its allies want to destabilize the entire region using militancy as a tool of foreign policy. The tussle over IP and TAPI is therefore not a mere economic battle but has far-reaching geopolitical dimensions. India’s betrayal under US pressure is a cause for concern for regional powers — China and Russia are supporting Pakistan to withstand US pressure for non-participation in IP.  

It is a matter of record that much before 9/11, the US and its NATO allies decided to invade Afghanistan. The decision to this effect was taken in Berlin during a joint meeting of the Council of Ministers in November 2000.  It exposes the claims of the US and coalition partners that 9/11 was the sole reason for invading Afghanistan. The actual cause was apprehensions regarding the Turkmenistan Gas Pipeline Project in which powerful corporate entities had financial interests.

George Bush appointed former aide to the American oil company UNOCAL, Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, as special envoy to Afghanistan nine days after the US-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul. This appointment underscored the real economic and financial interests at stake in the US military intervention in Central Asia. Khalilzad was intimately involved in long-running US efforts to obtain direct access to the oil and gas resources of the region, largely unexploited but believed to be the second largest in the world after the Persian Gulf.

As an advisor for UNOCAL, Khalilzad drew up a risk analysis of a proposed gas pipeline from the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. He participated in talks between UNOCAL and Taliban officials in 1997, which was aimed at implementing a 1995 agreement to build the pipeline across western Afghanistan. UNOCAL was the lead company in the formation of the CentGas consortium. The purpose was to bring natural gas from the Daulatabad Field in southeast Turkmenistan to the market. A 48-inch diameter pipeline from the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border would pass near the cities of Herat and Kandahar and cross into Pakistan near Quetta before linking with existing pipelines at Multan. Turkmenistan is home to one of the world’s largest energy reserves. The project was eventually cancelled after UNOCAL withdrew from the consortium.

IP and TAPI are symbols of the New Great Game - the main goal of which is to gain control of oil and gas reserves in the region. ‘’The hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: oil/gas. The map of terrorist sanctuaries and targets in the Middle East and Central Asia is also, to an extraordinary degree, a map of the world’s principal energy sources in the 21st century. It is inevitable that the war against terrorism will be seen by many as a war on behalf of America’s Chevron, Exxon, and Arco; France’s TotalFinaElf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell and other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the region.’’

This is the ugly reality of the ongoing war over IP and TAPI. It unveils the hidden agenda of the US and its allies to grab oil and gas resources for their economic interests, thus benefiting huge multinational corporations where the Western ruling elites have substantial interest.  

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq are partners in the law firm Huzaima & Ikram (member Taxand) and Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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