January 12, 2002



Others have commented on idiot cartoonist Ted Rall's latest conspiracy theory piece: that the Afghan war's really about oil. That's what it is on the surface, anyway. What's underneath is a little bit of character assassination of the Bush administration's leading Afghan expert, Kabul-born Zalmay Khalilzad:

Khalilzad has an unsavory past. As a State and Defense Department official during the Reagan years, Khalilzad helped supply the anti-Soviet mujihadeen with weapons they're now using to fight Americans.

So leaving your professor's gig to join the Reagan State Department (he worked for Paul Wolfowitz) makes you unsavory now? (As a side note, Khalilzad didn't join Defence until the Bush administration.) Or does Rall now believe that helping drive the Soviets out was wrong?

During the `90s he worked as Unocal's chief consultant on its Afghan pipeline scheme. According to the French daily Libération, Khalilzad's $200 million project was originally conceived to run 830 miles from Dauletebad in southeastern Turkmenistan to Multan, Pakistan.

Khalilzad was actually one of many academics hired briefly as consultants by Unocal (so was Henry Kissinger), while he was waiting out the Clinton years over at the Rand. He started advising Unocal on Afghan politics in 1997... over a year after Turkmen president Niyazov had signed a deal for Unocal to pipe his natural gas through Afghanistan... and some months after Pakistan's foreign secretary had visited Mullah Omar in Kandahar to try and get him to sign to the deal. The fact that Khalilzad offered some advice on the local political scene after all this had happened hardly makes the pipeline his project.

Partly on Khalilzad's advice, the Clinton Administration funded the Taliban through Pakistani intelligence, going so far as to pay the salaries of high-ranking Taliban officials. The goal: a strong, stable authoritarian regime in Kabul to ensure the safety of Unocal's precious oil.

This is a lie from beginning to end. There is no evidence American funds ever paid any Taliban salaries for starters. But it's also character assassination: for it was Khalilzad, more than anyone else, who sounded the early alarm about the Taliban and called for their overthrow, back when no one was listening. To accuse him of being party to a deal to bolster the Taliban regime is completely counter to everything the man stood and stands for.

The man's ideas are clearly laid out in the now-considered seminal piece in The Washington Quarterly, which Slate's Jacob Weisberg believes formed the blueprint for the Bush administration's conduct of the Afghan War. (Khalilzad returned to Defense when the Republicans returned to the White House, shortly thereafter moving to the NSC as its chief official for the Persian Gulf and Central Asia.) He has always called for the Taliban's overthrow, not its support. And we know Rall read this article, and still lied about Khalilzad's record anyway. How do we know? Because he quotes it in this piece!

On December 31, Bush appointed his special envoy to Afghanistan: Zalmay Khalilzad. "This is a moment of opportunity for Afghanistan," the former Unocal employee commented upon arrival in Kabul January 5. You bet it is: Pakistan's Frontier Post reports that U.S. ambassador Wendy Chamberlain met in October with Pakistan's oil minister to discuss reviving the Unocal project.

The senior NSC official for the region becomes Bush's special envoy. There's a conspiracy, if I ever heard one. One year of consulting fees from Unocal (1997-98) doesn't make for an employee. And of course Pakistan wants to revive the pipeline idea as soon as possible... Asian oilgame expert Ahmed Rashid reports they only have eight years of natural gas reserves left, and no pipeline from any other country's gas fields to fall back on when it runs out (What are they going to do? Fly it in?). He outlines the Pakistan dilemma in his book Taliban, which Rall claims to have loved, so we know he read that, too.

Here's what really happened, okay? Khalilzad, a Ph.D who grew up in Kabul, became a stalwart public servant through good service to three Republican administrations. Along with just about every other Afghan expert in the country, he also once took a consulting contract with Unocal on how they could make their pipeline scheme work. He likely told them what he had been saying everywhere else: that there wouldn't be a pipeline without peace, and there'd never be peace with the Taliban. Shortly after, Unocal put the idea on the shelf. But to Rall, this means the pipeline's really Khalilzad's idea, not Unocal's, and, all facts to the contrary, he was really scheming to prop up and pay off the rulers he publicly claims to despise. So when Bush appointed Khalilzad as his special envoy, well, that means the war was really all about oil. If you follow that logic, you really need to cut your dose.

Posted by BruceR at 03:26 AM