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Success of the project would also undermine Russia’s former monopoly on energy transport from the region and limit Beijing’s growing access to Central Asian fossil fuels. Transit fees for both Afghanistan and Pakistan would be substantial. Kabul could offer returns to tribes whose land the pipeline would traverse, an old British Indian concept. Just as pipelines in Algeria and Burma function despite domestic political turmoil, the project in still-unstable Afghanistan may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Such creative strategies would help pacify the tribes that the Taliban exploits while serving to integrate the region. Mr. Holbrooke made little headway with this task - in no small part because of the complications posed by Pakistan’s conflict with India over Kashmir, which was outside his portfolio. But even a minor success would help ease the burden for American taxpayers at a time of continuing economic difficulty at home.

- Sol Sanders, veteran foreign correspondent and analyst, writes weekly on the convergence of international politics, business and economics. He can be reached at