- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan The Taliban, whether from twisted perceptions or a cynical propaganda ploy, is claiming the United States is bombing Afghanistan not to capture Osama bin Laden but to seize the "oil and natural resources of Central Asia."
By claiming a secret, commercial motive as the real reason for America's new war, the Taliban apparently hopes to convince world opinion that greed forms the root of Washington's air campaign against military targets in Afghanistan.
Abdul Salaam Zaeef, the Taliban's black-turbaned, black-bearded ambassador in Islamabad, laid out the claim at a news conference late last week. Reading from a one-page, typed document written in English and titled "American Terrorist Attacks on Afghanistan Continues," Mr. Zaeef said: "The present game is more about oil and natural resources of Central Asia" than about Osama bin Laden, leader of the organization identified by the United States as responsible for the deaths of more than 5,000 people in New York and at the Pentagon.
"To achieve this, America wants to replace the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with a pro-American government in Kabul," the ambassador read while sitting on the embassy's covered porch to journalists who stood on the front lawn in drizzling rain.
"Aggression has been launched against our sovereignty and independence, and global dictatorship is being unleashed by America under the cover of defending democracy."
Mr. Zaeef did not elaborate on the latest Taliban salvo against Washington.
It was not clear whether the Taliban's description of a blood-for-oil war was simply false propaganda to deflect attention from its sheltering of bin Laden, or a rare glimpse into the actual perception of Afghanistan's xenophobic, reclusive leadership.
In 1996, U.S.-based Unocal Corp. and other petrochemical firms were competing for the rights to construct a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan.
Unocal and other corporations were stymied, however, by heavy fighting between the newly victorious Taliban regime in Kabul and the freshly ousted Northern Alliance, which lost power after a 1992-1996 reign marked by bloody infighting.
"We are hopeful that this is a temporary situation," Unocal Pakistan Ltd.'s president and general manager, Richard Keller, was quoted by Reuters as saying in mid-October 1996, referring to the battles between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.
Two weeks earlier, when the Taliban seized power in Kabul for the first time, Unocal International Energy Ventures Ltd.'s executive vice president, Chris Taggart, was more upbeat. "I understand Pakistan has already recognized the [Taliban] government," Mr. Taggart was quoted as saying on Oct. 1, 1996. "If the U.S. follows, it will lead the way to international lending agencies coming in.
"If the Taliban leads to stability and international recognition, then it's positive," Mr. Taggart added, expressing an optimism that was ultimately shattered when President Clinton refused to establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban.
Unocal had hoped to team up with Delta Oil Co. of Saudi Arabia to construct a pipeline and was tentatively mapping Afghanistan with satellite imagery, while trying to raise cash through the World Bank, foreign investors and other sources, according to news reports at the time.
"Obviously there has to be a government acceptable to the Afghans and the outside world," Mr. Keller was quoted as saying. The pipeline would have tapped into a lucrative gas field under Turkmenistan, in the Dauletabad zone, which was said to contain billions of cubic feet of natural gas.
If a 1,000-mile-long pipeline had been built across Afghanistan, the natural gas could have been shipped for sale to power plants in Pakistan, India and elsewhere.
Running south from Turkmenistan, the pipeline could have entered Afghanistan's northwest corner near Heart a scene of current U.S. and British bombardment and dodged the country's rugged central mountains by curving across the southern desert past Kandahar, the Taliban's headquarters. The pipeline would have exited Afghanistan near Kandahar by veering into southern Pakistan, near Quetta.

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