According to John Foster, a petroleum economist with 40 years experience in international development, a big part of the answer is energy.
“In the modern world, petroleum equals power,” the Toronto-based author said at UBC’s Liu Center for Global Issues on January 20.
Foster was promoting a new book, Afghanistan and Canada: Is There an Alternative to War (Black Rose Books, $24.99 paperback), which includes two essays he wrote on geopolitics and energy. At UBC, he spoke about Central Asia’s history as a battlefield for natural resources.
A “new great game” is emerging, Foster said. The United States, Europe, Russia, China, and Iran, are all vying for control over oil and natural gas deposits and transit routes.
Afghanistan holds a significant geographic position in this game, the Toronto resident explained. While many may not know it, Turkmenistan (to Afghanistan’s north) holds the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world. From its Dauletabad gas field, Afghanistan can serve as an “energy bridge”, allowing for a pipeline to be built from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, to the massive and energy-hungry markets of Pakistan and then India. (Hence the project’s name, “TAPI”.)
“After 1991 [and the end of the Cold War], rival world powers began to explore ways to move energy in directions under their control,” Foster said. “That was the start of the new great game. The Russians are planning new pipelines north, the Chinese are building new pipelines east, the United States is promoting pipelines west to Europe and south through Afghanistan, to Pakistan and India.”
He continued, “Pipelines are important today in the same way that railway building was important in the 19th century. They connect trading partners and they influence the regional balance of power. The pipeline route is critical.”
Foster went on to dispel many of the government’s long-stated reasons for staying in Afghanistan for nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks on the U.S.
He outlined Canada’s ties to the proposed pipeline, noting that the $7.6 billion project is expected to run right through Kandahar, where Canadian forces have encountered heavy resistance and suffered many casualties.
“One has to listen very carefully these days,” Foster said. “Lots of public statements are technically accurate, but misleading. Talking heads say, ”˜Afghanistan is not about oil’. And that is literally true. The pipeline plan through Afghanistan is for natural gas. And I’ve heard diplomats say, ”˜Canada is not involved in the project’. And that is misleading. It is a multinational project sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, and Canada is a proud member of that bank.”
Near the end of his presentation, Foster turned somber. “Do Canadians want to be involved in NATO wars around the world?” he asked. “Do we want the militarization of energy? There is a high price to pay in dollars, lives, and morality.”
Construction of the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline scheduled to begin in 2010. CCPA photo. Click image to enlarge.
A second speaking engagement is scheduled for Sunday, January 24, at 12:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver at 949 West 49th Avenue.
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.