By Asger Strodl
Unocal, a US oil company, in partnership with Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia, has signed a contract with the Taliban rulers of most of Afghanistan to construct a gas and oil pipeline. It will go from Turkmenistan, through western Afghanistan, to the port of Karachi in Pakistan.
The vice-president of Unocal had said that it would be a good thing for the Taliban to be victorious in the Afghani civil war, because the resulting stability would allow construction of the pipeline. Unocal also said that it would not hand over any money until Afghanistan is unified.
The pipeline will cost $US 2.5 billion to construct and will be capable of moving 1.27 million cubic metres of gas per day. The deal substantiates accusations made last year that Pakistan is manipulating the Taliban and the Afghan conflict on behalf of the US to access the oil-rich regions of central Asia. Saudi Arabia has also been accused of supplying the Taliban with weapons.
The oil fields in central Asia have two other alternative routes for export, through Russia or Iran. The USA is keen to prevent either country controlling the outlets of this new source, believed to be the world's largest oil reserves.
Masood, an important anti-Taliban military leader, has recently accused the Pakistani secret service of approaching allies of General Dostam to get them to break the anti-Taliban alliance.
The Pakistani government has also been actively campaigning for the UN and the Islamic Conference to formally recognise the Taliban as the Afghani government.
Fighting had quieted with the winter snow, but spring is rapidly melting the snow and the various armies are becoming active again. All anti-Taliban factions have united in an alliance. This is the first time since the Soviet withdrawal that the Afghan Mujahideen and warlords have cooperated.
The alliance has agreed that if Kabul is recaptured, no faction will lay claim to the government. Instead Kabul would be administrated by a neutral police force.
The alliance is receiving plenty of armed assistance from Iran and Russia, although these countries deny it. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have openly declared support for General Dostam and Masood. Both countries have officially created supply lines for the alliance.
General Dostam has received 500 new Russian tanks from Uzbekistan. He now boasts an army of 60,000 troops with 15 missile launchers and a small number of Mig-22 jet fighters.
Tajikistan currently has about 20,000 Russian troops protecting the Tajik-Afghan border. There are about 100,000 refugees on that border.
The Taliban's military strength is estimated at 40,000-60,000 troops. It is still receiving technical, logistic and military support from Pakistan, according to the anti-Taliban alliance. Pakistani POWs captured by Masood last year have said that Pakistan had at least 1000 troops in action at that time, as well as pilots. Since that report, the Taliban have not been flying their planes.
In recent military campaigns Dostam captured most of the Badghis and Fariab provinces in the west. The Taliban have moved 3500 troops from Kabul to reinforce the west.
Masood has been running disruptive guerilla warfare in the east, and claims to have a provincial capital, Asadabad, 190 km east of Kabul, under siege. A small armed faction has claimed to have taken two provinces in the east from the Taliban, but there has been no confirmation.