The Middle East's involvement in the Central Asian oil market

Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam Multan (Adobe)
In this article Mohammed Al Kharkan, an energy strategist, looks at how oil and gas supplies has shaped the geopolitics of South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.This is the first part of four articles on the subject.

The former Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan to transport its gas resources from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Chechnya and Russian Dagestan through Afghanistan to the Pakistan-India border. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Soviet Union and former Pakistani prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1973 -1977), on the gas pipeline to Multan, Pakistan.

The Americans supported General Zia-ul-Haq's 1977 military coup in Pakistan which ousted Bhutto. In 1978, the Soviet Union backed a coup in Afghanistan that brought the Communist Party to power. The United States (US), with the help of Pakistan, armed the Afghan Mujahideen so that it was able to overthrow the communist government of Afghanistan. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan, under the pretext of supporting the Afghan communists, and occupied the country militarily.

The following year, the Iranian revolution took place, and the Islamic Republic of Iran immediately withdrew from the Cento Pact (Central Treaty Organisation known as the Baghdad Pact (Iran-Pakistan-Turkey-Iraq). It also cut off gas supplies to the Soviet Union. But the cost of fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan fell on Pakistan. But with the support of the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) most of the cost of the war imposed on Pakistan against the Soviets in Afghanistan, was covered. However, Iran preferred not to get involved in regional issues and had no preference for either East or West.

The left was gaining power in the Islamic Republic of Iran and propagating anti-American policies.The US embassy fell to Islamic leftists and American diplomats were taken hostage. Iraq invaded Iran with the support of the US and Saudi Arabia. The Iran-Iraq war prevented Iran from playing a role in Afghanistan.

The Cold War was raging. The US trained and supported a group of Saudi Arabs to prevent the transfer of Soviet gas to terrorist operations and to stop attacks on pipelines.The group later became known as al-Qaeda.

The war in Afghanistan was huge and a costly risk that led to the collapse of its economy and to hefty costs in the Soviet Union.The US agreed with the Mojahedin to make the gas pipeline of the newly established Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan possible after the Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89 and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990. Conoco Phillips was contracted to build the pipeline and transport gas from those countries to Afghanistan.

With the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988, there was no need for General Zia-ul-Haq to remain in Pakistan. His plane crashed, destroying the military cabinet.Everything enabled the US to exploit the oil and gas resources of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, so that these countries could act as new rivals to the monopoly of OPEC and Russia.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar were not satisfied with this.They were the main sellers of oil and gas to the US, Pakistan, India, and the world, and did not want a new competitor. For this reason, they supported the Taliban gaining power in Afghanistan. The Taliban then canceled the Conoco Phillips pipeline contract.

The US blamed al-Qaeda for the events of September 11, 2001 and attacked Afghanistan militarily. It also overthrew the Arab-backed government (the Taliban) and took over Afghanistan militarily.The US, then encouraged Iraq to invade Kuwait and went to war with Iraq to save Kuwait.The US overthrew the Iraqi government, which, inadvertently, led to the seizure of power by Iran's allies in Iraq.

Forty years have passed since the beginning of those stories. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are still unable to fully exploit their rich oil and gas wealth. Chechnya and Russian Dagestan sit on vast gas resources.The Europeans are taking the lead in exploiting these vast gas resources.A consortium of European pipeline companies will start gas pipelines from Azerbaijan to Austria and Germany. Turkmen and the Cossacks are happy that a new route is opening for them, but Iran opposes any work in the Caspian Sea until the border rights are clarified. Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan signed an agreement which does not include Iran.Iran swaps oil and gas with Turkmenistan.For the past few years, gas to northern Iran has been supplied by Turkmenistan, and Iran has been buying Turkmen oil cheaply for domestic refineries and exporting its own oil.

Iran, Iraq and Syria have signed an agreement to transfer Iranian gas to them. Syria entered a civil war. The Arabs and the US took action against the Syrian central government.The US has called for the ouster of the Iraqi government. But the Iraqi government also changed.

In the winter, about four years ago, Turkmenistan cut off gas supplies to northern Iran. Negotiations took place. Russia mediated.I ran was involved in the war in Syria and Russia gave military support. Iran and Russia were now strategic allies.


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Friday, 24 September 2021