November 6, 2001
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US flirted with the Taleban for years: Washington Post

T V Parasuram in Washington

The United States did not brand members of the Taleban as terrorists for years believing whatever Pakistan said about the militia and sought to win them over for laying an oil pipeline through Afghanistan, a newspaper in Washington said.

However, the US embassy bombings in east Africa in 1998 strained the relations between Washington and the Taleban, which worsened dramatically after the September 11 terror attacks and the militia's decision to continue hosting Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden, the paper said.

Lack of a coherent policy towards Afghanistan was part of a broader miscalculation by the US government.

By allowing terrorism, fuelled by anti-American rage to take root in Afghanistan, officials underestimated the potential for danger, the Washington Post said.

"To a large extent, the US deferred to Pakistan as Afghanistan's turbulence dragged on," former officials said.

A former special assistant to the defence secretary, Elie D Krakowski, said "The US had what I call a derivative policy towards Afghanistan. That is, it had no policy on Afghanistan on its own."

The US, said the paper, 'was reluctant to criticise Pakistan as it further aligned itself with the Taleban after Kabul's fall'.

Stating that in the mid-1990s, a US oil company, Unocal, was tracking the outcome of the Afghan conflict, the paper said the company was seeking rights to build a massive pipeline across Afghanistan, connecting the vast oil and natural gas reserves of Turkmenistan to a plant and ports in Pakistan.

The US state department officials promoted the oil company's pipeline project in their role of helping American companies find investments in the region, said a former assistant secretary for South Asia, who went to Kandahar to meet Taleban leaders and met at other points with different groups.

"We worked hard to make all the Afghan factions understand the potential, because the Unocal pipeline offered development opportunities that no aid programme nor any Afghan government could. The Taleban assured Unocal that it would support a $4.5 billion project. The deal promised the Taleban $100 million a year," he said.

Unocal also needed US government backing to secure critical financing from agencies like the World Bank. It needed the state department to formally recognise the Taleban as Afghanistan's government, the paper said.

Unocal hired former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former special US ambassador John J Maresca and former US ambassador to lobby its case, it said.

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born former state department adviser on Afghanistan in the Ronald Reagan administration and who is now one of President George Bush's top advisers on the same country, became consultant for a Boston group hired by Unocal, the Post said.

Khalilzad had a dual role during the period because the state department also sought his advice, it said.


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