While the fighting in Afghanistan appears on the surface to hinge on issues of fundamentalism and American revenge, below the surface, strong economic currents are at work. At base, this war will be fought to set the boundaries of U.S. and Russian influence in Central Asia, a region previously dominated by the former Soviet Union, with strong influence from Iran and Pakistan. And it will carve up the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea.
The key to exploiting oil and gas is gaining control over pipelines carrying the fuels westward to markets across the Caucacus, or eastward across Afghanistan. The cheapest and most efficient route would be to run the product south to ports in Iran. The U.S. doesn't want to deal with Iran, and the route westward is considered to be too long. So if stability could be assured, Afghanistan would end up being a key route.
Last month, one Russian news outlet described the deals worked out before the fighting started. "Russia's worries are not hard to understand," the paper wrote. "They have to do with postwar arrangements in Afghanistan. Economic interests are paramount. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan need stability in Afghanistan so that they can transit their oil/gas independently." The publication went on to suggest that once the fighting stopped, the U.S. could send troops along the Himerand River in Herat. That is where a pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil to ports in Pakistan on the Arabian Sea might be built.
Oil and gas sources in Moscow claim it will take six years to achieve any stability in Afghanistan, but already, the paper said, Russia has completed talks with the Tajiks on how to share gas revenues after the war is over. According to the paper, Russia has another deal in the works with the Uzbeks. In the kind of revealing speculation rarely seen in the stateside press, the paper suggested the two former Cold War enemies have hammered out a pact detailing ways of controlling Afghanistan. "All this is taking place beneath an already done deal in which Russia will exercise its influence in Afghanistan through the Northern Alliance," the paper reported, while the U.S. will work through the ex-king Zahir."