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Did George W. Bush do Business with the Taliban?
January 15, 2002
by Gerald Plessner

In the months before the 9/11 atrocities, did the Bush administration see the Taliban as a stable government with which it could do business? Did it block Federal Bureau of Investigation efforts to find and prosecute terrorism so its oil industry friends could negotiate construction of a pipeline across Afghanistan, opening up oil fields in the former Soviet Union to American exploitation?

Those allegations are contained in a book published in Paris late last year. Bin Laden, la verite interdite (Bin Laden, the forbidden truth), written by French intelligence analysts Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, is now receiving considerable attention in this country.

Recently on CNN, Paula Zahn asked Ambassador and former United Nations weapons inspector Richard Butler about the allegations. He said that the book contained "the allegation that instead of prosecuting properly an investigation of terrorism, which has its home in Afghanistan as we now know . . . that (the investigation) was shut down or slowed down in order to pursue oil interests with the Taliban . . . negotiators said to the Taliban, you have a choice. You have a carpet of gold, meaning an oil deal, or a carpet of bombs. That's what the book alleges."

According to the authors, the Bush administration began negotiating with the Taliban immediately after the inauguration. Several meetings took place in Washington, Berlin and Islamabad, the last in August 2001. At that meeting, Christina Rocca, head of Central Asian affairs for the state department, met the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan in Islamabad.

The book outlines how until August 2001, the U.S. government saw the Taliban regime "as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction of an oil pipeline across Central Asia," from the rich oilfields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean.

Those rich oil fields are now controlled by Russia and a pipeline through Afghanistan would break that control at a much cheaper cost of construction, maintenance and security.

It should surprise no one that the Bush administration would, in one of its first international initiatives, move to help its friends in the oil industry. Both the president and vice president Dick Cheney have oil industry backgrounds. The vice president came to his position from the presidency of Halliburton, an oil field service and construction company. The president's father was an oil man before entering politics and is now a consultant to that industry among others. As the first former president to remain involved in businesses deeply effected by government actions, his activities raise interesting questions of conflict of interest, both for himself and the current president.

National Security Council director Condoleeza Rice is a former director of Chevron. Secretaries of commerce and energy Donald Evans and Stanley Abraham have both worked for oil companies. With all the current attention on the Enron bankruptcy, it will be interesting to see if their involvement in this issue raises any questions.

Given the new attention to the persecution of women by the Taliban, did security counselor Rice or state department executive Christina Rocca have any second thoughts about their involvement in negotiations to perpetuate such a vile regime? Could our government's initial lack of interest in the plight of those women have been influenced by the effort to help the administration's oil industry friends? Or did they just not care?

As one of its first acts, the Bush administration allowed tens of millions of dollars to be given to the Taliban regime for its purported suppression of poppy farming. While later evidence suggests that instead of eradicating poppy farming, the Taliban merely warehoused the production and then sold it to finance its repressive regime and its failed survival.

Given the questionable morality of providing any sustenance to the Taliban, other questions demand answers: Was that money given as a show of good faith in the negotiations over a possible pipeline? And if so, how many lives did that cost?

• Gerald Plessner is a regular contributor to the Pasadena Star-News in California. He is a resident of Arcadia, California and may be contacted at geraldplessner@accellence.com.

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