There exists an argument that the US and NATO in Afghanistan are not to spread democracy or avenge the 9/11 attacks but the troops are in Afghanistan because of a proposed "Trans-Afghanistan" gas pipeline that extends from the rich oilfields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the post-Soviet era a member of American gas and oil explorer Unocal (Union Oil Company of California) scouted the former Soviet Union territories for opportunities and came across the gas reserves in Turkmenistan.
"Turkmenistan was stuck with reserves and no market," says John Imle, former CEO of Unocal.
Unocal's plans were to build two pipelines, one for oil and the other for gas, travelling through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India - a distance of well over 1,700km. Afghanistan was set to earn $400m per year in transportation costs, which would significantly enrich Afghan government's income at that time.
"Taliban wanted the reconstruction of the country, so that's why we were interested in working with Unocal," says Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, former Taliban foreign secretary. "When a company wants to establish itself in Afghanistan it will bring a lot of investment. It's natural that this has a positive effect on mutual relationships, but our main goal was to improve economic conditions in Afghanistan."
"Worldwide there was a very broad perception that Unocal was working with the US government to promote the Taliban as the most likely source for a stable, single group controlling Afghanistan. And there was... an effort or hopefulness on the part of some that if this pipeline could be put through, it could be a source of stability or development for Afghanistan. " says Julie Sirrs, former officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Advice to form a united government (between the Taliban and the Northern A lliance) recognised by the UN in order to garner World Bank and Asian Development Bank interest fell flat. Unocal continued with its plans and flew core members of the Taliban to Unocal headquarters to further investigate the project. The Bill Clinton administration, now aware of the value of the pipeline, continued in its efforts to influence the Taliban regime. Plans to support the Taliban's bid for power in hopes of "stability" backfired. Unocal decided to withdraw from the project.
"I remember when President Clinton sent some cruise missiles into Afghanistan.... that's when I told my boss and the board of directors that it was time… this wasn't gonna go anywhere any time soon," says Marty Miller, Unocal's former vice president.
After Al-Qaida’s attack on the Twin Towers, according to sources, Taliban officials were told they could accept a 'carpet of gold' or a 'carpet of bombs.'
Talks of bringing the 'peace' pipeline project back to life have floated around since.
“It is not impossible that the Taliban will come back to power. They are an element, they're not going away, and in order to have peace - not necessarily yet prosperity in Afghanistan, they're going to have to be part of that fabric of society," says Nancy Soderberg, former US ambassador at the United Nations.