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Oil barons court Taliban in Texas (fact is far stranger than fiction)
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Source: The Telegraph

Note: This article was written just a short four years ago. Where was the outcry about various Taliban atrocities? Note that even now, some of the 'evil' Taliban may be left in power. Whomever is left in power, will we once again turn a blind eye? -- fact is far stranger than fiction.

12/14/1997

Oil barons court Taliban in Texas By Caroline Lees

THE Taliban, Afghanistan's Islamic fundamentalist army, is about to sign a 2 billion contract with an American oil company to build a pipeline across the war-torn country.

The Islamic warriors appear to have been persuaded to close the deal, not through delicate negotiation but by old-fashioned Texan hospitality. Last week Unocal, the Houston-based company bidding to build the 876-mile pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, invited the Taliban to visit them in Texas. Dressed in traditional salwar khameez, Afghan waistcoats and loose, black turbans, the high-ranking delegation was given VIP treatment during the four-day stay.

The Taliban ministers and their advisers stayed in a five-star hotel and were chauffeured in a company minibus. Their only requests were to visit Houston's zoo, the Nasa space centre and Omaha's Super Target discount store to buy stockings, toothpaste, combs and soap. The Taliban, which controls two-thirds of Afghanistan and is still fighting for the last third, was also given an insight into how the other half lives.

The men, who are accustomed to life without heating, electricity or running water, were amazed by the luxurious homes of Texan oil barons. Invited to dinner at the palatial home of Martin Miller, a vice-president of Unocal, they marvelled at his swimming pool, views of the golf course and six bathrooms. After a meal of specially prepared halal meat, rice and Coca-Cola, the hardline fundamentalists - who have banned women from working and girls from going to school - asked Mr Miller about his Christmas tree.

"They were interested to know what it was for and what the star was," said Mr Miller, who hopes that Unocal has clinched the deal. "The first day, they were stiff and cautious. But before long they were totally relaxed and happy," he said. Unocal, which heads an international consortium of companies from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Japan, has been bidding for the contract since vast oil and gas reserves were discovered in Turkmenistan, one of the southernmost states of the former Soviet Union, in 1994. The fuel has so far been untapped because of Moscow's demands for high transport fees if it passes through Russian-controlled territory. The quickest and cheapest way to get the reserves out is to build a pipeline through Afghanistan.

It will supply two of the fastest-growing energy markets in the world: Pakistan and India. The Unocal group has one significant attraction for the Taliban - it has American government backing. At the end of their stay last week, the Afghan visitors were invited to Washington to meet government officials. The US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban's policies against women and children "despicable", appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract. The Taliban is likely to have been impressed by the American government's interest as it is anxious to win international recognition. So far, it has been recognised only by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Unocal has promised to start building the pipeline immediately, despite the region's instability. There is fighting just 87 miles from the planned entry point of the pipeline in the northwest of the country. The Taliban has assured Unocal that its workers and the pipeline will be safe, but it cannot guarantee that it will not be attacked by opposition forces.

The consortium has also agreed to start paying the Taliban immediately. The Islamic army will receive tax on every one of the million cubic feet of fuel that passes through Afghanistan every day. Unocal has also offered other inducements. Apart from giving fax machines, generators and T-shirts, it has donated 500,000 to the University of Nebraska for courses in Afghanistan to train 400 teachers, electricians, carpenters and pipefitters. Nearly 150 students are already receiving technical training in southern Afghanistan.

But it was the homely touches which swayed the Taliban. When the delegation left Texas, one of their entourage stayed behind. Mullah Mohammad Ghaus, the former foreign minister and a leading member of the Taliban ruling council, remained in Texas for medical treatment. Years on the front line damaged his eyesight. Unocal bought him a battery-powered magnifying glass and are paying for him to go to an optician.

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