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Oil Firm Wooed Taliban Chiefs
he big contributors to the World Trade Center relief funds include an American oil company that courted the Taliban long after the movement's bloody brutality and ties to terrorism became commonest knowledge.
Unocal of California contributed $100,000 for the victims of the Sept. 11 attack. This from a company that cozied up to the Taliban when they first took power and continued to curry favor with the murderous mullahs even as they provided shelter and succor to Osama Bin Laden.
At the time, Unocal was part of an international consortium that hoped to build a $4 billion, 1,005-mile pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. The company nodded approvingly when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996.
"Very positive," a Unocal spokesman was quoted saying.
The company's subsequent efforts to win over the Taliban included a ceremony in which the mullahs were presented with their first fax machine, along with a generator to power it. The documents that began cranking out of the new device reportedly suggested the pipeline could net the Taliban as much as $100 million a year.
Unocal also arranged for a group of senior Taliban officials to visit the United States in December of 1997. These included the then-foreign minister, Mullah Mohammad Ghaus, who happened to be one-eyed like his boss, Mohammed Omar.
Ghaus must have felt lucky to be going anywhere at all, having escaped capture the previous summer by the Northern Alliance, which Unocal also had courted to hedge against a Taliban defeat.
The trip to America reportedly featured four days in Texas. Ghaus and the others stayed at a luxury hotel, helicoptered to an offshore oil rig, toured the NASA Space Center and, at their request, visited the Houston Zoo. They also partied at an actual Texas oilman's mansion, complete with swimming pool and indoor evergreen the host explained was a Christmas tree.
Visited Mall, Too
To complete the American experience, the Taliban visited a mall. They went on a spree at a Target store, where they stocked up on toothpaste, soap, combs and, a little surprisingly, women's stockings.
The group then flew on to Omaha, spending two days at the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska. The center's director, Prof. Thomas Gouttierre, hoped to afford them some insight into the United States.
"It was part of an effort to show them what America looks like," Gouttierre recalls. "Also to have them understand that people in America could get along even with women."
Ghaus was having some problems with his good eye, and a doctor tended to him. He and the others headed home via Washington, D.C., having learned nothing about America more startling than what they already knew: A U.S. oil company would continue to court them even as they actively helped Bin Laden train terrorists whose sworn goal was to kill Americans.
Unocal was equally unperturbed by the Taliban's views toward women, which had been decried as "gender apartheid" by such American women as First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
In June of 1998, a group of feminist protesters voiced outrage at a Unocal stockholders meeting. The protesters included Mavis Leno, wife of late night host Jay Leno.
"Many women and girls have been stoned and shot for violations of the horrendous edicts by the Taliban," Mavis Leno said. "Yet, Unocal has continued to negotiate and deal with the Taliban."
Unocal was still seeking to do business with the Taliban that August, when Bin Laden operatives bombed two American embassies in Africa. The U.S. responded by launching cruise missiles against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.
The following day, Unocal put the pipeline plans on hold. Unocal did not abandon its dreams of an Afghan pipeline for another three months.
Lest anyone think the company had taken a moral stand, a spokesman insisted that Unocal had not been influenced by protests over its dealings with the Taliban. The real reason was that oil had dropped to a paltry $12 a barrel.
"You have to make priorities," the spokesman was quoted as saying at the time.
Yesterday, Unocal spokeswoman Teresa Covington allowed that "there certainly were social issues." A statement on the Unocal Web site insists the company never actually made a deal with the Taliban and only tried "to educate them about the benefits such a pipeline could bring."
"Our hope was that the project would help being peace, stability and economic development to the Afghans," the statement says.
Which sounded fine until you remembered that the primary hijackers who killed more than 4,000 innocents at the World Trade Center are thought to have been indoctrinated and trained at camps in Afghanistan when Unocal was still wooing the Taliban. You then recalled what the Taliban were then publicly calling Bin Laden.
"An honored guest."
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 28, 2001