Violence escalated daily in Afghanistan with the approach of the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion on October 7. At the same time, a little-noted energy agenda is moving rapidly forward that may not only deny Afghans the much needed economic benefits their energy resources could provide, but may also exacerbate insecurity and instability, ensuring a prolonged U.S. and foreign military presence. It is an agenda remarkably similar to one well underway in Iraq.
Eight years of war in Iraq succeeded in transforming the country’s oil industry from a nationalized model, largely closed to American oil companies, into an all but privatized industry open to foreign oil companies. ExxonMobil and BP, among other companies, are today producing oil in Iraq for the first time in over 30 years under some of the most corporate-friendly terms in the world. However, opposition from Kurdish leaders, Iraqi unions, civil society organizations, and some parliamentarians — who worry that the terms would grant undue benefit to foreign companies, to the detriment of Iraq’s economic stability and security — has kept the Iraq Oil and Gas Law, written to lock in this access, from passage.
But while the effort to transform Iraq’s oil sector has played out on a fairly public international stage, no such attention has been focused on Afghanistan. Compared to Iraq, Afghanistan’s populace remains poorly educated, its civil society and public sector workforce underdeveloped, and its government not only weak and challenged by corruption, but also lacking in both energy sector expertise and infrastructure. Under such circumstances, a radical redesign of the nation’s energy development model cannot take place in a manner that ensures fairness, equity, sustainability, or safety.