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Context of 'June 24, 1996: Uzbekistan Cuts a Deal with Enron'

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The US, through USAID and the University of Nebraska, spends millions of dollars developing and printing textbooks for Afghan schoolchildren. The textbooks are “filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.” For instance, children are “taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles, and land mines.” Lacking any alternative, millions of these textbooks are used long after 1994; the Taliban will still be using them in 2001. In 2002, the US will start producing less violent versions of the same books, which President Bush says will have “respect for human dignity, instead of indoctrinating students with fanaticism and bigotry.” (He will fail to mention who created those earlier books.) (Stephens and Ottaway 3/23/2002; Off 5/6/2002) A University of Nebraska academic named Thomas Gouttierre leads the textbook program. Journalist Robert Dreyfuss will later reveal that although funding for Gouttierre’s work went through USAID, it was actually paid for by the CIA. Unocal will pay Gouttierre to work with the Taliban (see December 1997) and he will host visits of Taliban leaders to the US, including trips in 1997 and 1999 (see December 4, 1997 and July-August 1999). (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328)

Enron’s $3 billion Dabhol, India power plant runs into trouble in 1995 when the Indian government temporarily cancels an agreement. The plant is projected to get its energy from the proposed Afghan pipeline and deliver it to the Indian government. Enron leader Ken Lay travels to India with Commerce Secretary Ron Brown the same year, and heavy lobbying by US officials continue in subsequent years. By summer 2001, the National Security Council leads a “Dabhol Working Group” with officials from various cabinet agencies to get the plant completed and functioning. US pressure on India intensifies until shortly before Enron files for bankruptcy in December 2001. US officials later claim their lobbying merely supported the $640 million of US government investment in the plant. But critics say the plant received unusually strong support under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. (Burger 1/18/2002; Milbank and Blustein 1/19/2002)

The Associated Press will later report that the Enron corporation bribes Taliban officials as part of a “no-holds-barred bid to strike a deal for an energy pipeline in Afghanistan.” Atul Davda, a senior director for Enron’s International Division, will later claim, “Enron had intimate contact with Taliban officials.” Presumably this effort began around 1996, when a power plant Enron was building in India ran into trouble and Enron began an attempt to supply it with natural gas via a planned pipeline through Afghanistan (see 1995-November 2001 and June 24, 1996). In 1997, Enron executives privately meet with Taliban officials in Texas (see December 4, 1997). They are “given the red-carpet treatment and promised a fortune if the deal [goes] through.” It is alleged Enron secretly employs CIA agents to carry out its dealings overseas. According to a CIA source, “Enron proposed to pay the Taliban large sums of money in a ‘tax’ on every cubic foot of gas and oil shipped through a pipeline they planned to build.” This source claims Enron paid more than $400 million for a feasibility study on the pipeline and “a large portion of that cost was pay-offs to the Taliban.” Enron continues to encourage the Taliban about the pipeline even after Unocal officially gives up on the pipeline in the wake of the African embassy bombings (see December 5, 1998). An investigation after Enron’s collapse in 2001 (see December 2, 2001) will determine that some of this pay-off money ended up funding al-Qaeda. (Barrett 3/7/2002)

Uzbekistan signs a deal with Enron “that could lead to joint development of the Central Asian nation’s potentially rich natural gas fields.” (Woodyard 6/25/1996) The $1.3 billion venture teams Enron with the state companies of Russia and Uzbekistan. (Houston Chronicle 6/30/1996) On July 8, 1996, the US government agrees to give $400 million to help Enron and an Uzbek state company develop these natural gas fields. (Oil & Gas Journal 7/8/1996)

Thomas Gouttierre.Thomas Gouttierre. [Source: University of Nebraska]Unocal pays University of Nebraska $900,000 to set up a training facility near Osama bin Laden’s Kandahar compound, to train 400 Afghan teachers, electricians, carpenters and pipe fitters in anticipation of using them for their pipeline in Afghanistan. One hundred and fifty students are already attending classes in southern Afghanistan. Unocal is playing University of Nebraska professor Thomas Gouttierre to develop the training program. Gouttierre travels to Afghanistan and meets with Taliban leaders, and also arranges for some Taliban leaders to visit the US around this time (see December 4, 1997). (Lees 12/14/1997; Coll 2004, pp. 364) It will later be revealed that the CIA paid Gouttierre to head a program at the University of Nebraska that created textbooks for Afghanistan promoting violence and jihad (see 1984-1994). Gouttierre will continue to work with the Taliban after Unocal officially cuts off ties with them. For instance, he will host some Taliban leaders visiting the US in 1999 (see July-August 1999).

Taliban representatives in Texas, 1997.Taliban representatives in Texas, 1997. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Representatives of the Taliban are invited guests to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. Future President George W. Bush is Governor of Texas at the time. The Taliban appear to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but will do the deal only if the US officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The Taliban meet with US officials. According to the Daily Telegraph, “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.” A BBC regional correspondent says that “the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.” (BBC 12/4/1997; Lees 12/14/1997) It has been claimed that the Taliban meet with Enron officials while in Texas (see 1996-September 11, 2001). Enron, headquartered in Texas, has an large financial interest in the pipeline at the time (see June 24, 1996). The Taliban also visit Thomas Gouttierre, an academic at the University of Nebraska, who is a consultant for Unocal and also has been paid by the CIA for his work in Afghanistan (see 1984-1994 and December 1997). Gouttierre takes them on a visit to Mt. Rushmore. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328-329)

Enron’s agreement from 1996 (see June 24, 1996) to develop natural gas with Uzbekistan is not renewed. Enron closes its office there. The reason for the “failure of Enron’s flagship project” is an inability to get the natural gas out of the region. Uzbekistan’s production is “well below capacity” and only 10 percent of its production is being exported, all to other countries in the region. The hope was to use a pipeline through Afghanistan, but “Uzbekistan is extremely concerned at the growing strength of the Taliban and its potential impact on stability in Uzbekistan, making any future cooperation on a pipeline project which benefits the Taliban unlikely.” A $12 billion pipeline through China is being considered as one solution, but that wouldn’t be completed until the end of the next decade at the earliest. (Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections 10/12/1998)

Unocal announces it is withdrawing from the CentGas pipeline consortium, and closing three of its four offices in Central Asia. President Clinton refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, making business there legally problematic. A concern that Clinton will lose support among women voters for upholding the Taliban plays a role in the cancellation. (Levine 12/5/1998)

About a dozen Afghan leaders visit the US. They are militia commanders, mostly Taliban, and some with ties to al-Qaeda. A few are opponents of the Taliban. Their exact names and titles remain classified. For five weeks, they visit numerous locales in the US, including Mt. Rushmore. All their expenses are paid by the US government and the University of Nebraska. Thomas Gouttierre, an academic heading an Afghanistan program at the University of Nebraska, hosts their visit. Gouttierre is working as a consultant to Unocal at the time, and some Taliban visits to the US are paid for by Unocal, such as a visit two years earlier (see December 4, 1997). However, it is unknown if Unocal plays a role in this particular trip. Gouttierre had previously been paid by the CIA to create Afghan textbooks promoting violence and jihad (see 1984-1994). It is unknown if any of these visitors meet with US officials during their trip. (Berens 10/21/2001)

Enron’s logo.
Enron’s logo. [Source: Enron]Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy—the biggest bankruptcy in history up to that date. (Curwen 1/10/2002) However, in 2002 Enron will reorganize as a pipeline company and will continue working on its controversial Dabhol power plant. (Houston Business Journal 3/15/2002)

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