Fears over Taliban’s China deal over sanction-proof oil

The West’s decision to abandon Afghanistan has opened the country to worrying levels of Chinese influence, experts warned on Saturday night. It follows a deal between Kabul and Beijing which will eventually give China access to sanction-proof oil from Afghanistan’s Amu Darya basin.

The exploratory deal, worth £440m, marks the first agreement between the Taliban government and a foreign firm since the pariah Islamist sect took control of the country in 2021.

Signed with the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), it will see pipelines built to carry oil directly to China.

Instead of negotiating a fresh agreement, inexperienced Taliban government officials re-heated an agreement with the US-backed Afghan government which was abandoned in 2011 due to security concerns.

That agreement would have netted Afghanistan £7bn and seen it retain 70 percent of its oil revenues, with China paying an additional 15 percent in corporation tax.

It is a different matter today, however. Desperate for international recognition, the Taliban has now allowed China to secure much more favourable terms, leaving Afghanistan with just 20 percent of revenues and a binding commitment to make China its exclusive customer.

On Saturday night one energy expert warned it would eventually provide China with an additional sanction-proof oil stream.

“What China is looking for in energy terms is security of supply,” said David Doherty, head of oil research at BloombergNEF.

“The terrain is harsh but if they can make this work, and achieve 200-300,000 barrels, use of a pipeline would mean no need to get ships, fleets and maritime insurance – in other words, it would make this supply virtually sanction-proof.”

And it won’t end with oil. Afghanistan is technically one of the world’s most resource-rich countries, sitting on more than £3 trillion worth of unmined copper, iron, marble, talc, coal, lithium, chromite, cobalt, gold, lapis lazuli, gemstones.

One reason why the 2011 agreement was axed was the presence of Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who played a significant role in offsetting Beijing’s influence.

Dostum, who later became Afghanistan’s first Vice President, is now in Turkey, leaving Islamic State as the only force to oppose the Taliban / al Qaeda alliance.

“The West was able to use Dustum. We certainly cannot use Islamic State in the same way. So we are left looking through the window at everything that is unfolding,:” said regional expert Kyle Orton.

He said that US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 opened the gates for China – which has already planted deep footprints in both neighbouring Pakistan and Iran – to increase its influence regionally.

“This dates to 2021 when the US chose to abandon Afghanistan,’ he said.

“We had a great advantage: we were experiencing fewer military deaths than the number of training accidents across Nato every year, and with a relatively small military footprint we were able to provide key capabilities.

“We were keeping Jihadists out while keeping our strategic rivals – the axis of China, Iran and Russia – weakened in the region.

“After August 2021 that flipped. The Taliban has an alliance with Pakistan and Pakistan has a semi-colonial relationship with China.

“It means China is now spreading its influence across this region and the US is retreating.”

But there are signs that China may not have it all its own way.

While Dostum is gone, resentment against China’s presence is slowly building.

Last week Pakistan authorities were forced to arrest a Chinese labourer after an angry mob accused him of blasphemy. He is alleged to have reprimanded two workers for spending too much time praying at the Chinese-funded Dasu hydropower dam in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

“There is an increasing unease across the region about China’s growing influence. The Chinese are viewed essentially as pagans, especially in the Northwest Frontier area of Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ said Orton.

“And, as with so much of China’s infrastructure investment, it uses Chinese labour and gives very little return to indigenous peoples.“

This was echoed by Supriya Ravishankar, south Asia analyst with Sibylline strategic risk group.

“The Islamic State of Khorasan Province carried out targeted attacks against Chinese nationals in Kabul in recent months as a response to China’s growing presence, and continued outreach with Taliban authorities,“ she said.

“And there is the threat of the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement, which is percolating through the Badakhshan province which borders China.

“Beijing is hoping to increase its influence on Kabul to such an extent that it can contain these Islamist factions.”

She added: ”Afghanistan’s location as a gateway to Central Asia likely underpinned Beijing’s decision to make the investment.

“But this bears very high-security risks for China.

“In fact, the biggest takeaway for the West is how China has clearly illustrated that it wants to exert influence in Afghanistan despite these accompanying high risks.”

source: express.co.uk