• Afghanistan’s Taliban Reports $80 Million In Crude Oil Sales In 10 Days

    Afghanistan has sold 150,000 tons (1.1 million barrels) of crude oil from the Amu Darya basin for more than $80 million over the past 10 days, with Beijing’s investment in the country beginning to bear fruit.

    On Sunday, Humayun Afghan, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, revealed that the group had sold 130,000 tons of crude oil for $71.6 million before it successfully put up another 20,000 tons (146,000 barrels) of crude worth $10.5 million for bidding on the same day. This marks a reversal of fortunes for one of the Middle East’s most volatile regions with the country previously importing the 50,000 barrels of oil it consumes daily from neighboring countries such as Iran and Uzbekistan.

    It all began a year ago when China’s Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co, or CAPEIC, signed a 25-year contract with Taliban authorities in Afghanistan. That contract requires CAPEIC to invest $150 million by the first year and a total of $540 million by 2026. So far, CAPEIC’s investment of $49 million in Afghanistan has helped boost the country’s daily crude oil output to more than 1,100 metric tons (8,000 barrels per day), a volume that could increase significantly if the company is to fulfill its contract. According to a top Taliban official, CAPEIC fell short of its investment target due to inaccurate estimates of material and labor costs coupled with a three-month delay in the approval of its financial plan by Afghan authorities.

    “The investments will add up as the contract stipulates,” the Taliban official told VOA on condition of anonymity, adding that the Taliban’s treasury earned about $26 million from the project last year.

    Spanning Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the Amu Darya basin is estimated to contain 962 million barrels of crude oil and 52,025 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to a 2011 assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. To tap into this potential, CAPEIC plans to dig 22 additional wells in 2024, aiming to increase daily production to more than 2,000 tons, or~15,000 barrels.

    Beijing has been cozying up to Kabul ever since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021 after a 20-year presence. Chinese diplomats have been meeting their Afghan counterparts almost weekly since the establishment of a Taliban government in Kabul, with western analysts alluding to some sort of emerging “cooperation.” Back in January, Chinese President Xi Jinping received the diplomatic credentials of the Taliban’s ambassador to Beijing. The move confounded foe and friend alike because no country has formally declared its recognition of the Taliban government. However, it’s not clear if Beijing’s action constitutes diplomatic recognition.

    “Although the attraction of [Afghanistan’s] mining and energy resources is strong, there is considerable Chinese wariness about the internal security situation, the reliability of Taliban assurances regarding foreign investments, and Afghanistan’s poor infrastructure,” Andrew Scobell, distinguished fellow for China at the United States Institute of Peace, told VOA.
    Meanwhile, other geopolitical analysts have hypothesized that Beijing’s main motivation in its dealings with Afghanistan is risk mitigation amid a potential security vacuum, a viable reason considering that the two countries share a 92 kilometer-long border. Last year, Beijing and Islamabad agreed to include Afghanistan in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC provides a blueprint for civil-military cooperation aiming to enhance the participants’ connectivity.

    There’s little doubt that China wants to project power over Central Asia for several reasons. First, the region is a core component of the Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations. Second, on a regional level, Beijing would want Kabul to consider it a top ally over competing powers such as Russia and India, both of which have some influence over Afghanistan.

    On its part, the U.S. government and other lawmakers are more concerned about the possibility of China taking over the Bagram airfield in the north of Kabul that its military used as its main base throughout the Afghan war.

    “We don’t see Afghanistan as a place where we need to compete with the Chinese and the Russians,” Thomas West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, has declared.

    The United States and China have adopted very different diplomatic approaches toward Afghanistan. Whereas Beijing has chosen the investment/security cooperation route, the U.S. remains the leading humanitarian donor to Afghanistan, providing more than $2 billion in humanitarian assistance since the Taliban takeover.

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