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Taliban in Talks with Russia to Import 1 Million Metric Tons of Oil

FILE - Workers walk past a storage tank at the Kaleikino oil pumping station of Transneft Kama Region near Almetyevsk, Russia, April 27, 2022.
FILE - Workers walk past a storage tank at the Kaleikino oil pumping station of Transneft Kama Region near Almetyevsk, Russia, April 27, 2022.

Afghanistan’s Taliban say they are in talks with Russia to import 1 million metric tons of petroleum products, possibly in exchange for raisins, raw material for medicines and minerals.

A Taliban delegation currently is in Moscow holding meetings with Russian officials and private businesses to boost mutual trade ties and encourage investment in the war-torn South Asian nation.

Russian officials said the visitors were also discussing import of other essential products, including wheat and sunflower.

Taliban Minister of Industry and Trade Nuriddin Azizi, the head of the delegation, was quoted by Russian media Friday as saying that Kabul requires more than 4 million tons of oil and some of it is already being imported from neighboring countries.

“Since Russia is a friendly country to us, we have come here to reach an agreement on the import of Russian oil and other petroleum products. We plan to import about one million tons of gasoline and diesel fuel,” Azizi told RIA Novosti.

The Taliban sealed a deal last month with neighboring Iran to purchase 350,000 metric tons of oil.

The minister said his government would like to conclude the deal as soon as possible.

“Our priority is to import these Russian goods on a barter basis,” Azizi said, noting that the countries have “historical experience in mutual barter trading."

If the barter plan does not work, he added, then Afghanistan can use financial transactions to secure the supplies from Russia.

Azizi also said the United States and European Union have not imposed sanctions on Afghanistan in terms of importing raw materials. “Afghanistan can pay for these goods with money.”

When asked whether his government would allow Russian investments in Afghanistan’s mineral deposits, including lithium, Azizi said the Taliban “can provide Russia with some of our minerals in exchange for imports” of energy resources. “We have a very good and high-quality lithium.”

The Taliban minister said without elaborating that Kabul was already supplying raw materials to factories in China and can supply raw materials to Russia.

China advocates engagement

Beijing has also stepped up engagement with the Taliban since the Islamist group seized power from a Western-backed Afghan government a year ago, when all U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country after 20 years of war with the then-insurgent group.

China — along with Russia, Turkey, neighboring Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries — has kept its embassy open after the Taliban takeover, which prompted Western nations to relocate their diplomatic missions to Qatar.

The Chinese government has since delivered urgent humanitarian aid and tried to help the cash-strapped government in Kabul deal with economic upheavals. It has also urged Washington to release around $7 billion in frozen Afghan foreign reserves, which Kabul's central bank deposited in the New York Federal Reserve Bank at the time of the Taliban takeover.

China and several other nations, along with nearly 80 family members of 9/11 victims, have criticized the Biden administration's decision to withhold the funds as immoral. The Biden administration says it’s working on how to make half of the funds available to the Afghan people but that effort apparently suffered a setback after the discovery that al-Qaida’s leader had been taking refuge in Kabul, apparently with knowledge of the Taliban government.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday said the administration is seeking alternative ways to direct the money to help Afghans amid a growing hunger crisis.

“We’re looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan in a way that doesn’t make them ripe for diversion to terrorist groups or elsewhere,” said Price. The remainder of the $7 billion has been set aside to settle pending lawsuits in the United States.

China's special envoy for Afghan Affairs, Yue Xiaoyong, during a visit this week to the turmoil-hit neighboring country, noted that “stability is gaining ground” in Afghanistan. He told Chinese official CGTN broadcasters on Thursday that it was “necessary” to engage with the Taliban and speed up “practical cooperation” with Afghanistan.

"Any true help for Afghan people can hardly be materialized if one bypasses the Afghan authority,” Yue stressed in comments to CGTN.

The Taliban’s restrictions on women’s rights to work, education and political participation have kept the international community from recognizing their government and dealing directly with them.

“While many have paid extensive attention to inclusive government structure, women’s rights and education of middle-school girls in Afghanistan, it is important to know that dealing with these issues is not incompatible with economic reconstruction," the Chinese envoy said. "They are mutually reinforcing.”

Yue did not mention that the Taliban's reversal of advances for women and girls’ rights appears to be increasing.

China has also recently announced it would not charge tariffs on 98% of goods imported from Afghanistan in a bid to boost bilateral trade ties and help the Taliban repair the country's sanctions-hit economy.

“We have also imported signature products such as pine nuts, saffron, almonds, figs and raisins, and have been implementing our promise of one billion yuan’s aid ($147 million) for humanitarian and development purposes to relieve the Afghan people’s difficulties,” Yue said.

Yue reiterated Beijing’s call for the Taliban to fulfil their promise on countering terrorism by taking “visible, tangible and verifiable measures.”

Chinese engagement with the Islamist rulers is primarily aimed at encouraging them to prevent fugitive members of the outlawed East Turkistan Islamic Movement from using Afghan soil for attacks against China. The insurgents say they are fighting for the rights of Uyghur Muslims in western Xinjiang province, which borders Afghanistan.

Neighboring Pakistan has also dramatically increased coal imports from Afghanistan and Central Asian countries via Afghan territory, which helps the Taliban generate much needed revenue to govern the country.

Pakistan imported 70% of its thermal coal from South Africa to run its cement, steel and Chinese-built power plants, but Islamabad is currently facing a payment crisis due to rising international prices and dwindling foreign cash reserves.

This has prompted Pakistani authorities to boost imports of coal from Afghanistan. Officials in Pakistan say the Afghan coal is comparatively cheap — about 40% of the international market value — and less time-consuming to acquire.