By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, May 14: The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has shown interest in buying gas and oil from Russia and also continuing work on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project which has been facing an uncertain future after the return of Islamist militant group in Kabul last August.
At a time when the Russian energy giants like Gazprom have been hit by sanctions from the Western countries, Jamal Nasir Garwal, the Taliban-appointed charge d'affaires in Moscow, has reaffirmed Afghanistan's ambition of developing the energy partnership with Russia.
"Yes, we are negotiating in the sphere of business and finance. We are determined and very much want to develop economic cooperation with Russia so that there is progress in relations. As for specific areas, we are interested in purchasing fuel and gas, these are the most important areas at the moment, what our country needs in the first place," said Garwal in an interview with Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.
Garwal was accredited by the Russian Foreign Ministry in April in what Moscow called "a step towards the resumption of full-fledged bilateral diplomatic contacts" between the two countries. He had also attended the Russian Victory Day parade held on Red Square in Moscow on May 9.
The Afghan charge d'affaires said the Taliban government is relying on Russia to restore the infrastructure, build buildings, roads and other necessary facilities because it had helped Afghanistan in the past as well.
The negotiations, he said, are currently underway through the Ministries of Trade of Russia and Afghanistan as Kabul remains "determined" to sign specific agreements soon.
"We also want our dried fruits and other agricultural products to be delivered to Russia, we are interested in developing this direction. While we have not determined the specific details, but we are negotiating for the future. At the same time, we are not talking about some kind of barter," Garwal revealed in the interview.
The Afghan diplomat also mentioned that the top leadership in Kabul remains quite keen to continue the work on TAPI project, which has already seen more lows than highs since the first TAPI summit held in Ashgabat in December 2010.
With a total length of nearly 1814 km -- 214 km of which falls in Turkmenistan, 774 km through Afghanistan, and 826 km in the territory of Pakistan before reaching Fazilka in India's Punjab -- the mega gas pipeline project would connect Turkmenistan, one of the largest energy suppliers in the world, with the South Asian countries.
"Negotiations are underway so that our cooperation within the framework of the project continues... Most importantly, we are very pleased with the security situation: the threats that were before are gone," said Garwal.
However, as reported by IndiaNarrative.com in April, India has made it clear that it is not just because of a "difficult neighbourhood" that work on the massive pipeline, which will have the capacity to transfer 33 billion cubic metres of gas per year, has been stalled.
"It is on record that India has some concerns about the commercial or the business aspect of the TAPI pipeline, and that is being discussed. GAIL is a stakeholder. So, let me simply put it that we have some concerns on the business principles, on the commercial side, apart from the logistical challenges which are very apparent," Sanjay Verma, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, had said just ahead of President Ram Nath Kovind's visit to Turkmenistan, in April.