NEW DELHI: Last week’s signing of the oil deal between the Taliban government ruling Afghanistan and the Chinese government has added a new dimension to the ongoing battle between the Pakistan Army and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as Pakistan Taliban, which is closely allied to the Afghan Taliban.
TTP sources, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian, post the signing of the Beijing-Kabul deal, said the oil deal was a bilateral matter between the Afghanistan government and China and not something that was related to TTP’s “objectives” of establishing its rule in the Af-Pak region by defeating the Pakistan Army.
Senior TTP sources said that while they were engaged in active hostility with the Pakistan Army, the Taliban government ruling Kabul has so far stayed away from siding with any of the two warring sides—Pakistan Army or the TTP. However, according to them, this neutrality will change if Pakistan decides to act on its recent assertion of carrying out attacks against the TTP cadre by crossing into Afghanistan.
“In case the Pakistan Army enters Afghanistan, the TTP and the Taliban brothers will fight together to protect the sovereignty of Afghanistan,” a senior TTP source told The Sunday Guardian.
Earlier this month, Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had stated that the army was likely to launch a military operation to target TTP hideouts that he claimed were inside the Afghanistan border. This statement was strongly refuted by Afghanistan’s Taliban government, which warned the Pakistan Army of a “befitting reply” if Kabul’s sovereignty was violated.
Sources in Kabul and in TTP told The Sunday Guardian that Taliban warning against the Pakistani threats was not empty rhetoric and that the Taliban and the TTP were “well-prepared” for a confrontation with the Pakistan Army.
It is pertinent to mention that the Taliban, ever since coming to power in Kabul in August 2021, have refused to accept the sanctity of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan and had come into being in 1893.
“It will be a nightmarish situation for the Pakistan Army if it decides to act on its word and push its men into Afghanistan. This scenario will naturally bring the TTP and the Afghanistan Taliban fighters together to resist the Pakistan Army. Hence, the best chance for the Pakistan Army right now is that somehow the TTP is brought back to the discussion table, preferably with the Chinese leadership influencing the Afghan government to use their good ties with the TTP,” said an official monitoring the situation in the Af-Pak region.
On 5 January, the Taliban-led administration in Afghanistan signed its first international contract that allowed a Chinese company to extract oil from the Northern Amu Darya basin. The agreement with a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, was inked in Kabul in the presence of Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan, Wang Yu, and the Taliban’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The Amu Darya basin lies at a distance of roughly 650 km as the crow flies from Angu-Ada land crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
The 25-year-deal with China, which still does not recognise the Taliban government, is likely to bring the much needed finances to the Taliban government, with the Chinese company investing as much as $150 million in the first year and $540 million over the subsequent three years to explore five oil and gas blocks. The blocks are located in a 4,500-square kilometre area in northern Afghanistan. As per Taliban officials, Kabul will get 15% royalty fees from the 25-year contract. Daily oil production will start at 200 tons which is likely to rise to 1,000 tons. The five blocks are estimated to hold 87 million barrels of crude oil, according to a previous survey. The Chinese company will also build Afghanistan’s first crude oil refinery.
However, for this agreement to take off successfully, the Afghanistan government will have to ensure that it is able to provide a conducive and safe environment to the Chinese nationals who will be moving to the region to start the oil and gas exploration and digging.
This, sources said, has left virtually no options for the strategists at GHQ, Rawalpindi to enter Afghanistan and carry out strikes against the TTP as the possibility of the Chinese investment coming under threat is likely to increase substantially if the TTP finds itself pushed to a corner.
Additionally, China is one of the biggest benefactors of the Pakistan government at present, and now with China agreeing to invest in the sensitive and security intensive field of oil, the Pakistan Army will have to think twice of the domestic repercussions and bilateral ramifications of entering Afghanistan.
However, Pakistan is likely to draw solace from the possibility that China is likely to play a key role in making the Afghan Taliban push for a ceasefire between the Pakistan Army and the TTP to safeguard its own investments in Amu Darya.