NEW DELHI: India will urge Qatar to increase exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 3 million tonnes (mt) to 10.5 mt a year with immediate effect during the state visit to India next week by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, people close to the developments said Wednesday.
India will also use the opportunity to discuss reported plans by the members of the Afghan Taliban group to open up an office in the Gulf country to help speed up peace talks with the Afghan government, one of the people cited above said. They declined to be named.
Al-Thani’s 8-10 April visit is his third to India, the last two being in 1999 and 2005, a statement by the foreign ministry said, adding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Qatar in November 2008.
Qataris the largest supplier of LNG to India and also hosts an Indian community of around 500,000, who accounted for $1 billion in remittances in 2011. Bilateral trade accounted for $7.2 billion last year.
Since 2004, India has been buying 7.5mt LNG from Qatar a year besides making spot purchases of gas, according to the foreign ministry website.
Besides gas, last year India also bought 4mt crude oil from Qatar.
“We will ask for an increase from 7.5 mt to 10.5 mt immediately,” said the person cited above. “Our projection for the next three to five years is that that we will need 15 mt,” said the person, adding that this will depend on the future negotiations.
India currently imports more than 80% of its energy requirements and the consumption of energy in India is likely to double by 2030 to the equivalent of 833 mt of oil, according to a forecast by the International Energy Agency.
India’s demand for liquid petroleum products and gas would grow by 4.7% and 14%, respectively, over the next five years, according to the petroleum ministry.
Discussions at the political level between Indian leaders and the visiting Qatari Emir will touch upon reported plans by the Taliban operating in Afghanistan to open an office in Qatar, said the person cited above. “It is a subject we are interested in.”
In recent years, the student militia group has regrouped and is leading an insurgency against Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government and the US-led international troops. The US and its allies in Afghanistan, weary of their decade-long engagement in the war-torn country and mounting casualties, are planning to start withdrawing troops from next year.
According to an AFP news report from Doha, Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Khaled al-Attiyah, after a meeting with visiting Afghan foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, said on Tuesday that the gas-rich kingdom was “moving towards the opening of a (Taliban) political office to reactivate dialogue between all sides”.
Zalmai, on his part, said peace negotiations with the Taliban must be “between Afghans” while Washington and Doha can help by “providing the appropriate environment for success”.
The Afghan government has repeatedly said it has been in negotiations with the Taliban, despite denials from the insurgent group.
India, which considers Afghanistan as part of its extended neighbourhood, is keen to see the Taliban defeated by the international troops.
The Indian government is apprehensive that a Taliban takeover of Kabul will install an administration sympathetic to arch rival Pakistan.
Pakistan, on its part, is looking for a friendly administration in Kabul that it can fall back on in case of a war with India.
Sections of the Pakistani establishment are believed to wield considerable influence over the Taliban.
Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said Qatar was emerging as an active player in the regional in recent years.
“They are offering hosting facilities for a number of international meetings, meetings of think-tanks; they have offered to host the Taliban office, the news channel Al-Jazeera is based there, offering a window into the Arab world and Arab thinking. Taken together, this is something worth noting and admirable,” Mansingh said.
For India, Qatar is important for two reasons, Mansingh said.
The first was energy security and the second for Afghanistan peace talks, he said.