Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Mineral Deposits, the Only Big Hope


Mineral Deposits, the Only Big Hope

Afghanistan remains of strategic interest for several reasons.  Geographically, it's at the crossroads of the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, and West Asia.  Geologically, its rugged landscape holds over $3 trillion in untapped mineral resources, including iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium, the metal critical to the batteries powering our computers, BlackBerries, and other indispensable gadgets.

These two crucial factors, according to many, are the reasons for the lingering war and conflict in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, for the time being, neither the geographical importance of Afghanistan nor its geological one is benefiting Afghanistan itself. Also the external parties that have been fighting bloody wars since long to grab some mineral or at least utilize Afghanistan as a transit point are still empty handed.

For Afghanistan to flourish economically, its huge deposits of mineral hold significant importance in the view of economic experts. Many economic experts maintain and emphasize that one sector that can change the fate of Afghanistan's economy is its mineral deposits. This has changed the traditional view of Afghan economy which was majorly concerned to agriculture. The Afghanistan mineral resources are deemed to change this country's status from 'poverty hit' to 'economically prospering.'

This is conceived that, the mining sector will create job opportunities more than the real needs of Afghans. The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan's existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries.

Unfortunately utilization of Afghanistan's resources for its reconstruction and development seems much like a dream. The extraction of the mineral deposits face a number of serious hurdles and no immediate effort is underway to address them.

US geologists who were sent to Afghanistan back in 2004 as part of "rebuilding" efforts uncovered Afghan and Soviet maps of the Afghan mineral deposits. The worth of Afghan mineral deposit has been estimated to be $1 trillion by US geologists but Afghan authorities say it is more than $ 3 trillion.

An internal Pentagon memo has suggested that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium". This sort of game-changing geological discovery has attracted world-wide interest, with resource-hungry China leading the pack.

Many people must be speculating that the right time to start extracting the mineral deposits of Afghanistan has approached because Afghans are being backed by the international community and NATO is standing to defend Afghan nation against the Taliban and other groups of militants.

But in 2010 when the news of the vast mineral deposits of Afghanistan erupted, it further stimulated the interest regional countries and power circles of the world towards Afghanistan.This has resulted in the security situation for get more deteriorated as seemingly, the foreign support for Taliban has increased than before.

Instead of bringing peace, the new found mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country. Bad security is indeed the greatest hurdle to extraction of wealth hidden beneath the earth in Afghanistan.

Taliban are conceived to have varying control and influence – strong to weak – in about 70 – 80 percent of the country. The growing strength of militants has increased concerns both inside and outside Afghanistan.

The Afghans are worried about their vague future and the Western taxpayers are simply opposing the continuation of the war in Afghanistan and have pressurized their governments to withdraw as soon as they can. These all factors are encouraging for Taliban. They will utilize whatsoever they have to hinder development and reconstruction works including extraction of mineral deposits.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Afghanistan falls in the list of the most corrupt countries. Corruption is deemed a major reason for the billions of international aids to go in vain. Such a corrupt system can never utilize country's resources to its development and bringing up the living standard of people.

Apart from worst security condition and deep-rooted corruption, Afghanistan lacks the infrastructure, labor force, economic system, and governance to deal with the prospect of mining at the scale contemplated, much less the ability to broker international agreements for mineral rights, infrastructure construction, shipping, and other support operations.  

However, it is clear that these strategic interests appear to be fueling United State and other countries' desire to remain in Afghanistan. They are not, however, the "public" reasons for the war that remain disturbingly vague.

Lack of proper equipment and expertise has lead unprofessional extraction of minerals. The minerals are illegally and unprofessionally extracted by people with influence and power like the warlords. The minerals from Afghanistan are, reportedly,smuggled to other countries - causing usa great national loss.

Although the Ministries of Mines and Interior are responsible to protect the locations where the natural deposits exist, lack of willingness in government has caused the problem to persist. There is no such activity that is aimed at preventing illegal extraction and smuggling of the mineral deposits of Afghanistan.

There have been reports about illegal extractions from azurite mine in Badakhshan province of Afghanistan but the government has failed to address the issue. Same is the case with other remote locations where illegal extraction takes place and the government even does not know about it.

In spite of the so-many hindrances the extraction of Afghan minerals face, minerals are the only big hope for Afghans to get rid of the vicious circle of poverty and stop dependency on the other countries. Today Afghanistan is relying on the foreign economic aids for about 92 percent of its operations; but how long? The international community can not continue to fund Afghanistan in the long run.

The time has come for Afghans to start learning to catch fish themselves. Afghanistan's under-utilized mineral resources are the hope for better Afghanistan and can bring this country out of the severe economic troubles it is facing today. Therefore, the government must put effort to remove all obstacles to proper, transparent and effective extraction of mineral resources of Afghanistan.

Sher Ali Yecha is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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