US discovers $1 trillion Afghan mineral deposits

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by Yusuf, Jun 14, 2010.

  1. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2009
    Messages:
    24,274
    Likes Received:
    11,280
    Location:
    BANGalore
    WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

    The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

    An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium," a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

    The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

    While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

    "There is stunning potential here," Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. "There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant."

    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. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

    "This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy," said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.

    American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

    So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.

    Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

    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. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

    Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.

    "No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces," observed Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.

    At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

    Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. "The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?" Mr. Brinkley said. "No one knows how this will work."

    With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. "This is a country that has no mining culture," said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. "They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan."

    The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

    The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

    "The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this," Mr. Brinkley said. "We are trying to help them get ready."

    Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan's mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

    In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/...ghan-mineral-deposits/articleshow/6045517.cms
     
  2.  
  3. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2009
    Messages:
    24,274
    Likes Received:
    11,280
    Location:
    BANGalore
    Now this will make Obama rethink his exit strategy. Nothing attracts america more than money!!
    India has already made a lot of investments in infrastructure there. It should pay us back big time.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2010
  4. AkhandBharat

    AkhandBharat Regular Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2009
    Messages:
    542
    Likes Received:
    78
    Location:
    Brokeland
    Obama never had an exit strategy for Afghanistan. He boosted troops in Afghanistan. US is in Afghanistan to stay atleast another decade. And the people of Afghanistan will keep getting short-selled to US and Chinese companies which will pay them peanuts for their mining operations.
     
  5. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2009
    Messages:
    10,397
    Likes Received:
    2,314
    So that is why we invaded. France better get a hundred billion of that.
     
  6. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2009
    Messages:
    24,274
    Likes Received:
    11,280
    Location:
    BANGalore
    You think China will get any foothold in that country after the US has made all that effort there? US will obviously use this. India too will benefit. China can watch with its all weather friend.
     
  7. AkhandBharat

    AkhandBharat Regular Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2009
    Messages:
    542
    Likes Received:
    78
    Location:
    Brokeland
    You have absolutely no idea how much the chinese companies are exploiting Afghanistan without contributing anything to its stabilization. I'd recommend you use google, but you already know better.
     
  8. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2009
    Messages:
    10,397
    Likes Received:
    2,314
    It is true, China has bribed their way deep into Afghani deposits, they even pay off the Taliban to leave them alone. US is complaining about being their to protect Chinese interest while they strip the country of its mineral wealth. China should be barred from Afghanistan deposits and let the occupiers have some business opportunity.
     
  9. badguy2000

    badguy2000 Respected Member Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2009
    Messages:
    4,957
    Likes Received:
    613
    hahah, Yankees now need CHina to save their ass on the cases all over the world,such as N.Korea, Iran...etc.
    Besides, CHina's digging mines in AFG can create lots of jobs and and privde lots of revenue Yankee's puppet regime.

    The more revenue Chinese investors provide AFG government, the less economy aids Yankees have to give to AFG government.

    so , China's digging mines in AFG is a Win-win deal for USA and CHina
     
  10. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    20,539
    Likes Received:
    6,539
    Badguy Chinese are becoming a superpower on USA's coattails, being a second fiddler has been lucrative for China.
     
  11. SHASH2K2

    SHASH2K2 New Member

    Joined:
    May 10, 2010
    Messages:
    5,711
    Likes Received:
    723
    Location:
    Bihar, BanGalore , India
    Afganistan is a place where we can pay china big time for all of their misadventure against Indian assets and projects in Africa.I am sure we are working on a payback package for them.
     
  12. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    Indian cos, Rio, BHP keen on developing Afghan mines

    [​IMG]
    The Minister of Mines, Afghanistan, Mr. Wahidullah Shahrani calls on the Union Minister for Mines and Development of North Eastern Region, Shri B.K. Handique, in New Delhi on June 15, 2010.
    Press Trust of India / New Delhi June 15, 2010, 19:56 IST
    Afghanistan today said Indian mining companies and global majors like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are keen to develop the war-torn country's mineral resources, estimated at $1 trillion.

    After calling on Indian Mines Minister B K Handique, visiting Afghanistan Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani told PTI, "Indian and global companies like Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are keen to develop mines in Afghanistan."Taking its plans forward, Afghanistan will launch a road show in London later this month in which 200 companies, including global majors like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Vale and many Indian companies, are expected to attend.
    "We will invite bids for development of mineral deposits in the country in the next few months," Shahrani said, adding that the mineral wealth in Afghanistan is valued at approximately $1 trillion.

    "We have invited 200 companies, including global majors like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Vale and many Indian companies, to attend the road show on June 25 in London," he said.

    He sought India's assistance for exchange of know-how and expertise in the mining sector, besides help from the Geological Survey of India for mapping its resources.

    "Afghanistan is rich in minerals like iron ore, copper, cobalt, chromite and the whole country is yet to be fully explored," he said.

    Indian firms like Essar had earlier evinced interest to bid for iron ore mines in Afghanistan when the Afghanistan government had invited a global expression of interest (EoI) for its Hajigak iron ore mines, said to be having 1.8 billion tonnes of reserves. The country's iron ore deposits, as per reports, are estimated at between 5-6 billion tonnes.

    An Essar official, however, when contacted said that the company had participated in the EoI, but did not receive any response.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2010
  13. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
  14. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    The Mineral Miracle? Or a Massive Information Operation?

    JUN 14 2010, 9:05 AM ET | Comment

    Were it not for the byline of James Risen, a New York Times reporter currently in a legal battle with the Obama administration over the identity of his sources, a second read of his blockbuster A1 story this morning, U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan, would engender some fairly acute skepticism. For one, a simple Google search identifies any number of previous stories with similar details.


    The Bush Administration concluded in 2007 that Afghanistan was potentially sitting on a goldmine of mineral resources and that this fact ought to become a central point of U.S. policy in bolstering the government.

    The Soviets knew this in 1985, as a 2002 history of the region's economy shows:

    Afghanistan has reserves of a wide variety of nonenergy mineral resources, including iron, chrome, copper, silver, gold barite sulfur, talc, magnesium, mica, marble, and lapis lazuli. By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies. The Afghan government in the mid-1980s was preparing to develop a number of these resources on a large scale with Soviet technical assistance. These efforts were directed primarily at the country's large iron and copper reserves. The iron ore deposits contained an estimated 1.7 billion tons of mixed hematite and magnetite, averaging 62 percent iron. These reserves, among the world's largest, arelocated at Hajji Gak, almost 4,000 meters up in the Hindu Kush, northwest of Kabul in Bamian Province. Development started in 1983, and because the Afghan authorities had put forth no plan to establish an iron and steel industry, the output appeared destined for the Soviet steel mills in Tashkent.

    A former senior State Department official said that regular discussions between the U.S. and the Karzai government over how to best exploit the resources for potential future use were ongoing when he was privy to those discussions around 2006.

    By 2009, the government had already begun to solicit bids for various mining opportunities.

    Jonathan Landay of McClatchy was on to the geopolitical importance of Afghanistan's mineral reserves in 2009, writing that China's thirst for coal might be the key to regional stabilization.

    Already, there are accusations that the REAL reason the US is in Afghanistan is because WE want to exploit those mines. That's a passable but facile interpretation of what's going on here.

    The way in which the story was presented -- with on-the-record quotations from the Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, no less -- and the weird promotion of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense to Undersecretary of Defense suggest a broad and deliberate information operation designed to influence public opinion on the course of the war. Indeed, as every reader of Jared Diamond's popular works of geographic determinism knows well, a country rich in mineral resources will tend toward stability over time, assuming it has a strong, central, and stable government.

    Risen's story notes that the minerals discovery comes at a propitious time. He focuses on lithium, a critical component of electronics. One official tells him that Afghanistan could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium" -- a comparison to oil. (I can see it now: "We must wean ourselves off our dependence on foreign lithium!")

    The general perception about the war here and overseas is that the counterinsurgency strategy has failed to prop up Hamid Karzai's government in critical areas, and is destined to ultimately fail. This is not how the war was supposed to be going, according to the theorists and policy planners in the Pentagon's policy shop.

    What better way to remind people about the country's potential bright future -- and by people I mean the Chinese, the Russians, the Pakistanis, and the Americans -- than by publicizing or re-publicizing valid (but already public) information about the region's potential wealth?

    The Obama administration and the military know that a page-one, throat-clearing New York Times story will get instant worldwide attention. The story is accurate, but the news is not that new; let's think a bit harder about the context.
     
  15. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    Minerals key to Afghan development

    For all of its potential, Afghanistan's mining industry still has a long way to go before it offers any benefits for the government in Kabul.

    Owing to its geological history, which saw numerous tectonic plate movements as the land mass broke off from Gondwanaland and moved towards the Eurasian plate some 250 million years ago, resource-rich Afghanistan has vast deposits of metals, non-metallic minerals and gemstones. Every agency working in the country on its economic development has identified the extractive industries as a key area for development in their efforts to repair Afghanistan's war-frayed economy.

    A major international tender has been held to develop the Aynak copper deposits just south of Kabul. It is the second tender on developing the deposits after the first was cancelled last year when the main bidders were reportedly Chinese companies with poor records of environmental safety in their mining activities.

    The names of the six companies that submitted bids have not been released, but officials close to the Mines Ministry say they are all major international players in the mining business.

    One company pulled out of the bidding, but the remaining five are international mining heavyweights.

    Given that the costs of developing the Aynak mines' hundreds of tonnes of copper may run as much as US$12 billion - the mine's geology is reportedly comparable to the Escondida mine in Chile, the world's largest copper mine, although it is not as large - its development can only be undertaken by the largest mining firms.

    Although the winner of the tender has not yet been named, the project is being carefully watched by all mining interests and development agencies working in Afghanistan, since it is the first major mining tender in the country. The results will determine whether or not there will be further interest in doing business in the mining sector in Afghanistan.

    Some aspects of the tender have not fully been resolved. A law on mining has been passed, but regulations on the industry are not yet in place. This could be problematic for an industry that is back-loaded - demanding billions in investment before any profit is realized. If the energy industries in Russia and Kazakhstan are taken as examples, the governments there have used new regulations - particularly laws on environmental and ecological damage - as leverage to get companies to renegotiate deals after having spent massive sums on projects.

    Officials at the Afghan Geological Survey say they are aware that imposing regulations that infringe on companies' profits in the future would label Afghanistan as a "business unfriendly" environment, and the World Bank says the country will try to adhere to international standards as it draws up its regulations.

    While the Aynak copper mine is the first major project to come up for international tender, it is far from the only mineral resource in the country.

    Afghanistan's geology had piqued the interest of Soviet geologists still back in the 1970s, before the USSR invaded its neighbor. At that time, the geologists prospected the area around Kabul and rediscovered Aynak. Previously it had been exploited in ancient times, over 1,500 years ago. Following the Soviet invasion in December 1979, geologists were again sent in to survey the land. While their extensive surveys occupy several rooms in the Afghan Geological Survey building, since they have been reviewed by geologists after the fall of the Taliban it has been noted that there were many inaccuracies and some appear to be outright falsifications. Those tend to be the surveys allegedly carried out in territory held by mujahideen.

    Other tender candidates
    Apart from copper, the country has deposits of zinc, chromium, gold, iron, uranium and rare metals such as lithium and tantalum. According to an advisor with USAID, the iron deposits are most likely to be the next candidates for tender if the copper tender succeeds.

    Afghanistan also has non-metallic mineral deposits that can be used in construction material and in
     
  16. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    Afghan Officials Elated by Minerals Report



    KABUL, Afghanistan — Government officials sounded headily optimistic Monday as they fielded questions from local and international reporters about a new report on the extent of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth that suggests considerable potential for products other than opium, which until now has been the country’s most lucrative export.The report, produced by the American military and the United States Geological Survey, found that Afghanistan had at least $1 trillion in mineral wealth.

    In a news conference primarily with Afghan reporters, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, called the report “the best news we have had over many years in Afghanistan.”

    “The Afghan government is actively looking to its Ministry of Mines, to its Ministry of Commerce and to other entities in the Afghan government to start to bring these to the benefit of the Afghan people,” he said.

    As they waited to hear Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, some Afghan reporters excitedly calculated among themselves how much each Afghan would theoretically get if the mineral treasure trove were divided equally. Assuming the $1 trillion valuation and Afghanistan’s population of 29 million, that would give each Afghan man, woman and child $34,482.76.

    Bidding for rights to explore the reserves could begin in as little as six months, said Jawad Omar, spokesman for the Mines Ministry. The minister is expected to give a detailed news conference on the report this week.

    According to the report, which was described Monday in The New York Times, Afghanistan has at least $1 trillion in mineral deposits that have yet to be unearthed. It is a potential income source so vast that if it were tapped and the wealth handled in a way to benefit the whole population, the country could be transformed. It would also turn Afghanistan into a mining center.

    That would, however, require a substantial change in the country’s circumstances, since many of the reserves were found in politically unstable areas, said Mr. Omar, the Mines Ministry spokesman.

    “Mining is not like a shop that you can open and immediately take advantage of,” he said, adding that it would most likely take 5 to 10 years before the country could begin to use those reserves.

    “Mining needs studies, infrastructure and security in order to attract the investments,” he said.

    American geological experts have said it could take far longer, perhaps decades, given the lack of mining infrastructure.

    Afghan officials said the government believed that there was even more wealth than was reflected in the minerals survey, in part because the surveyors did not examine closely the entire country and at least 30 percent of it has yet to be fully investigated.

    One worry, raised by reporters at the presidential spokesman’s weekly news conference on Monday, is that neighboring countries as well as the Taliban would see the wealth as a further incentive to wrest power from the current government. Or perhaps in some areas, insurgents or warlords would try to ensure that a measure of the wealth came to them.

    Waheed Omar, the president’s spokesman, avoided addressing the worrisome possibilities and focused on the potential benefits.

    “This will improve drastically the lives of the Afghan people, the economic status of the Afghan people and to see that positively, that will unite the Afghan people,” he said.
     
  17. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
  18. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    U.S. geologists discovered untapped mineral resources in Afghanistan, amounting to $1 trillion. But despite the opportunity, international security expert Stephanie Sanok says the country lacks the infrastructure and laws to exploit them. (June 14)

     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2015
  19. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    More on Afghanistan's mineral riches

    Posted By Blake Hounshell Monday, June 14, 2010 - 10:04 PM Share
    The Pentagon held a press briefing today on that New York Times story I blogged about last night, and cleared up a few things that were garbled in the original reporting.

    One important point is that there is new work being done beyond what the USGS did back in 2007. That earlier project was "survey work" intended to "help build a database of where to look," according to Paul Brinkley, the director of the Pentagon's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. Since last summer, the TFBSO team has been conducting more detailed "field work" to assess which of 24 potential sites are economically viable.

    As for the mysterious $1 trillion figure, its still somewhat mysterious, but we know now that it's based on December 2009 market data, and it's actually $908 billion. I'm still not totally clear on how notional the mineral figures are, but Brinkley said "a lot of people think that's a conservative number," though he added "we don't really dwell a lot on that number other than to note, boy, that's a really big number."

    (Some folks, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, are dwelling on it. In a comment nobody caught at the time, he told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace last month that the figure could be as high as $3 trillion. And now, Afghans are said to be over the moon about the findings.)

    So, am I still skeptical? You bet I am. We are taking years, if not decades before Afghanistan will be able to take advantage of these resources. This is a country that can't even pay its police ... let alone build roads. The mining ministry is among the most corrupt government agencies in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

    "Considerably more work needs to be carried out before it can be properly called an economic deposit that can be extracted at a profit," Stan Coats, a top geologist formerly with the British Geographical Survey, told The Independent. "Much more ground exploration, including drilling, needs to be carried out to prove that these are viable deposits which can be worked."

    Afghan officials seem to understand this. “Mining needs studies, infrastructure and security in order to attract the investments,” the mining ministry spokesman told reporters today.

    One point I would make, though, is that we shouldn't worry if Chinese companies are the ones that bid on Afghanistan's mineral rights. Western firms aren't likely to take on the huge risks involved, and in any case it's probably a good thing if China has more of a stake in Afghanistan's security. This isn't a redux of the "great game" or some nonsense like that.
     
  20. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    Say what? Afghanistan has $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources?

    Posted By Blake Hounshell Monday, June 14, 2010 - 1:20 AM Share
    [​IMG]
    I'll get to the main point in a little bit, but bear with me for a second ... A series of recent news stories has deeply damaged the Obama administration's case for continued patience with U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign, which has shown little discernable progress despite the best efforts tens of thousands of additional American troops and an all-star lineup of top military officers.

    First, let's talk about Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. Remember the chatter earlier this year about how he'd gone crazy, threatening to join the Taliban and all that? That discussion died down a little after Karzai checked all the right boxes during his May visit to Washington.

    Then came the "peace jirga" -- after which Karzai abruptly fired his intelligence and interior ministers, reputed to be two of the most competent members of his cabinet (technically, they resigned). The intelligence minister, Amrullah Saleh, told his side of the story Friday in a jaw-dropping interview with the Times. According to Saleh, Karzai no longer believes the West can win the war and is looking to cast his lot with Pakistan and the Taliban; an unnamed source told the paper that Karzai had suggested that the Americans had carried out a rocket attack on the peace jirga. Karzai has apparently also asked the United Nations to remove Mullah Omar from a key U.N. blacklist.

    Next came revelations that Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency, the ISI, is still deeply involved with the Afghan Taliban (yeah, blow me over with a feather) despite heated denials to the contrary.

    Meanwhile, the drive for Kandahar looks to be stalled in the face of questionable local support for Karzai's government, the Taliban is killing local authorities left and right, and the corruption situation has apparently gotten so bad that the U.S. intelligence community is now keeping tabs on which Afghan officials are stealing what.

    In short, things don't look good for the United States ... which makes me suspicious of the timing of this attention-grabbing James Risen story in the Times, which opens with this mind-boggling lede:

    The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials."

    Wow! Talk about a game changer. The story goes on to outline Afghanistan's apparently vast underground resources, which include large copper and iron reserves as well as hitherto undiscovered reserves lithium and other rare minerals.

    Read a little more carefully, though, and you realize that there's less to this scoop than meets the eye. For one thing, the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. More information is available on the Afghan mining ministry's website, including a report by the British Geological Survey (and there's more here). You can also take a look at the USGS's documentation of the airborne part of the survey here, including the full set of aerial photographs.

    Nowhere have I found that $1 trillion figure mentioned, which Risen suggests was generated by a Pentagon task force seeking to help the Afghan government develop its resources (looking at the chart accompanying the article, though, it appears to be a straightforward tabulation of the total reserve figures for each mineral times the current market price). According to Risen, that task force has begun prepping the mining ministry to start soliciting bids for mineral rights in the fall.

    Don't get me wrong. This could be a great thing for Afghanistan, which certainly deserves a lucky break after the hell it's been through over the last three decades.

    But I'm (a) skeptical of that $1 trillion figure; (b) skeptical of the timing of this story, given the bad news cycle, and (c) skeptical that Afghanistan can really figure out a way to develop these resources in a useful way. It's also worth noting, as Risen does, that it will take years to get any of this stuff out of the ground, not to mention enormous capital investment.

    Moreover, before we get too excited about lithium and rare-earth metals and all that, Afghanistan could probably use some help with a much simpler resource: cement.

    According to an article in the journal Industrial Minerals, "Afghanistan has the lowest cement production in the world at 2kg per capita; in neighbouring Pakistan it is 92kg per capita and in the UK it is 200kg per capita." Afghanistan's cement plants were built by a Czech company in the 1950s, and nobody's invested in them since the 1970s. Most of Afghanistan's cement is imported today, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. Apparently the mining ministry has been working to set up four new plants, but they are only expected to meet about half the country's cement needs.

    Why do I mention this? One of the smartest uses of development resources is also one of the simplest: building concrete floors. Last year, a team of Berkeley researchers found that "replacing dirt floors with cement appears to be at least as effective for health as nutritional supplements and as helpful for brain development as early childhood development programs." And guess what concrete's made of? Hint: it's not lithium.

    UPDATE: Missed this Wall Street Journal story earlier. Money quote:

    [T]he Mines Ministry has long been considered among Afghanistan's most corrupt government departments, and Western officials have repeatedly expressed reservations about the Afghan government awarding concessions for the country's major mineral deposits, fearful that corrupt officials would hand contracts to bidders who pay the biggest bribes -- not who are best suited to actually do the work.
     
  21. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2009
    Messages:
    12,038
    Likes Received:
    715
    Is Afghanistan really the next El Dorado?

    Posted By Stephen M. Walt Monday, June 14, 2010 - 12:41 PM Share

    Color me skeptical. The past few weeks have seen a spate of news suggesting that the US/NATO effort in Afghanistan isn't going well at all. For starters, the assault on Marjah last spring failed to achieve any decisive strategic goals. The much-heralded summer offensive in Kandahar has been delayed and downgraded, and U.S. officials have been steadily lowering expectations. We learnt over the weekend that U.S. intelligence is increasingly focused on uncovering corruption, which means we are getting sucked back into "nation-building" instead of focusing our assets on destroying al Qaeda (which is what President Obama said he'd do when he (foolishly) decided to increase the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan. The Taliban managed to bomb Afghan President Hamid Karzai's semi-bogus "peace jirga," and Karzai himself is said to be losing faith in our ability to prevail and hoping to cut a deal with the Taliban.

    So today -- surprise, surprise -- comes news that Afghanistan isn't a poor country whose primary strategic asset is its ability to grow opium poppies. Nope, turns out Afghanistan is just brimming with iron ore, lithium, cobalt, copper, and other strategic minerals. This report -- which comes from "a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists" may well be completely correct, but isn't the timing of the release a mite suspicious? This looks to me like an attempt to provide a convincing strategic rationale for an effort that isn't going well.

    As Jack Snyder noted in his book Myths of Empire, the "El Dorado" myth is a common justification for imperial expansion. Great powers often convince themselves they have to control some far-flung area because it is supposedly rich with gold, diamonds, oil, etc., and that physical control is essentially to preserving access to them. In most cases, however, the cost of trying to control these areas isn't worth the resources they contain, and it usually isn't necessary anyway. Gulf Oil used to pump oil from Marxist Angola, and those pesky Iranians would be happy to sell us oil and gas and give us fat development contracts for their petroleum industry if only we were willing to do business with them.

    We don't need to control Afghanistan in order to gain access to whatever minerals do exist, because whoever is in charge is going to have to sell them to someone and won't be able to prevent them from being sold to us (even if indirectly) if we want to buy (that's how markets work). And if we want to make sure that U.S. companies have the opportunity to compete for the opportunity to mine these resources some day, it might be a good idea if we didn't spend the next decade blundering around and angering the local population.
     

Share This Page