Vast Riches of Minerals Found in Afghanistan Ought to Fall on Deaf Ears

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The Sunday New York Times published a story covering a major US finding of minerals and metal reserves in Afghanistan. (We’ll take credit for reporting on these findings almost one year ago you can read that post here). MetalMiner has in fact published numerous stories about these mineral findings in Afghanistan including a piece highlighting the fact that US military personnel (via American tax-dollars) will help pay for security for Chinese mining companies to come into Afghanistan to help develop a large copper mine at Aynak, near Kabul.

The “new news about this story, if we can call it that, involves the release of information around other metals in addition to the known reserves of iron and copper. These metals include cobalt, gold and perhaps an enormous lithium deposit (said to be bigger than that of Bolivia’s, currently the largest source of lithium in the world today). The article even mentions niobium and other rare earths. The other “newsworthy aspect of the NY Times story involves the enthusiasm of key US military personnel including General David Petraeus who said, “There is stunning potential here¦There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.

Undoubtedly, we’d probably all agree that we’d like to see Afghanistan move its economy away from its primary source of revenue (opium traffic), stabilize its government and turn itself back to a country without the Taliban. But call me a cynic I think the enthusiasm for these findings is grossly overdone. If we (America) as a country won’t deal with Bolivia for its lithium, how in the world do we expect to help create the physical infrastructure (roads, rails, etc) the political infrastructure if a central structure is even possible in Afghanistan (e.g. security, a rule of law, quasi-non-corrupt leaders) and religious infrastructure (e.g. the removal of the Taliban) required to help Afghanistan transform its “drug resistant (pun intended) ways to take advantage of these finds?

We can’t and it’s simply wishful (I’d even argue stupid) thinking to think that we can. But the best part of the Times article is of course, tied to the environment. According to Paul Brinkley, undersecretary of defense and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits, “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.

Now there is a laugh if I ever heard one! I love hearing about the Ëœenvironmentally sustainable green mining argument’ when women are treated as half citizens, when 7-year old children are tried and hung as spies, and where GDP per capital equates to purchasing power parity of $800/year! We can’t even get junior mining operations up and running in the US where we have the ability to implement and run “sustainable mines.

Folks, is “green” somehow a priority here in the morass that is Afghanistan?

No, the only thing I’m sure about is that America will help others such as the Chinese exploit Afghanistan’s natural resources. The Russians walked from Afghanistan in 1989 and they knew about these deposits back then! What in the world makes us think that this mineral discovery will ever result in a transformation of this inter-tribal warfare plagued nation?

–Lisa Reisman

Comment (1)

  1. Points well made — much-needed context for the NYT piece.

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