21 February 2018

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07/02/2010 AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s future in mining, not opium

The country is a treasure trove of minerals and precious metals. However, exploiting deposits is a high-risk job because of the danger of attacks. India and China are trying to take a leading role in developing the sector. The Taliban want instead to stop any alternative economic development to maintain their hold on the opium trade.

Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Beneath Afghanistan lies a treasure trove of untapped minerals like iron, copper and lithium estimated at a US$ 1 trillion. The war has made exploiting such riches, especially for Western companies, an uphill battle, because of Islamic terrorists. This is why many poor Afghans are still relying on Taliban-controlled poppy cultivation and drugs to earn a living. Now Chinese and Indian companies are looking at the situation to see if it is worth investing money in the country’s mining sector.

Digging in the ground is more time consuming and complex than drilling for oil. It requires deep tunnels to get to the ore locked in the rock, blasting away at tonnes of material, carrying everything to the surface and sorting things out. Mining is thus a very expensive proposition and developing a mine can cost up to several billion dollars and take a lot of time. In Afghanistan’s case, matters are made more complicated by the lack of a railway and an adequate electrical power grid. The danger of attacks does not help either.

For Eurasia Group analyst Maria Kuusisto, President Hamid Karzai's low domestic and international standing, the government's tenuous control of the provinces and widespread corruption are additional cause for concern among potential investors.

Time and costs have not however discouraged India and China, both hungry for resources and happy to see Western investors forcibly absent from the field. Given US plans to pull gradually out of the country, China and India, but also Iran and Pakistan are planning to step in. New Delhi has already sunk US$ 1.2 billion in roads, electrical lines and Afghanistan’s new parliament building as goodwill gestures. Beijing is increasing commercial ties and investment as well. Chinese manufactured goods are swamping local markets.

Even though China's Metallurgical Group won a contract for the Aynak copper deposits in 2007 that was later tainted by accusations of bribes, the Chinese are moving into the country big times, building local road connections, transnational railway lines and other infrastructure in an investment that is expected to hit US$ 4 billion.

In central Afghanistan, bidding for the Hajigak iron-ore deposits will open later this year. Indian companies like Essar Minerals, Rashtriya Ispat Nigam and Ispat Industries are in the last stages of the tender process for the mine, estimated to hold 1.8 billion tonnes of high-quality ore.

Pakistan is now also getting into the rush for Afghan riches. Placed between Afghanistan and India, it is opposed to letting India use its territory to ship goods into its northern neighbour. This is helping China, a close ally of Islamabad. In addition, Afghanistan’s main deposits are in the south and the east, close to the border with Pakistan.

However, security remains the main problem with the Taliban ready to sabotage any venture. If terrorism wins, poppy cultivation will be the only economic activity left for the country’s poorest regions. The Taliban in fact control opium production and trade, their main source of funding.

Afghanistan supplies 90 per cent of the world's opium, the main ingredient in heroin, and is the global leader in hashish production.

The Afghan government and its international backers have made a huge effort in recent years to discourage farmers from growing the opium poppy. Cultivation dropped 22 per cent last year. Sadly, almost one million Afghans or 8 per cent of the 15-64 age group have become regular drug users.

Between 12 per cent and 41 per cent of Afghan police recruits test positive for drugs at regional training centres, a US government report issued in March says, this in country that has few rehab centres for drug addicts.

"It is a national tragedy," Ibrahim Azhaar, Afghanistan's deputy minister of counternarcotics, said. Greater drug use has major destabilising effects on communities as violence, insecurity and stealing increase.

The lack of income allows Taliban to maintain their hold on entire provinces in southern Afghanistan, forcing people to earn a living by growing opium poppy under the thumb of Islamic terrorists. This too is a national tragedy.

See also

A new "cold war" between Moscow and Washington over Afghan opium
Each year, some 7,000 people die in Russia from heroin made with Afghan opium. Despite spending US$ 7.6 billion, the United States has failed to stop drug production in Afghanistan. In Moscow, this is evidence that "U.S. foreign policy has been intentionally destructive," some experts say.

18/04/2008 AFGHANISTAN
Afghanistan could feed its population and avert the world food crisis
All it would have to do is replace its massive opium production with wheat, and it could feed the Afghan population, 70% of which suffers from hunger. A study by the FAO, the UN food and agriculture agency, has revealed that by devoting more money to irrigation systems, this dream could become reality.

16/02/2012 AFGHANISTAN
Karzai confirms Taliban meeting, announces early negotiations
Afghan and US officials met Taliban leaders in late January for the first time since the start of the war to discuss a ceasefire, the pullout of international troops and the release of terrorists in Guantanamo. Sources tell AsiaNews that the US quick-exit strategy could squander ten years of war.

23/08/2017 17:45:00 UNITED STATES – AFGHANISTAN
Trump announces new troops in Afghanistan, takes a “militarist” turn

The mission’s goal is not to build democracy but to kill terrorists. The Afghan government and NATO praise the decision. The Taliban promise to continue the jihad until the last US soldier is out. Until them they will turn the country into a US graveyard. Source tells AsiaNews that the Taliban will not stop. Analyst says Trump is a manikin of the military.

31/03/2009 AFGHANISTAN
Education, health care and social assistance to fight terrorism
Another international conference is underway to discuss ways to stabilise Afghanistan and fight terrorism. Expectations are high because Iran is represented. Experts tell AsiaNews that what is needed is more money to fight indigence and poverty, not more money to build up the military.

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