By Sohail Arshad
The recent discovery of large deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, lithium and other precious metals worth $1 trillion in Afghanistan by the Pentagon could well change the political equations in the war-torn impoverished country.
An internal Pentagon memo states that with this discovery, Afghanistan could become the ‘Saudi Arabia of Lithium”.
If that is to be believed, there will be a mad rush among the powerful countries like China, the US, India and the NATO countries, especially the UK, France and Germany to get a share in the mining rights because Afghanistan, according to US officials, is going to become the largest mining county in the world in decades to come. It will shift the US’s focus from the war on terror to the ‘mineral war’ preparations for which have just begun.
China, one of the powerful contenders in the region, is already in the fray as it has won the Aynak copper mines for $4 billion last year. The communist country has become a reason for worry for the US as it believes that China will try to get the lion’s share of the developing mining industry in the country.
India is also a strong contender with five Indian companies – Sesa Goa, Essar Minerals, Ispat Industries, JSW Steel and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam bidding with Chinese companies for 1.8 billion tonnes Hajigak iron ore mines in the Hindukush mountains. The bids were postponed last year as the US had alleged that the minister of mines of Afghanistan had accepted a $20 million bribe to grant the Aynak mining rights to China.
However, as of now the US is in the driving seat so far as the mining affairs of the country are concerned. The Pentagon who made the startling discovery, has set up a task force to help Afghanistan government develop a system to deal with mining affairs. The entire affair of seeking international bids will be managed by the US as Afghanistan’s mining ministry is not capable of handling such a gigantic task.
It clearly means that all the mining rights will be awarded to the American and European companies. It will, therefore, not be an exaggeration to say that the ‘mineral war’ will end in the economic balkanisation of Afghanistan.
The Taliban will play a crucial role in this new war as a large part of the minerals are beneath the area dominated by them. The Taliban has been carrying on its ‘jihad’ with the money earned through opium trade which is worth $4billion annually. The haram money was a constant embarrassment for the fighters of jihad. Now, they can dictate terms to the bidding countries, to the Afghan government and the US and earn ‘legitimate’ money by allowing them to start mining operations in their area, thus giving legitimacy to their ‘jihad’. At the same time the wealth may further strengthen their physical base and, therefore, their political clout.
Recently the US envoy for Af-Pak Richard Holbrooke famously said, “Reformed Taliban are acceptable”. The US has already realised that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Of late, the US-led war on terror in Afghanistan is going through a slump. The NATO forces are being killed by Taliban quite regularly. In the changing circumstances, the US has made it clear that it can shake hands with the Taliban if they respect certain ‘red lines’. He said that they could be involved in the government if they lay down the arms and agree to work within the political system. Obviously, respecting the ‘red lines’ means ‘not harming the political and economic interests of the US and its allies in the region and not killing their troops’. In return, they can get their fair share in the development.
But the acquiescence of the Taliban alone will not guarantee a smooth sailing for all concerned because Afghan society comprises of powerful Tribal leaders who weild considerable clout in their respective regions or provinces. Their rivalry can lead to serious strife and could even spark a civil war. And worse, the rampant corruption and nepotism in the rank and file of the government will facilitate the pilferage and plunder of the country’s mineral wealth by the Western countries. Josh Marshall has rightly summed it up:
“The unfortunate but very common pattern is that extractable natural resources produce autocratic, often kleptocratic, regimes, ruling by violence, which reliably get the stuff out of the ground and into the hands of more developed and wealthier foreign countries. You can come up with morality tales about exploitative first world countries but a lot of it is structural – tied to the scale of the wealth involved, the relatively limited involvement of the local population required to get the stuff out of the ground and transformative political effect of the wealth on offer”.
Sohail Arshad is a freelance journalist and can be contacted at email@example.com
Sohail Arshad is a regular columnist for New AgeIslam.com.