Sunday, 12 September 2010

A Surge of Enthusiasm in Afghanistan

On corruption, the scale of it is business as usual as far as the USA is concerned. Colossal levels of corruption have been the cost of backing the KLA in Kosovo, now a new model narco-state. US foreign policy operates by backing ruthless proxies who then get rewarded for supporting the US.

As Chaterjee makes plain in The Guardian today,
Abdul Hasin, who was given $100m for a variety of projects which he has not repaid. Hasin happens to be the half-brother of the vice president of the country, Mohammed Qasim Fahim.

A little less than a year ago, I visited the heavily guarded headquarters of Abdul Hasin's business conglomerate – Zahid Walid – in the wealthy Kabul neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, not far from the even more heavily fortified US embassy.
Neither Hasin nor Fahim were wealthy when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, but as the de facto leader of the Northern Alliance, Fahim was perfectly placed to profit from the new opportunities created by the collapse of the Taliban.

Ramin Seddiqui, the managing director of the Zahid Walid's diesel import business, filled me in on how the business grew: first, a series of lucrative contracts to pour concrete for a Nato base, as well as portions of the US embassy being rebuilt in Kabul and the city's airport, which was in a state of disrepair.
Yet the level of corruption in Afghanistan is considered by Washington a price worth paying as it needs to bribe the warlords to be onside in order to be able to advance its interests, most obviously in finally getting the TAPI pipeline constructed in 2012. There is little doubt about that.

As John Foster wrote on September 3 2010,
Pipelines are more than commercial ventures. They are geopolitically important because they connect trading partners, and influence the regional balance of power. Turkmenistan’s natural gas can only get to market through pipelines. The Russians have a pipeline north to connect with a network serving Europe. The Chinese have a pipeline east, connecting with their network and going all the way to Shanghai.

The U.S. and European Union are moving to gain access or control. Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski called such geopolitical jockeying “the grand chessboard.”
The Pentagon recently announced hard mineral discoveries in Afghanistan worth nearly $1-trillion. A spokesman said, “This is that whole economic arm that we talk about but gets very little attention.”

The same that was true of Kosovo was true of Afghanistan: shoddy realpolitik cloaked with a humanitarian and ethical fig leaf. Just as Kosovo was crucially concerned with extending US hegemony into South East Europe, gaining stakes in Kosovo's minerals and guarding the AMBO pipeline, Afghanistan is about TAPI.

As well as those new resources discovered in Afghanistan providing an extra stimulus in "staying the course" as suddenly reported by the NYT on June 13 2010,
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.

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 BBC also carried a report of the sudden discovery of these huge resources. Naturally, this was never tied to the issue of the official reason why NATO is in Afghanistan but only as news in so far as it offered a potential solution to the problem of Afghanistan's development. Even so, it was interesting.

Not least as it took the US media some three years to report the geologists discoveries collated back in 2007.
A joint team from the Pentagon, US Geological Service and USAID has calculated Afghanistan's mineral deposits are worth at least $900bn.

Geological surveys discovered large quantities of iron and copper as well as valuable deposits of lithium.

But questions are being asked about the timing of the release of information.

The details of a US Geological Service survey of the country were released in 2007. The US assessment of the worth of the deposits was completed in December last year.

The BBC's Jill McGivering says that at a time of growing despair about Afghanistan and its government, the portrayal of the country as a potential goldmine could help to bolster international resolve and paint the country as a prize worth fighting for.

Lithium is an increasingly vital resource, used in batteries for everything from mobile phones to laptops and key to the future of the electric car. Bolivia boasts the largest reserves.

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, was quoted by news agency AP as saying: "The result of the survey ... has shown that Afghanistan has mineral resources worth $1 trillion.

"This is not an overall survey of all minerals in Afghanistan. Whatever has been found in this survey is worth $1tr."

The findings were made by the US Geological Survey under contract to the Afghan government, he said.

The New York Times cited an internal Pentagon memo which said Afghanistan could become "the Saudi Arabia of lithium".

There are already plans to exploit mineral wealth in Afghanistan with Chinese backing for a copper mine at Aynak in Logar province.


  1. Did you hear the news today that British troops in Afghanistan are suspected of being involved in drugs smuggling?

    The BBC reported it and failed to report of the issue of Kosovo, another NATO occupied region, where most of Europe's heroin in smuggled through, often facilitated (officially or unofficially) by US military personnel.

  2. @Charles,

    No, I hadn't heard that. Thanks. I'll take a look at it soon. As for the pipeline deniers they have come out on CiF offering the usual absurdities. The best is "If the TAPI pipeline is the real reason for NATO troops being in Afghanistan, then why haven't they built it". The fact it has not been built being, um, the reason why the troops are there. ie. to secure Afghanistan so it can go ahead. If still adamant that no amount of evidence is enough just spout the idea that the TAPI pipeline is part of a "conspiracy theory".