Friday, 30 December 2011

Mineral Wealth in Afghanistan.

Another liberal interventionist fantasy is the one where instead of becoming a focus for pathological conflicts, the discovery of mineral wealth and natural resources will be used to raise Afghanistan out of poverty at a time where it's undergoing protracted war.

A Guardian report makes clear that, apart from the TAPI Pipeline, other interests are at stake,
"Afghanistan houses rich seams of copper, iron, gold, lithium and rare earth deposits worth up to $3 trillion, according to the Afghan government. Unsurprisingly, the government and international community are eager to see these resources exploited. The plan is to sell off rights to access many of the country's mineral deposits over the next three years in the runup to transition in 2014 – potentially releasing a vast amount of revenue for the Afghan economy"
The fact that this is being rushed through as part of a "transition" will only intensify the existing level of corruption. The beneficiaries may well be Western corporations gaining the extraction rights. Yet despite being told the Bonn conference of December 2011 discussed this, there have been few details so far.

It is curious how such news is filed under "Global Development". In fact, these interests are part of the reason NATO is still in Afghanistan. The public has the right to know how important such mineral wealth is in the decision to continue the war and whether those resources really do have any chance of being extracted for the benefit of Afghan civilians.

This is all the more relevant when it seems likely that it will be China that will benefit from exploiting Afghanistan's minerals. As Charles Wallace reported in Daily Finance,
Although the U.S. government has spent more than $940 billion on the conflict in Afghanistan since 2001, a treasure trove of mineral deposits, including vast quantities of industrial metals such as lithium, gold, cobalt, copper and iron, are likely to wind up going to Russia and China instead of American firms.

The New York Times reported Monday that U.S. officials and American geologists have found an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits that have yet to be exploited in the country. The paper said a Pentagon report called Afghanistan potentially "the Saudi Arabia of lithium," a key component in batteries for cellphones, laptop computers and eventually, a plug-in fleet of electric cars.

But while the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries are providing the bulk of the security for Afghanistan.... the firms that are profiting from the resource boom are primarily Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Russian.

"China has an absolute advantage in Afghanistan as far as resource development goes," says James R. Yeager, a Tucson, Ariz., consultant who worked as an adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Mines.

In December, 2007, China's state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp. (MCC) signed a $2.9 billion agreement with the Kabul government to extract copper from the Aynak deposit, one of the world's largest unexploited copper deposits with an estimated 240 million tons of ore.

The Washington Post, quoting a U.S. intelligence official, reported that the Afghan minister of mines was accused of taking approximately $30 million in bribes from the Chinese company in exchange for the contract. The minister denied the charge and said the Chinese firm had offered the best deal.
Given these facts it can be said that even on the grounds of "enlightened self interest", the war in Afghanistan has been neither that enlightened, in being a huge waste of western expenditure, nor even for the benefit of western states. The war has cost 393 British soldiers lives, turned NATO into an offensive power block and damaged the credibility of Western states.

NATO forces have spent a decade in Afghanistan only for corruption amongst Afghan elites to remain endemic and for the mineral wealth to go to Chinese and Russian companies. This war has been a complete waste of time, money, effort and lives. Nothing can or will be achieved by NATO by military occupation.

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