Untapped mineral riches: a chance for Afghanistan? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 16.06.2010
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Untapped mineral riches: a chance for Afghanistan?

The US Defense Department has recently surprised the world with a sensational report. Mineral resources worth about a trillion dollars have been found in Afghanistan. These include gold, iron, cobalt and lithium.

Afghanistan is rich with mineral resources

Afghanistan is rich with mineral resources

The report about the Pentagon's huge Afghan mineral finds and their economic potential has attracted a lot of attention in Afghanistan. Many are upbeat about it. Abdurrahman Ashraf, the advisor to President Hamid Karzai on mining issues, says that his government will conduct an in-depth investigation to verify the information.

"We have been given data which are necessary for the mining of the resources. We will work with that," he says. "We will take samples on the ground and find out the mineral content of various deposits. Then we can say which deposits are economically worthwhile and which are not."

President Hamid Karzai's administration is conducting a thorough investigation into mineral deposits

President Karzai's government is conducting an investigation into the mineral deposits

The information is not 'new'

The US government's supposedly new information about the mineral riches is in fact not that new. During the occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Soviet geologists had already explored the soil and collected data. After the withdrawal of the Red Army, Afghan geologists hid the maps which their Soviet colleagues had left behind. The information remained under wraps until the Western forces drove the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001.

The White House in Washington seemed to have not known about the mineral resources until recently, when an internal memo by the US Department of Defense said the value of the deposits in Afghanistan was about a trillion dollars. Sayfuddin Sayhoon, an Afghan economist believes that the US experts underestimate the wealth of his country:

"The numbers given by the Americans are understated. Some other sources even speak of a value of up to six trillion dollars."

Many fear that the Taliban could intensify their insurgency after the recent revelations

Many fear that the Taliban could intensify their insurgency after the recent revelations

Timing of the report

Experts in Kabul wonder why Washington has made this information public now. Some believe that the White House is trying to show US citizens that their soldiers are not fighting in vain, and that a lot of money is involved here. Economist Sayhoon believes there could be other motives as well:

"The US is warning us Afghans and suggesting to us to consider exploiting and using these mineral resources. Moreover, the news is meant to attract the attention of Western companies. It seems that some Western firms have already been contemplating about engaging in mining in Afghanistan."

Several mineral deposits are hidden in the Hindu Kush mountains

Several mineral deposits are hidden in the Hindu Kush mountains

Expertise needed

Maybe this is why Karzai's advisor Abdurrahman Ashraf is trying to play down the expectations. "The mining and sale of these mineral resources require special expertise, which we do not have right now," he says. "Moreover, our generation has not the right to sell everything."

Ashraf also suggests that Afghans might prefer to sell the valuable mineral resources to China or India rather than to Western buyers.

Experts however see such a statement as an attempt by the Kabul government to use Afghanistan's mineral resources as an asset and to pit the West, China and India against each other - while keeping all options open.

Authors: Arif Farahmand, Cem Sey / du

Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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