Afghanistan has nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, according to a
A report in the New York Times
said previously unknown reserves of lithium, iron, gold, niobium, cobalt and
other minerals could transform the impoverished country into one of the world’s
most lucrative mining centres.
“There is stunning potential
here,” General David Petraeus, commander of the United States
Central Command, told the paper in an article published on Monday.
“There are a lot of ifs, of
course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
The New York Times was
reporting the final results of a study by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and a
Pentagon task force, initiated in 2006.
It quoted a Pentagon memo as saying
Afghanistan could become the
of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops
and mobile phones.
Afghanistan’s potential lithium deposits are as large of those of Bolivia, which
currently has the world’s largest known reserves of the metal.
The iron and copper deposits are
also large enough to make Afghanistan
one of the world’s leading producers, US officials said.
‘Very big news’
Waheed Omar, Karzai’s spokesman,
said at a news conference on Monday that the
USGS was “contracted by the Afghan government to do a survey, so this is
basically an Afghan government initiative.”
“I think it’s very, very big
news for the people of Afghanistan
and that we hope will bring the Afghan people together for a cause that will
benefit everyone,” he said.
“This is an economic interest
that will benefit all Afghans and will benefit Afghanistan in the long run.”
During a visit last month to Washington, Afghan President
Hamid Karzai said his nation’s untapped mineral deposits could be even
higher than the new US figures – perhaps as much as $3 trillion.
Little of Afghanistan’s mineral riches has
been exploited because the country has been mired in conflict for three
Poor infrastructure is also an
obstacle to a possible mining industry, with only one national highway connecting
north to south and its ramshackle roads often targeted by Taliban bombs.
“I highly doubt it will be
able to either properly manage these resources or use the riches to build a
more peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan
for all Afghans,” Janan Mosazai, a political analyst, told AFP.
“We have living examples of
other countries where natural riches have actually turned into a curse for
peace and prosperity for people,” he said, citing Nigeria’s
endemic poverty and conflict despite vast oil exports.
China and India
have bid for contracts to develop Afghan mines, with the Chinese winning a huge
copper contract. An iron-ore contract is due to be awarded later this year.
In 2008 China agreed to invest $3bn in developing the
vast Aynak copper reserves, the largest single foreign direct investment in Afghanistan’s