Afghanistan: An Heaven of Natural Resources


Naseebullah Khan
The strategic significance of Afghanistan apart, its potential of natural resources has time again invited the intruders and has made it the sick man of the world. The abundance of natural resources in the country has driven it to internal instability, chaos, anarchy, and an epicenter of proxy wars. Being the heaven of natural resources with trillions of dollars, Afghanistan has a place in 14 out of 17 rare earth minerals. It has tremendous deposits of Sulphur, iron core, Gold, oil, Natural gas, Uranium, Bauxite, Chromium, lead, zinc, Travertine, Gypsum, and Marble. With the emergence of new technologies and environmental issues, the natural resources of Afghanistan will have a crucial role in the future. As per the report of the US geological department in 2010 which says that “33 percent of Afghan natural resources have been mapped with an estimated worth from 1 trillion to 3 trillion dollars”. Furthermore, Dr. Wahidyar writes in the Journal of Islamabad Policy Research 2017 that ” Afghanistan has 14 out of 17 rare earth materials. In next 15 years, it will be one of the largest producers of Iron, Copper, and Gold.” While CNN estimates untapped minerals deposits worth of 1 trillion US dollars. According to a report of the Afghan Mining and Petroleum ministry 2019, there are 30 million tons of iron, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, and 2700 kg Gold deposits in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding, Aljazeera writes that there is 1.6 billion barrel of crude oil, 16 trillion tons of Natural Gas, and another 500 million barrel of liquid gas deposits located in Afghanistan. The story does not end here, Mr. Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow of Atlantic Council writes in Forbes that there are 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements (REEs) in Afghanistan which are crucial for renewable energy technology. Lithium is one of the main untapped resources which has the potential to change the fate of the people of Afghanistan. It (Afghanistan) has been called the Saudi Arabia of Lithium. A report of the US government says that the Lithium deposits in Afghanistan can be greater than that of Bolivia, which is currently the biggest producer of Lithium in the World. According to the BBC report, the demand for Lithium will be increased until 2040, and that the deposits of Afghanistan will have prime importance. The environmental hazards followed by global warming, and climatic change have compelled the world to divert their projects and their economies to new technological advancements which could reduce the risks of Global warming and climate change. Many states are focusing on electronic advancements for which Lithium, Cobalt, Copper, Aluminium, Nickle, and Neodymium will be the Jugular vein of the new technology. These resources are used in Batteries and electric Cars and are good enough in the reduction of Carbon-dioxide emissions. Cobalt is essential for EV battery staple while Lithium is the basic ingredient in electric_vehicles batteries___ Whereas Afghanistan is rich in these resources. Red Schoonover, a scientist, security expert, and the founder of Ecological future group observes that Afghanistan is certainly one of the regions, richest in traditional precious metals, but also Metals (needed) for the emerging economy of the 21st century. There are some hurdles in the extraction of these resources such as the fragile Afghan economy, corruption, deficient government policies, and lack of investment, insecurity, instability, and uncertainty in the country. Without a robust economy, the extraction of untapped mineral resources and mapping them is impossible. The economy of Afghanistan is on a ventilator since the Soviet intrusion. It is almost dependent on foreign loans, aids, and donations. Amid such a fragile economy, extraction is impossible. What is left is the FDI. Foreign Direct Investors always prefer to invest in a country where there is political stability, peace, and security. Sadly, these are missing in Afghanistan. Though some companies including a Chinese company Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) has invested in a Copper Mine in Logar for a 30-year lease contract, and an oil field in Ammu darya basin__but still a long way to go. The present violence after the US pullout has further increased the fears of the investors and obviously, they will be reluctant to invest in a state which has been in the clinches of chaos. A peaceful state equipped with infrastructure development, security, and political stability guarantee economic progress. Unfortunately, these chaotic situations, violence, and instability have been serious issues in Afghanistan. Consequently, the economy has been dwindling and the investors have been hesitating as the mining sector needs to continue funding and uninterrupted policies. The international energy agency (IEA) estimates that it takes 16 years on average from the discovery of a deposit for a mine to start production. Despite this, corruption and lack of government policies concerning high duties on many resources particularly on Marble resources, and dearth of trust-building between government and the investors have been further providing fuel to the pathetic situation. In the presence of such mess and tumbling in the country, the extraction has not been possible not only by the government itself but also for the investors. Mr. Syed Hussain Mirzad who led the Afghan geological survey in 1979 and worked in the US geological survey opines that “If Afghanistan has a few years of calm allowing the development of its mineral resources, it could become one of the riches countries in the area within a decade.” He further says that convincing investors to tap those resources could lift Afghanistan out of decades of strife and poverty. Who will pay heed? Could Afghanistan be a peaceful country free of foreign proxies and occupations? Will the Afghans have the right to peaceful living according to the UNHR? Will these natural resources be used for ever use for the betterment of the Afghans who have been paying for the sins which they have not committed? The answers are uncertain.