According to senior American government officials, the worth of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan may exceed $1 trillion, The New York Times reports.
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.
Lithium is incredibly valuable. The mineral is a key component of batteries that power all manner of electronics, from mobile devices to computers to automobiles.
"A small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists" made the discovery, the newspaper reports. If the country is able to build the infrastructure to mine it, Afghanistan could significantly increase its gross domestic product, which "is only about $12 billion."
For "Lithium Dreams," a recent article for The New Yorker magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winner Lawrence Wright traveled to Bolivia, which has the largest known lithium reserves on the planet. Similarly, the country lacks the infrastructure to mine it.
"One of the famous paradoxes of economics is the curse of natural resources," Wright notes. "Countries that are abundantly supplied with great mineral wealth tend to be poorly developed, impoverished, and politically oppressed."
As The Times notes, officials "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 minister has since been replaced.
Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.