Vast Mineral Deposits Discovered In Afghanistan
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Afghanistan now and a Pentagon report on that country's mineral wealth. According to the report, Afghanistan is sitting on more than $900 billion worth of mineral resources, including iron, copper and gold. It's a collection of deposits so large and so potentially profitable that it could transform the war torn country.
It's long been known that Afghanistan has these untapped resources. The challenge is, and always has been, how to get them out of the ground. For more on the story, I spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin, who has a copy of the report.
RACHEL MARTIN: It's a Power Point presentation. It's an internal Pentagon report and it's based on a recent assessment by a Pentagon task force, including geological experts who were working alongside with teams of Afghans trying to survey the geological deposits under the ground in Afghanistan. They surveyed sites around the country, 60 different sites, trying to get a read on exactly what kind of resources are underground.
Because like you said, we've known for many years that there are these deposits of potential great amounts of wealth that are harbored in Afghanistan's soil. And until now we haven't really had exact data on exactly how much these resources could be worth. Now we're getting that estimation upwards of $900 billion.
NORRIS: So, if they've known about these resources, why is this just coming out now? Now some have suggested that the timing is a bit curious.
MARTIN: Well, one clue that we can point to, the head of the presentation, the title slide on this presentation says this was conducted by the taskforce for business and stability operations. This is coming out of the Pentagon, mind you. And they've got a taskforce devoted to business in Afghanistan.
And that kind of raises the question, why are people analyzing, why are people at DOD analyzing business opportunities in Afghanistan? And that's because for the first time this report suggests that now in a real way strategists at DOD are really thinking about the economic viability in Afghanistan as part of the counterinsurgency effort.
So for the U.S. military strategy to work, this report suggests that a real indigenous and legitimate economy needs to come into fruition, not an economy based on the opium trade, as we all know, has been very strong in that country. So this is all about strengthening economic ties. If you'll allow me to read from part of the presentation, they talk about economic connectivity, is how they phrase it.
And theyre hoping that by exploiting the resources underground in Afghanistan, that this will essentially convince warring ethnic tribes to put down their weapons and start collaborating because if they do, they themselves could benefit from all of these resources. So they're hoping that by kind of publicizing, drawing attention to all of these resources, that in their words they could knit Afghanistan together.
NORRIS: So, some opportunities there, but also some significant challenges. A complete lack of infrastructure to do this kind of mining, real concerns about corruption once the mining and the money making actually begin. How realistic is all of this?
MARTIN: Well, exactly as you point out, the reason this hasn't happened that these resources haven't been extracted is because there are myriad concerns about security. A lot of these sites are located in parts of the country that are have seen some of the worse violence in the past years. So, security, a major issue, just getting to these mines in the first place, let alone extracting them. You need private investment to come in to invest the resources in getting the stuff out of the ground. That's very hard to do during a war.
Another issue, how to handle the resources once they've been mined. As you referenced, governance and transparency. Are there the government structures in place now to turn these resources into real wealth? There have been a lot of complaints about the current Afghan ministry of mines. I spoke with a former Afghan finance minister today, Ashraf Ghani, who said that that ministry is defunct and needs to be addressed those governance issues have to be addressed before this wealth can really turn into something that Afghanistan can use.
NORRIS: Rachel, thank you very much.
MARTIN: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Rachel Martin.