It was in 2010 that US government released a report about mineral resources of Afghanistan. The findings were a combined research by US geological society and USAID. According to report, Afghanistan has mineral resources worth 1 trillion dollars while the Afghan government at that time claimed it to be of no less than 3 trillion dollars. It was such a good news that it was hoped that soon country will become a ‘mining hub’ of the region, creating hundreds and thousands of jobs and giving birth to a chain of industries that would not only prosper Afghanistan but all the countries in the region. It was also good news keeping in view the fact that Afghanistan was dependent on international donors to meet its expenses. It was hoped that, soon Afghanistan will become a country not only self-sufficient and economically independent but it might emerge as one of the economic giants of the region. While these speculations and sweet dreams were in progress, no actual governing body was formed to work and turn these dreams into reality.
There is a long list of natural resources discovered so far in Afghanistan. It is said to have one of the biggest reserves of copper in the world. It also has reserves of Lithium equal to that of Bolivia, which has the biggest reserves of this important metal used in large numbers of industries like batteries, laptops, mobile phones, cars and others. Afghanistan is said to have vast reserves of oil and gas and some small refineries are already functioning near Mazar-e-Sharif and other northern cities. But most importantly, it is said to have large reserves of silver, gold and platinum which are rare and precious metals and can earn billions of dollars for the economy. Along with these, other worth-mentioning minerals of Afghanistan are zinc, cobalt, iron, mercury and tons of rare earth elements such as neodymium, lanthanum, cerium and others.
In the presence of such vast and precious reserves of important minerals in the country, there was hope that soon country will be flourishing and people thriving but unfortunately, it did not happen as it was expected. Today, two major problems of the country are soaring unemployment and shrinking economic activities and meager financial condition of common Afghans. There are many reasons behind this failure. The first is of lack of vision by Afghan government and its international donors. As the mineral resources were vast and they needed a proper governing body that could have made sure to take all the steps to turn above dreams into reality but none of the parties showed long-sighted vision. A number of short-term and quick money projects were made and implemented the benefits of which failed to reach to all the Afghans. A very few people were benefitted from the situation. On the government level, Ministry of Mines and Petroleum was responsible for this but unfortunately, it never had any minister with talents and knowledge to handle the situation and political interference and compulsions never let this ministry work properly.
Massive corruption, incompetence of government organs, political interference, effects of warlords and tribal chiefs and other issues exacerbated the situation.
According to findings of USIP (United States Institute for Peace), there has been massive corruption, political influence and conflicts regarding the mines in Afghanistan. The report issued by this think-tank has reviewed in great length the condition of five mines given to different companies by Afghan government. According to the report, only these five mines are inflicting loss of more than 50 million dollars annually in form of tax evasions, lack of accountability, political influence and others. In all these five mines, the companies that got the contract were not mature or skilled enough to operate such a facility. The state law mentions that no government office-holder should be a part of any such company but such an important person owned one company while there was the support of such people behind other companies. These companies were not supposed to start extraction before completing all the necessary requirements but the companies had already started the extraction. There was very weak or almost no accountability of the functioning of these companies. The companies had not submitted any documents regarding their safety and environmental protection measures and such measures did not exist in practice as well. The labor was given low wages and they worked in horrible working conditions. And most importantly, there was no mechanism to collect taxes from these companies and they were able to evade millions of dollars from the government.
Such horrendous and rampant mismanagement and corruption gave birth to numerous problems and conflicts on high level. At one point, a party in conflict called Taliban to interfere and settle their dispute while dozens were killed or injured in conflicts about these mines.
There is also fear of ‘mineral curse’ in Afghanistan if the problems persisted. It is a phenomenon used for countries rich in minerals but lawlessness, lack of governance, corruption and conflicts gives birth to many groups that start bloodshed for taking more and more share in these resources.
When we come to solutions’ side, there are so many things to be done. First, the government should formulate a strategic vision for proper development of mining sector. At present, the government seems to be interested in short-term, quick revenue generating projects.
The governing laws regarding mining needs to be updated so that it should cover all the areas, which are left untouched, by the present laws. All the companies bidding for mining companies must be diligently checked and controlled, staying above from any political influence. The functioning of these companies must also be controlled and monitored. Concerned ministries must devise a mechanism for collecting revenues from mining companies. And most importantly, government should work to improve the conditions of law and order so that foreign investors, engineers and skilled labor should confidently come and work at different mining sites in the country.
However, a nation cannot fully depend on minerals for its growth and development. We can use our minerals to provide base and investment to improve other sectors of life. We have examples of numerous countries that became rich from minerals but later on worked to improve other industries and sectors of life and today, they have modern and well-established industries and infrastructure. Our government is lucky that mining can provide it with all the financial support that it needs to keep the country on the track of progress and development. -DOA
By Muhammad Rasool Shah
THE PASHTUN TIMES