Jul 11, 2010

Now eyeing the minerals

The discovery of mineral deposits in Afghanistan is of immense political importance

By Raza Khan

While the US and Afghanistan focus on the new peace initiatives with the Taliban, a development of immense politico-economic significance has taken place in Afghanistan. It is the discovery of huge untapped mineral deposits in the war-ravaged country. The discovery by the US is approximately $1 trillion of worth and is said to be far beyond any previously known reserves.

The discovered mineral deposits include iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and industrial metals like lithium. The deposits are said to be so huge and include so many minerals that experts are foreseeing the tapping of the deposits would transform Afghanistan into one of the most important mining centres in the world.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper. Their estimated quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both. Large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan have been discovered.

Ground surveys by American geologists and Pentagon officials reveal that at one location in Ghazni province the potential for lithium deposits is as large as that of Bolivia, which now has the world's largest known lithium reserves. The newly discovered mineral resources would fundamentally alter the policies of different countries towards Afghanistan, in particular the policies of leading powers in global politics and economy as well as regional players that have had stakes in Afghanistan.

"The discovery of minerals and their subsequent use is going to change the entire geo-political and geo-strategic importance of Afghanistan besides the interests of different traditional stakeholders, particularly Pakistan. Hitherto, Afghanistan had to offer a negative attraction (that is merely strategic) for the international community. After the said discovery now the World would have a positive interest in Afghanistan," says Dr. Ijaz Khan, Chairman Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, and an expert on Afghanistan while talking to TNS.

"The pressure would now be on the US, UK, Pakistan, Iran, and India besides other stakeholders in Afghanistan to bring peace to the country. Now peace would be in everyone's interest in Afghanistan which has never been the case previously," he adds.

"Pakistan can gain a lot out of the discovery of minerals in Afghanistan while at the same time it could lose a lot if it does not act rationally now. However, if Pakistan continues with its traditional policy of attempts to control Afghanistan and to deny other countries' stakes in Afghanistan that is no longer to be tolerated by the international community," says Dr Ijaz, who is authored the book titled, Pakistan Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy Making: A Case Study of Pakistan's Post 9/11 Afghan Policy Change.

The tapping of mineral deposits is going to make Afghanistan richer thus changing the country's traditional mindset and policy towards Pakistan. It would also reduce the burden of Afghan population on Pakistan. In the long run, this is definitely going to have good effects on both the countries irrespective of the official policies as interaction of people has their own dynamics.

Iran, another regional stakeholder in Afghanistan, wanted Afghanistan to support all its policies, still considering it as part of the centuries-old Persian Empire of which Afghanistan was once a part. India has also tried to court Afghanistan so that it could not make an alliance with its Muslim neighbour, Pakistan, and pose a critical threat to the Indian security.

Since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, the emergence of CARs, India tried to capture CARs' markets, hoping to use Afghanistan's territory for the purpose. CARs have also seen Afghanistan as territory to sell their natural resources to the world. The policies of all international and regional players regarding Afghanistan have largely been influenced by geopolitics for the important geographical location of Afghanistan. The political vacuum that existed in Afghanistan lingered on and got so profound that a moment arrived when it lost its very statehood. Afghan monarchs and regimes are themselves to be blamed for inviting global and regional players' policies of using its territory to pursue their interests directly in conflict with Afghan state interests.

One of the mistakes Afghan rulers made was that they did not try to develop Afghanistan's economy so that the state could become self-sufficient and politically independent. The present volume of a mere $12 billion Afghan economy speaks volumes of the inefficiency of Afghan rulers. It is important to note that this figure includes the drug economy.

In this backdrop, the discovery of mineral deposits in Afghanistan is of immense political importance. For the first time the world would take economic interest in Afghanistan. However, to get economic benefits from the discovery of mineral deposits the global and regional actors have to shun military-specific policies in Afghanistan and invest in the development of Afghanistan instead of destroying it.

The writer is a political analyst, writing his doctoral thesis titled, Extremism-Terrorism in Pakistan: Causes and Counter Strategy

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