In a comment to an Afghanistan post at The Moderate Voice last night, I reported some breaking news published by the New York Times.
It dealt with the discovery of nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in war-torn Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and “enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.”
My comment also referred to possible changes in strategic objectives and strategy in Afghanistan.
While I am not an expert able to predict what the economical consequences of such a mineral find will be, or how this might change the U.S.’, or other countries’ strategies, there are bound to be some consequences—hopefully for the better for the people of Afghanistan and for our involvement in Afghanistan. (The blogosphere is already replete with such “analyses” and pundits reports, as reported in an earlier post by Joe Gandelman. Our Jerry Remmers also reported earlier on this development here)
I am sure that in the following days, there will be some sound and thorough analyses and prognostications and we’ll keep you posted.
For now, let’s quickly review some of the major findings in the New York Times:
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.
While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.
The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.
Of course, the minerals discovery has to be good for the Afghanistan economy and the Afghan people. The Times, however, offers some words of caution:
Instead of bringing peace it could lead the Taliban to fight even more fiercely to regain control of the country and it could make the present government corruption even worse and cause endless fights to erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. (This, in turn, could affect our strategy and tactics there)
It is also possible that a “resource-hungry China” could try to increase its role in the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.
There could also be even more bad news for Afghanistan’s already battered environment.
As to any changes in U.S. strategic objectives and strategy, we’ll just have to wait. I am sure they will be the right ones.
In an interview with the Times on Saturday, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said “There is stunning potential here…There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of Mines, said the minerals will become “the backbone of the Afghan economy.”
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.