Rocks in a Hard Place

afghanistan

Afghan Mineral Wealth Undermines Regional Security

It’s been said that at the end of the seventh day when God had finished creating the world, he placed all the leftover rocks in Afghanistan. According to the US Geological survey, the value of the minerals in those rocks is worth an estimated USD $908 Billion, a figure announced following a recent study. The presence of vast reserves of copper, cobalt, gold, iron, barite, lithium, sulfur, lead, silver and zinc spells much trouble for already embattled Pakistan.


For our readers with an interest in the past and present geo-political relationship between Afghanistan & Pakistan, please see our previous post on this site: Borderline: The Pakistan – Afghanistan Northwest Frontier


Throughout history, the discovery of mineral wealth has time and again lead to increased political instability such as in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Zimbabwe where the unexpected discovery of oil and minerals has increased corruption, gang violence, military rule and worse. The path to posterity requires nation states to provide clearly defined and protected property rights, a concept in short supply in the tribal landscape of Afghanistan where no practical and recognized central government exists. Under present circumstances, the dollar value assigned to Afghanistan’s mineral worth could prove more a curse than a blessing.

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Afghanistan is hydrocarbon rich according to various Geological estimates.

According to analysis performed by United States Central Command (CENTCOM), the Taliban is expected to put up an even more tenacious fight to retain control of areas believed to be mineral-rich. Also staking their claim are the Afghan tribes, the Kabul government and foreign mining companies all seeking their share of the minerals. The result being the prolonging of Pakistan’s security problems due to the ensuing turf wars, violence and political instability. More fighting in Afghanistan also increases the cadre of available recruits for the Pakistan Jihad fighting machine – training camps, recruitment centers, financing from kidnaping, narcotics trade – all enjoying renewed impetus. Propaganda that calls for the protection of Muslim wealth from western colonizers will no doubt also spur recruitment. A large bulge of unemployed young men on both sides of the border are ready to fight on behalf of any entity that offers the chance of getting rich quick by procuring some of the mineral wealth.

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Rare Earths clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, neodymium, samarium and gadolinium

The US Geological Survey study shows a good deal of the mineral deposits are located along the border with Pakistan, coincidentally where the predominance of the present conflict rages on. This has raised the question of whether or not the resources extend into Balochistan, Fata or other areas in Pakistan. Even without geological validation of the presence of mineral deposits in these regions, it is logical to presume that Baloch nationalists and Fata-based tribes will increase their resistance to state incursions in any perceived attempt to gain control of the wealth their lands may yield. Given Pakistan’s disturbing track record for fairly distributing revenue from natural resources, such resistance would not be uncalled for, only further weakening the already fragile Pakistan Government and overall security situation.

Taking the longer view, the situation for Pakistan is even more bleak. A minerals-driven economic boon in Afghanistan will increase confidence in Kabul who will become more assertive in demanding both political and national sovereignty thereby forcing Pakistan to increase it’s dependence on strategic assets (nuclear weapons) to ensure it’s own security. This is because many Afghans have

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NATO soldiers visit an Afghan mining operation.

grown tiresome of Pakistan meddling in their country’s affairs and widely reported efforts to support the Taliban. They have grown impatient with the central government in Kabul who continues to cooperate with Pakistan in preparing for the post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan, so much so that high level resignations by Afghan ministers last year further demonstrate the depth of the frustration and mistrust of Islamabad. If large scale mining operations were to get underway in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army’s fears of encirclement would also become much more real. The Afghan mining minister has already engaged India for bids on a iron deposit estimated at USD $5B, while at the same time the India mines minister announced that Afghanistan had invited Indian companies to prospect and mine for minerals. Afghan geologists also visited with Indian counterparts for training and to establish relations that will increase Afghan-Indo cooperation in the minerals and mining field.

Increased Afghan-Indo relations appears to be a strategic attempt to block Chinese control of it’s mineral industry opportunity, particularly following China’s already signed deal allowing copper mining in Logar province. However, the Pakistan Army only see Indian investment in Afghanistan as a way to undermine Pakistan’s involvement there. The inevitable result is an increase in Pakistan’s strategic arsenal that could be deployed against India as well a future hostile Afghanistan.

The potential for Afghanistan’s economic prosperity opportunity to lead to increased instability and conflict is great. The dynamics of the larger economic and political game between India, China and Pakistan will keep Afghanistan at the world’s center stage & stuck between a rock and a hard place for the foreseeable future.

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