Despite being one of the poorest nations in the world, Afghanistan may be sitting on one of the richest troves of minerals in the world, valued at nearly $1 trillion, according to U.S. scientists.
Afghanistan, a country nearly the size of Texas, is loaded with minerals deposited by the violent collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began inspecting what mineral resources Afghanistan had after U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in the country in 2004. As it turns out, the Afghanistan Geological Survey staff had kept Soviet geological maps and reports up to 50 years old or more that hinted at a geological gold mine.
In 2006, U.S. researchers flew airborne missions to conduct magnetic, gravity and hyperspectral surveys over Afghanistan. The magnetic surveys probed for iron-bearing minerals up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) below the surface, while the gravity surveys tried to identify sediment-filled basins potentially rich in oil and gas. The hyperspectral survey looked at the spectrum of light reflected off rocks to identify the light signatures unique to each mineral. More than 70 percent of the country was mapped in just two months. [Facts About Rare Earth Minerals (Infographic)]
The surveys verified all the major Soviet finds. Afghanistan may hold 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium. For instance, the Khanneshin carbonatite deposit in Afghanistan's Helmand province is valued at $89 billion, full as it is with rare earth elements.
"Afghanistan is a country that is very, very rich in mineral resources," Jack Medlin, a geologist and program manager of the U.S. Geological Survey's Afghanistan project, told Live Science. "We've identified the potential for at least 24 world-class mineral deposits." The scientists' work was detailed in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science.
Afghanistan treasure maps
In 2010, the USGS data attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), which is entrusted with rebuilding Afghanistan. The task force valued Afghanistan's mineral resources at $908 billion, while the Afghan government's estimate is $3 trillion. [Gold Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Gold Mining?]
Over the past four years, USGS and TFBSO have embarked on dozens of excursions in the war zone to collect and analyze mineral samples to confirm the aerial findings.
"Performing an assessment of mineral resources in Afghanistan is not like going out in the United States and doing normal field work," Medlin said. "What becomes very, very obvious in Afghanistan is the huge amount of pre-planning that has to take place in order to visit any site in that country, such as who is going to provide security and how much security is needed.
You also have to plan how you are actually going to get to some place, as for most of the sites in Afghanistan, you cannot drive there — our work involved helicopters, and for our safety, we couldn't be on the ground very long to get samples."
The researchers' work has helped develop what are essentially treasure maps that let mining companies know what minerals are there, how much is there, and where they are, all to attract bids on the rights to the deposits. The Afghan government has already signed a 30-year, $3 billion contract with the China Metallurgical Group, a state-owned mining enterprise based in Beijing, to exploit the Mes Aynak copper deposit, and awarded mining rights for the country's biggest iron deposit to a group of Indian state-run and private companies. [Is China Mining a Rare Earth Monopoly? Op-Ed]
"These resources provide the potential for Afghanistan to develop its economy, to create jobs and build infrastructure, as it goes into the future," Medlin said.
The mineral riches could lift Afghanistan out of poverty and fight crime and terrorism, said Said Mirzad, co-coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey's Afghanistan program.
"Terrorists in Afghanistan exploited the misery of the local population," Mirzad said. "If you give the population jobs, if they could bring bread to the table, if they had something to defend, then the terrorists, who are very few in number, won't have sway."
Challenges to mining
However, developing a mining industry in Afghanistan faces major challenges. "One of the biggest challenges is security," Medlin said. "Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure. We're talking about access to energy, which is required to develop mines. We're talking access to roads, railroads and so forth. We're also talking about access to water, which is needed in most mining operations. It's all a big challenge, but it's doable. It won't happen overnight, but it's doable."
The USGS is currently helping to rebuild the scientific expertise of the Afghanistan Geological Survey, teaching the researchers modern techniques such as remote sensing. "We want to bring the Afghanistan Geological Survey into the 21st century," Medlin said. "The aim is to help the Afghans develop their mineral resources in a sustainable way."
Mining and other forms of natural resources development can lead to graft, corruption, social unrest and environmental degradation. Other nations rich in resources such as Botswana, Chile and Norway could provide Afghanistan good models to emulate in order to avoid these problems, said Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the journal Science and director of the USGS in the summer of 2012.
For example, important factors contributing to peace and prosperity in those nations are strong public institutions, equitable redistribution of revenues, environmental planning and investment in education, scientific institutions and human resources, McNutt noted.
"The leaders of Afghanistan will have many important decisions to make in the coming years and decades," McNutt wrote in an editorial in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. "Science has opened the door to a new, more prosperous future. May they use this opportunity wisely."
July 18, 2014
An operational agreement was signed on Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. The agreement was signed during a meeting on 8th July in Ashghabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, by Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The TAPI Steering Committee meeting also focused on all technical details, specifications of gas, gas flow, pipe length and diameter of the gas pipeline. The 1,735-kilometre Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline would carry gas from Turkmenistan to India while crossing through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan and India would each get about 42 per cent of the gas, according to the preliminary breakdown, while Afghanistan would get the remainder. It is estimated that the TAPI gas pipeline would deliver up to 33 billion cubic metres of gas annually.
03 August, 2014
In a recent report, the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that an amount of $7.6 billion was allocated to fight the war against drug in Afghanistan, but the outcome of the invested amount proved negative and questionable.
According to the officials responsible for the initiative, poppy cultivation has increased making the fight against drugs more difficult than before; although the question remains where and how the $7.6 billion was allocated.
"Certainly, the amount given to eradicate the war on drugs is less than the amount profited from drug smuggling," Deputy Minister of Counter Narcotics Ibrahimi Azhar said. "More money shouldn't have been spent, but most of the money was spent by the foreigners and we received fewer amounts to be used against poppy cultivation."
In a country where security remains as one of the major challenges, drug smuggling has interacted as a cause for security threats. It is said that nearly 1.5 million people in Afghanistan are affiliated with the drug production.
Based on the statistics, over the last year 209,000 hectares of poppy was cultivated in Afghanistan. The price of Afghan drug is estimated to be $1.5 billion, but the trade of drugs in the international markets is much higher and is estimated to be $60 billion.
A total of $1.2 billion goes into the pockets of the farmers who cultivate the drugs, $2.2 billion goes into the account of the national drug mafia and $450 million goes to the pockets of the Taliban.
Despite the presence of international forces in the country the war against drugs has not been eliminated. Ground realities show that the removal of the issue will take time and firm political commitment and determination to eradicate the war on drugs.
Reuters By Jessica Donati Jul 9, 2014
One-eyed Rateb Popal's debut as an Afghan businessman was not promising: he was caught smuggling heroin and locked up in a New York federal prison for almost a decade.
Popal had better luck once back in Afghanistan, where he emerged from obscurity to make millions in U.S. army convoy security following the 2001 removal of the Islamist Taliban. He went on to win rights to the first major oil and gas project.
The Amu Darya joint venture with Chinese energy firm CNPC is the only major foreign investment in Afghanistan's estimated trillion dollars worth of natural resources that stands a real chance of succeeding and providing an alternative to income from aid. Other huge investments in iron and copper face collapse.
Though the site's Soviet-built wells are pumping oil and selling it to a nearby refinery, disputes over budgeting between CNPC and Popal's company, Watan Oil and Gas, have halted drilling and exploration. "If CNPC fails in Afghanistan, it will severely hamper future foreign investment in the Afghan hydrocarbon sector," said Matthew Napiltonia, a former director of the project.
If the dispute is resolved, the 25-year partnership could contribute $250 million a year to the national budget, according to a World Bank report, create hundreds of jobs and relieve the burden of expensive fuel imports.
Popal's past, including allegations that his security firm bribed the Taliban for safe passage, fails to dent optimism that he and his Watan group of companies can make the project work. Many hope others will be lured to the near-untouched basins that, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, may hold 1.6 billion barrels of crude, one of the largest discoveries in decades, and 15.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
Over several interviews with Reuters, Popal explained he fell into smuggling after leaving Afghanistan to seek treatment for a wartime injury at the start of the 1979 Soviet invasion.Caused by the early detonation of a bomb intended for Soviet soldiers, it cost him an eye, his left arm and most of the fingers on his right hand.
Popal cast a striking figure alongside Taliban officials in the 1990s when he dabbled in fuel imports, with an eye patch to match his long black beard and turban. The patch has now been replaced by a glass eye and his gray beard is trimmed short.
ALLEGIANCES, RED TAPE AND GRAFT
Amu Darya's difficulties are similar to those faced by businessmen battling personal allegiances, red tape and graft. Popal complains that Chinese subcontractors owned by CNPC are charging too much for drilling and exploration. One source put the figure in dispute at around $105 million.
A senior Pentagon official helping the oil project as part of the U.S. strategy to help Afghanistan develop its own sources of income said both Popal and the Chinese inflated costs. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has sided with Popal and asked CNPC to re-tender the contracts or face being kicked off the project.
"If they don't take action, we can impose penalties or cancel licenses. The government needs revenue," said a senior ministry official, who also spoke anonymously.
But a Chinese industry official said Afghanistan was of low strategic importance. Probes into graft by former executives, the official said, had made CNPC "more pragmatic" in assessing overseas investments. A dozen employees approached by Reuters declined to speak on the record as they were owed several months' wages.
Undaunted by the deadlock at Amu Darya, Popal is charging ahead with his next project. Deftly bringing up a presentation for a $1.2 billion refinery on his laptop, his eyes lit up as he talked about plans for expansion.
17 July 2014
According to the Agriculture Development Department, it is expected that 5,000 ton saffron will be harvested in 32 provinces of Afghanistan this year. In recent years, the country has witnessed a tangible interest in saffron cultivation.
Known for its high quality in the world market and with the price of 100,000 Afghanis per kg, saffron is considered the best alternative for poppy cultivation in the county. For this reason, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock (MAIL) has started to undertake agricultural exhibitions to further promote saffron among farmers. Agriculture experts assert that the government should cooperate with those interested in saffron production in order to further expand the production country-wide.
"Saffron needs very little water and all members of a family can contribute to its cultivation. It also provides good income for the family," agriculture expert Syed Nabil Shinwari said. "The herb is significant for the economic sector; the government must work on expanding its production."
Considering that Afghanistan constitutes as the world's largest producer of opium, the shift to the production of saffron--one of the best alternatives to poppy-- is majorly significant for the country.