Since the days of Alexander the Great, the region we now know as Afghanistan has been known for its inhospitable terrain, its quarrelsome people, and, more recently, opium. But that, apparently, is about to change.
According to the New York Times, Afghanistan has about a trillion dollars in mineral deposits.
“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.
“An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’, a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.” And, incidentally, lithium is used in some electric car batteries.
The discovery of this mineral wealth will obviously change the complexion of the war in Afghanistan, with potential for good as well as ill.
The vision of a future Afghanistan where most of the people are no longer subsistence farmers and herders, but instead work to extract their country’s vast mineral wealth, is a compelling one. Afghan people will enjoy an increase in income and access to goods and services hitherto unknown to most in that war-ravaged country.
Of course, there are problems. There are other players who will want their share of Afghan mineral wealth (China and Russia come to mind) who will not have the best interest of the Afghan people at heart. America, which has spent so much blood and treasure to free the Afghan people, has the technology and investment capital to develop those resources, perhaps even eventually to build manufacturing facilities using Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, in such a way in which the people who live over it will participate and share in. In a decade or two Afghans could not only be mining lithium, but building lithium-ion batteries.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not going to be pleased by the prospect of Afghan people having money for the first time in history. People living a middle-class style of existence are somewhat less likely to pick up a weapon and heed the siren call of Jihad. Besides, all that mineral wealth could buy a lot of tools for Jihad.
There is also the question of getting those minerals, or the products with which such minerals are built, out of the country. To the east is Pakistan and the wild, unsettled region of Waziristan. To the west is Iran, ruled currently by the Mullahs who will also cast their covetous eye on Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. To the north are former Soviet Republics and, of course, Russia itself.
Still, the graveyard of empires could at last be a prosperous country and no longer a cockpit for terrorism. Who will maintain that is not a good thing?
Source: U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan, James Risen, New York Times, June 13th, 2010