WASHINGTON: America is pushing for new contracts in mineral-rich Afghanistan but, while this is not wrong in itself, doing so without taking certain things into consideration could result in benefiting Taliban insurgents rather than America.
In an op-ed, Ikram Afzali, the executive director of an Afghan civil society organization – Integrity Watch Afghanistan- and Stephen Carter, the Afghan campaign lead of Global Witness, an international civil society organization working to prevent conflict and corruption, especially around natural resources, have cautioned against undertaking such ventures without addressing some inherent risks.
Writing for the online The Hill magazine, the authors observed that mining Afghanistan’s huge mineral wealth seems to be on the wish-list of President Trump, who has secured assurances from his Afghan counterpart that American companies will help develop Afghan resources.
Torn by nearly two decades of war, Afghanistan has massive mineral resources and is the second major source of funding the Taliban. Angered by being exploited by the “pro-government” strongmen who have competed for the mining rights, locals have generally backed takeover of mines by Taliban. This has resulted in people getting a fraction of the revenue that they should have out of mining activity.
People are also frustrated by the corruption in the Afghan Ministry of Mines which, the report pointed out, lacks the capacity to handle new contracts.
In the given situation, the authors warned that any efforts to secure new contracts by Americans run the risk of falling foul, mainly due to the governance issue. But, while plans are not exactly clear at this stage, even a desire to develop mining triggers an alarm bell, says the writers.
First of the dangers, as pointed out by the authors, is the possibility that contracts for mining will be awarded to American companies cheaply to return favor for the US commitment in Afghanistan. This could outrage the Afghans, who have fought fiercely against attempts by imperial forces to confiscate their resources and may see this as an unfair exploitation of their resources.
This perception, the article says, could well fit into the Taliban narrative of the US being an occupying force which is trying to exploit their resources as the war continues. “However unfair that narrative is, it is not hard to see how it will resonate. America is not here as a mercenary, but this would make it one.”
Another risk is the disregard to the law while pursuing such mining contract. Currently, two copper and gold deals
are on the table and particularly worrying is the fact that a government minister reportedly has a stake in the companies named as the preferred bidders for two of the contracts. This will be a breach of Afghan law if the deal is finalized without this being addressed.
The authors argued in favor of realistic reforms like open bidding, automatic transparency mechanisms, security reforms and giving communities a financial stake in legal mining which, the said, the US and the Afghan government should be pushing urgently to ensure the commercial success.
“We want Afghan mining to flourish, and don’t take a knee-jerk position against any project. But at an absolute minimum, questions like those we raised need to be convincingly answered first, not just with bland assurances, but with concrete reforms and legal guarantees embedded in contracts and in the mining law,” the authors wrote.
“If America wants to help develop Afghanistan’s resources in a way that avoids clear dangers, gets the best price possible, and builds institutional foundations for the future, they will be warmly welcomed. If they do otherwise, they risk disaster not just for Afghans but for their own interests, ironically while making even short-term commercial success less likely.
“America is right to want Afghan mining to grow — but it needs to stop treating it a as a quick fix, and start building for the long term.”