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The Afghan Mines; the treasuries that are being looted

Published Date: August 26, 2017


The studies on the mineral resource in Afghanistan so far show that there are 1400 mineral fields and resources in Afghanistan with a value of more than one trillion dollars. However, the illegal extraction of minerals and corruption in the mining sector are factors that have resulted in the robbing of these resources in the country.

Some reports indicate that a number of the high-ranking government officials are involved in the arbitrary extraction of mines. About three years ago, a list of the names of the people involved in the illegal extraction of mine was also prepared, but never published.

Speaking at the academic-research seminar under “challenges, resolutions and the ways to attract the international community’s aids to prevent the illegal extraction of mines,” the acting head of the Afghan Academy of Science Seraya Popal said last week that besides financial exploitation and wasting the national assets of the country, the illegal extraction of mines have had adverse consequences for the security and the political situation in the country.

Mines and natural resources are the untapped properties of the country that could lead to economic development, prosperity, security, and stability in the country. Nonetheless, the illegal and unprofessional extraction of mine has been continuing over the past four decades, and the perpetuation of this situation will negatively affect the country’s economy, revenue, security, etc.

Here we have discussed the mineral resources, their extraction and corruption in the mining sector in the country.


The Afghan mineral resources

With mineral resources not so far from the surface and close to its major cities, Afghanistan is one of the unique countries in the region; nevertheless, its people are one of the poorest nations in the world.

In late 18th century, after the industrial revolution in the Europe, for the first time, the English geologists performed some observations on the mineral resources in the central and northern Afghanistan. The outcomes of these studies, conducted in 1890, show that the Hajigak iron mineral field is one of the richest mineral resources in the country. Moreover, Russians, Americans, Germans, and French have also conducted studies about the Afghan mines and have discovered significant deposits of oil, gas, coal, silver, copper, lazuli, gemstone and other valuable materials, most of which are untapped yet.  

Overall, 1400 mineral fields are detected so far in the country containing various mineral resources such as iron ore, copper, chromite, lead, coal, uranium, salt, ruby, silver, lithium, emerald, lazuli, aluminum, oil, gas, marble, etc. The US’s geological survey has shown that the total value of the mineral resources in Afghanistan is one trillion dollars, but the Afghan government has estimated its value to be three trillion dollars.

Some of the mineral fields in Afghanistan are from the largest mines in the world such as the Aynak copper mine in Lugar, the Hajigak iron deposit in Bamyan and the lithium resources in Nuristan. Moreover, the cobalt and niobium resources are also discovered in the southern provinces of the country; the two substances are pivotal for the modern industry.


The illegal extraction of mines in Afghanistan

From the beginning of the instability until 2001, mining was in the worst condition in the country. Currently, the gemstone and coal resources are illegally and unprofessionally being extracted by powerful people and irresponsible armed groups and are being smuggled in other countries.

After the formation of the new government in 2001, people expected the government to focus more on this sector but after one and a half decade and spending billions of dollars, still, there are reports that the Afghan mineral resources are being looted by influential people and irresponsible armed groups. 

The Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA), expressing concern about looting the Afghan mineral resources, has said earlier this year that the revenues from the illegal extraction of mines are the main financial resources of the armed opposition of the government and one of the main factors behind the perpetuation of the war and the expansion of corruption in the country. The organization has also added that the improper management in the mining sector will confront the country with major challenges.

In the meanwhile, in a report released in Jaza 1395 (solar month and year), the international organization of Global Witness has said that the income of armed groups from a single small mine in Badakhshan province is equal to the total revenue of the Afghan government from the mining sector. The institution added that “the competition between the economic mafia over controlling the mines of Badakhshan has created such a diversified coalition which in some occasions have aligned the Taliban, the local commanders of Jamiat-e-Islami, and some senior officials of the Afghan government.”


Corruption in the mining sector

Corruption in the mining industry is one of the serious challenges in the country. In its research report under “Looting the mines and obvious scandal in the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum” released on 11 March 2017, Afghanistan’s Network of Fight Against Corruption says that officials in the Ministry of Petroleum are trying to give the contract of the extraction of 217 mineral resources to the powerful people with ties to the members of the Parliament, minsters and politicians and that these officials have gained an average $100,000 for given each contract and a total of $10m.

The findings of the report shows that since the past several years, 11 contracting companies are $11m in debt from the government and, still, no measures are undertaken to regain this money. The report adds that, currently, 500 trucks loaded with minerals are being smuggled out of the country on daily basis and the employees of the Ministry of Transport, local officials and the security forces receive bribes to let these smuggled commodities pass the borders.

Mine Watch Afghanistan which is a network of 30 civil institutions writes in its fifth report under “the transparency initiative of extractive industries in Afghanistan” that corruption in the Ministry of Mine has reached its heights. According to the report, the Ministry of Mine and Ministry of Finance have failed to assess the revenues of the mines in the country and some current and former ministers and parliament members are involved in the illegal extraction of mines.

Before this, in December 2015, IWA had released a report about five mineral deposits, the contracts of which was signed between the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and several corporations. According to the report, political influence and nepotism have played a key role in awarding the contracts. The report writes that the members of both parliament houses and senior government officials protect a large number of mines for their self-interests or the interests of their relatives for illegal extraction.

The reports of SIGAR in 2015 and 2016 also indicate that $488m, appropriated by the US to enhance the capacity of the mining sector in Afghanistan, is wasted. According to SIGAR’s report in 2016, since 2010, 11 projects were implemented in areas of developing mines, access to energy and geological survey in Afghanistan, three of which, worth $54.3m, had not achieved their targeted outcomes. Five other projects worth $121.7m have relatively reached its goals, and only the three remaining projects worth $39.4m have reached their specified objectives.

The research reports resealed until today indicate the main factors behind corruption to be mafia, powerful individuals, weak monitoring, and improper management. According to a report of IWA in December 2015, about 50 members of the Afghan Parliament were accused of exploiting the mineral resources of the country for their self-interests.


Solutions to prevent corruption in the mining sector

In this regard a few significant points are noteworthy:

  • Creating an effective mechanism to fight corruption in the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.
  • Preventing the influential people, government officials, mafia, and Parliament members from interfering in awarding the contracts of the mine’s extraction.
  • Undertaking the competitive process of winning the contracts and publicly announcing the outcomes of the process so that all the contractor could know why the contract was given to a particular contractor.
  • Creating a single and transparent account to collect the revenues of the natural resource in the country.
  • Strengthening the system of monitoring over the extraction of the mineral resources and building a fair mechanism to ensure the interest of the local people.

 The End

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