Taliban grabs mineral riches coveted by energy developers

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September 7, 2021 - 2:25pm

Critical Commentary

As the Tailiban regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, they took control of a vast trove of metals and minerals vital to clean energy development. Afghanistan sits atop rare earths and other strategic metals that U.S. experts valued at more than $1 trillion and are expected to grow more valuable as major economies shift to renewable energy and electrify transportation. The U.S. Geological Survey, with help from its Afghan counterpart and the country’s Ministry of Mines, has also determined that Afghanistan could have a million tons of rare earth elements. Rare earths have long been the source of political rifts between the United States and Afghanistan’s neighbor, China, because Beijing controls the majority of the world’s production. Rare earths are 17 elements used in electric vehicles as well as advanced weaponry.

The U.S. government has long sought to develop oil, gas and mining industries in Afghanistan, however there has been skepticism about whether resources could be developed at a large scale due to armed conflict and the strong presence of powerful warlords, and also due to lack of infrastructure and rampant corruption in the government, including in the Ministry of Mines. 

The return of the Taliban to power highlights the need for making sure mineral supply chains are as transparent as possible, and are meeting high environmental and labor standards. Mining has been a major source of income for the Taliban as well as the Islamic State group in Afghanistan, according to a 2018 report by Global Witness, a human rights organization. Mining talc, an ingredient in paint, cosmetics and plastics, was earning the Taliban as much as $300 million per year at the time, the report estimates. It's possible that the Taliban could attract legitimate mining investments depending on how they choose to run their government, although it's still a long way off, as major mining projects can take over 10 years to bring online in developed countries. 

China has already shown interest in Afghan copper. The state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp. reached a $2.8 billion deal for a 30-year lease on a deposit at Mes Aynak in 2007. That company has ceased work at the site, Foreign Policy reported.Katawazai said he expects China’s interest in Afghanistan’s minerals will continue.

“Right now, the major interested power is China, given the Chinese relationship with Pakistan, and then Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban,” he said. “China will be very interested in exploiting these resources.”

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E&E News

Cite as

James Marshall, "Taliban grabs mineral riches coveted by energy developers", contributed by Morgan Sarao, The Energy Rights Project, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 7 September 2021, accessed 18 September 2021.