Afghanistan Possesses a Massive $3 Trillion Worth of Mineral Reserves.
Mountainous landlocked and multi-ethnic Afghanistan is a prisoner of his geography. The nation is divided by perilous and inhospitable mountain ranges, which block public services while also undermining stability and economy.
The state has been shattered by conflict and tribalism, yet those same mountains may contain
the solution to its woes. Afghanistan’s geology harbors vast amounts of undeveloped mineral
wealth beneath the surface. It is now estimated to be worth almost $3 trillion, making it one of
the world’s richest mining locations.
Even if the Afghans have a long way to go before their
resources can be turned into a competitive edge in the industrial world. Natural resources might mean a second chance at life in a nation like Afghanistan.
The lanthanides become rare earth elements though they are only used in small amounts. Rare
earths are of strategic importance to disruptive technologies.
From computers and cell phones to electric vehicles, wind turbines, lithium-ion batteries, satellites, aerial drones, guidance systems, and hypersonic weaponry, technology has evolved dramatically in recent years.
Rare earth elements are indispensable to modern nations. The need for rare earth elements in
economies and military is likely to skyrocket in the coming decade, especially as countries
transition to renewable technologies. All this gives rare earth elements disproportional strategic relevance.
High-tech driven economies rely on rare earth oxides to dominate the economic and
military playing field. In global affairs and negotiations, whoever controls the supply and
distribution of these resources will have a formidable negotiating chip.
The geological discoveries date back to the Soviet afghan war in the 1980s, given the fact that
Afghanistan is far from an industrial powerhouse. The soviets commissioned secret geological
surveys to establish the extent of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth during the height of the fighting.
The goal was to locate a silver lining in the expensive and protracted conflict. What they found
was a treasure trove in precious metals and rare earths worth up to one trillion dollars.
It was an astounding discovery one that gave new meaning to the Kremlin’s strategy in Afghanistan.
As a result, the Soviets went to work, strengthening infrastructure, modernizing electricity grids, and commissioning mining reserves. However, the Soviets packed their belongings and left the nation in 1989 before the resources could be mined. The decision was so sudden that it caught the government in Kabul off-guard.
A band of afghan geologists took the initiative and hid the soviet documents in their homes only returning them to the public domain after the ousting of the Taliban in 2001. American
geologists used the soviet charts in their own surveys and since then owing to more extensive
Afghanistan’s mineral wealth has grown to an estimated 3 trillion dollars that is a
groundbreaking number for rare earth elements market otherwise, monopolized by China.
Most of Afghanistan’s mineral deposits run along two belts. One starting in Herat and ending near Badakhshan, and the other running from Kabul to Kandahar. Industrial minerals, rare earthoxides, hydrocarbons, and even precious metals are abundant in these areas.
It is thus no coincidence that in 2017, former US President Donald Trump discussed mineral
extraction with his Afghan counterpart. Afghanistan gives a potential for the United States to
alter the rare earths market and transfer manufacturing away from China. The Pentagon, in
particular, is concerned that its defence equipment is heavily reliant on Chinese minerals, and
as a result, American policymakers have been scrambling to find new suppliers in order to
protect their domestic supply lines.
In 2015 the United States won a case against China at the World Trade Organization which
forced Beijing to remove its export quotas on rare earths, it was a victory but a minor one. For
Washington’s long-term demands, alternate sources are still needed, and Afghanistan may hold
Since 2001 the conflict in Afghanistan has become the longest war in American history costing
over 700 billion dollars and the lives of 2300 American troops. The updated mineral
assessments, on the other hand, may give the Americans a new reason to have their presence
in Afghanistan. The tactic would be similar to the Soviet strategy of using local mineral
resources to offset the costs of a long-drawn-out war. Although resource exploitation is a risky
selling reason for military intervention, it is Afghanistan’s only selling point.
In the meantime, China is interested in Afghanistan’s resources in order to maintain its rare
earth metals market dominance. Currently, Beijing is the top supplier in the market but its own
growing domestic demands owing to renewable consumptions have reduced its total exports.
As a result, China is looking for alternate sources to feed its domestic and international partners.
Afghanistan offers fresh chances as well as a new market. But its proximity overlaps with
China’s belt and road initiative, making it the perfect partner for Beijing.
As a result, in 2007, Kabul agreed a 3.4 billion dollar contract with two Chinese state-owned
enterprises to mine Masainak, Afghanistan’s largest copper deposit. Over the course of the 30-
year lease, the Chinese businesses plan to extract nearly 100 billion dollars worth of copper,
and a railroad was to be built to the site. The agreement opened the door to the search for
Afghanistan’s wealth, although it was later postponed owing to archaeological finds.
In the broad scheme of things, the Masainak project failed, but it was only a small setback.
Whether the partner is China, America, or both, Afghanistan’s mineral wealth promises a route
out. The position as a whole is a win-win. Even a small portion of the $3 trillion pie would be
sufficient to restore the Kabul government’s fundamental functions. That once-functioning
mining industry would earn billions of dollars each year, enough to put a stop to failure.
But this is Afghanistan, and we’re talking about the graveyard of empires. Conflict, corruption,
and geography have split this country apart. The absence of infrastructure in Afghanistan is one
of the major impediments to prosperity and even stability. Water resources in the area are
insufficient to support industrial activities, and there is insufficient energy to keep things going.
The lack of road and rail networks, as horrible as it sounds, is the most significant stumbling
block. Because raw materials are high-weight, low-value resources that require effective
transportation networks to reach global markets, transportation is at the heart of everything.
The railways must be both inexpensive and efficient, but this is difficult to achieve in the harsh
Hindu Kush mountain range. Due to the lack of a transportation network, mining operations in
Afghanistan have taken on an artisanal character, with a group of people shoveling through
rocks and transporting them to neighboring marketplaces. That is not the way to grow a rare
earth element mining sector. If Afghanistan intends to benefit from its mineral reserves, it must first build the infrastructure.
The global demand for rare earth elements is genuine, and Afghanistan’s mineral richness may
hold the key to solving its problems. However, while Kabul may be sitting on a gold mine, it must be careful. Gold mines are used to build the world’s wealthiest and most powerful governments, although they are rarely built on top of them.