Huge obstacles seen in exploiting Afghan minerals

Geologists have determined that Afghan mineral deposits are worth $908 bn.

Last Updated: Jun 15, 2010, 09:52 AM IST

Kabul: It could take years and possibly even a peace settlement for Afghanistan to reap profits from nearly USD 1 trillion in mineral resources that US geologists say lie beneath its rugged terrain some in areas currently controlled by Taliban insurgents or warlords.

Geologists have known for decades that Afghanistan has vast mineral wealth, but a US Department of Defence briefing this week put a startling price tag on the country`s reserves of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other prized minerals: at least USD 908 billion.

If impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, that could help foreign governments persuade their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops. It also could give Afghans hope, US officials say.

"The Afghan people (are) developing an understanding that they have a source of indigenous wealth that if properly developed will enable them to be sovereign," said Paul Brinkley, a senior defence official who led the study.

Still, without increased security and massive investment to mine and transport the minerals, it could take years for Afghanistan to bank the rewards. And there`s always the potential that such a discovery could bring unintended consequences, including corruption and civil war.

If the Afghan government has taken notice of the billions in potential revenue, so will the Taliban.

"Obama`s war just became more important and more complicated at the same time," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who helped advise the administration last year when it was rethinking its Afghanistan strategy.

PTI