With officials in both Washington and Kabul claiming that Afghan mineral wealth could reach $3 trillion, the country’s opportunity to test, or better yet, to avoid the so-called “resource curse” is at hand. As J. Edward Conway on ForeignAffairs.com notes, USGS field work has affirmed significant deposits of gold, copper, iron ore, lithium, rare earth metals and mineral fuels including coal, oil and gas and perhaps uranium.
Which foreign mining corporations are among the first to the negotiating table for extraction rights? The Chinese ones, of course. Many western companies have also been aware of these potential Afghan reserves for years, but much like the mineral extraction from parts of Africa, the Chinese are some of the first to strike a deal, with the Afghan Ministry of Mines recently signing an exploration and production agreement with the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation to develop the Amu Darya basin’s 80 million barrels of crude reserves.
It remains to be seen whether the economic benefits of the pending resource extraction will flow through to the majority of Afghans, particularly those in the most affected regions, or will wind up in the pockets of Kabul elites. There’s extensive evidence of the world’s largest gold producers, for example, having an overwhelmingly positive impact on the areas where they operate but the evidence is not quite in from Chinese producers. Stay tuned.