Afghanistan has nearly one trillion dollars in mineral deposits, according to a U.S. study, but there are doubts the war-torn and graft-prone country can manage the windfall offered by the untapped riches.
President Hamid Karzai said in January that the deposits could help the war-ravaged nation become one of the richest in the world, based on preliminary findings of the United States Geological Survey.
The final results, reported in the New York Times on Monday, found previously unknown reserves of lithium, iron, gold, niobium, cobalt and other minerals that the paper said could transform Afghanistan into a global mining hub.
“The natural resources of Afghanistan will play a magnificent role in Afghanistan's economic growth,” Jawad Omar, spokesman for the country's Ministry of Mines and Industries, told AFP.
“The past five decades show that every time new research takes place, it shows our natural reserves are far more than what was previously found,” he said.
Afghanistan's potential lithium deposits are as large of those of Bolivia, which currently has the world's largest known reserves of the lightweight metal, the Times said.
There is ever-growing demand for lithium, which is used to make batteries for everything from mobile phones and cameras to iPads and laptops. Future growth in electric and hybrid cars could create still more demand.
Afghanistan has so much of the metal that it could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”, according to an internal Pentagon memo quoted by the New York Times.
Potential top producer
The iron and copper deposits are also large enough to make Afghanistan one of the world's top producers, U.S. officials said. “There is stunning potential here,” General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command which oversees Afghanistan, told the newspaper. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.
Little has been exploited because the country has been mired in conflict for three decades, and is today embroiled in a vicious insurgency by Islamist rebels led by the Taliban. The country would have to find a way of bringing the minerals to markets but its infrastructure is rudimentary, with only one national highway connecting north to south and its ramshackle roads often targeted by Taliban bombs.