Afghanistan, sitting on vast reserves of iron, copper, cobalt and gold, has invited Indian companies to tap the nearly $ one trillion worth of minerals discovered in the country as the two nations try to enhance and diversify their trade ties.

Afghan Minister for Minerals Wahidullah Shahrani, who met visiting External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna here last night, said his government was moving ahead with plans to tap the huge mineral resources recently discovered in his country and welcomed Indian companies to tap the resources, official sources said.

“We welcome Indian companies with good reputation to tap the resources in Afghanistan,” the sources quoted the Afghan Minister as saying.

Indian officials here said they were quite confident that many Indian companies will succeed in operating in Afghanistan despite the security problems posed by the Taliban.

The Afghan government is moving ahead with open tendering and making the necessary infrastructure for the mining industry.

They noted that companies like ArcelorMittal have held road-shows in Afghanistan recently and have expressed keen interest in tapping the minerals.

Moreover, the just-inked Afghan-Pakistan trade agreement would make it easier for Indian companies to excavate the export the minerals to India via road.

The United States has recently discovered nearly $ 1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself.

The previously unknown deposits - including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium - are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centres in the world, the New York Times quoted American officials as saying.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialised countries.

Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $ 12 billion.

The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency, the Times said.

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