A study confirms Pakistan intelligence is pulling the strings of the primary resistance networks in Afghanistan as an internal Pentagon document states it could be the “Saudi Arabia of lithium”, as a geological survey ‘conservatively’ estimates over $908bn in untapped resources.

Mineral deposits untapped in Afghanistan could be valued at more than $908bn, Pentagon officials and American geologists have “discovered”, James Risen reported late last night at The New York Times (NYT). The country current GDP is “only about” $12bn.

A recent study [.pdf] by the London School of Economics  (L.S.E.) found what we’ve been writing since this blog began: that the spy agency of Pakistan, Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), is funding, granting safe haven to and aiding the organizational methods of Afghan militants. The study added it “supports the Taliban insurgency as a matter of official policy to contain the influence in Afghanistan of its rival India”, Carlotta Gall reported at the NYT.

That I.S.I. officials are deathly afraid of an Afghan government puppeteered by the one in India—the most likely result of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Forces withdrawal.

‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’

U.S. “officials”, he reported, “believe” Afghanistan “could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world”. Among the “previously unknown deposits” are “huge veins” of:

  • iron
  • copper
  • niobium
  • cobalt

His report highlighted the wealth of lithium, acknowledged in an internal War Department memo, as he added:

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.


So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

The 2007 geological survey has reported been shelved, Mr. Risen reports, but inspired by the early findings of the Soviets that geologists found—apparently, by providence—years after the 2001 Bush Administration invasion because Afghan geologists were hoarding the data during the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal and Taliban rule:

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.

There is nothing new about this discovery, Katie Drummond highlighted today at Wired. The significance is that it’s a discovery to the non-governing people of Afghanistan and I intend to stress the acceleration of geopolitical moves to be made by governments in the region.

Animportant note to this is made by Joe Weisenthal at The Business Insider: “Finally, the $1 trillion number: what does it mean? Nowhere is that really quantified or explained? Are we talking $1 trillion over the next century? 20 years? No idea.” A military spokesperson, on the other hand, says the value reported by Mr. Risen is a low-ball estimate, Tony Capaccio reported today at Bloomberg (via Business Week):

That estimate, made in December, “is probably conservative” because the U.S. Geological Survey says as much as two-thirds of Afghanistan’s natural resources are yet to be identified, spokesman Marine Corps Major Shawn Turner said.

No idea, yes, but there are governments and multinationals who can afford to use the ambiguity; to hoard land on the cheap—most likely with long-term contracts—and reap very safe rewards as long as foreign military presence gives them the ‘Iraq oil treatment‘. To compare, the most optimistic scenario for oil production in Iraq yields the potential for $60bn in contracting over the next six years and the official ‘withdrawal plan’ of the Obama Administration leaves 30- to 50,000 troops to occupy there.

People can foolishly downplay this at will, but with the long-term potential of nearly a trillion dollars on top of, what former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Crag Murray recently said was the “vital” objective to the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan, extending natural gas pipelines out of Central Asia. There is no withdrawal plan outlined for Afghanistan, though the Administration. The number of ISAF troops already surpasses that in Iraq and weeks ago, ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal “openly called for a rethink of President Obama’s July 2011 ‘handover’ timetable, meaningless though that already was, adding that the war would continue ‘way beyond July 2011’“, Jason Ditz wrote at AntiWar News.

Cui bono?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government were “recently briefed” by “American officials”, he added:

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[.]


The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

More importantly, the recently publicized underground wealth in the hands of the Afghan government—of which its corruption is so widely known—and the U.S.-led foreign occupying force will, with no doubt, light a fire of resistance that could prolong the occupation for many decades. Former Paul Wolfowitz-led World Bank advisers were used to write the national mining law:

Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.


Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.


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.

Officials “fear” that “China wants more”, Mr. Risen reported. To which, Reuters added:

The report about the country’s untapped wealth is likely to intensify competition among regional players such as China, India and even Russia for a greater role in exploiting those resources.

Two Chinese firms have committed themselves to a $4 billion investment in the vast Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul, the biggest non-military foreign investment so far in the country.

Another big contract to mine an estimated 1.8 billion tons of high-quality iron ore in the remote mountainous region of Hajigak is expected to open for international bidding this year.

Firms from India and China are eyeing the contract, which the Afghan mines ministry says is the largest unmined iron deposit in Asia.

Beijing and Delhi have the best relations they’ve had to date, forming an economic alliance with Russia and Brazil—BRIC—to increase independence from the U.S. dollar hegemony.

I.S.I. fueling militant resistance

The L.S.E. study found the I.S.I. “continues to arm and train the Taliban and is even represented on the group’s leadership council despite U.S. pressure to sever ties and billions in aid to combat the militants”, Sebastian Abbot reported yesterday at the AP, as “U.S. officials have suggested in the past”. The BBC added the ‘common-knowledge’ history of this Machiavellian alliance and the conflict with the U.S. backing of the Pak ‘civilian government’:

Pakistan has long been accused of using the Taliban to further its foreign policy interests in the country. The I.S.I. first became involved in funding and training militants in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Since 2001, however, it has been a key U.S. ally, receiving billions of dollars in aid in return for helping fight al-Qaeda.

“Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude,” the report says, ignoring that I.S.I. is about as autonomous from the Pakistan People’s Party-led ‘civilian government’.

The report found not links between the I.S.I. and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan nor the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, which both perform violent operations on the Pak side of the border; but with the Quetta Shura network, which ruled Afghanistan until the 2001 invasion, and the Haqqani Network, which is understood to be based in Pak, but aims “to prevent militants from being distracted from the fight in Afghanistan”, as Brian Fishman wrote at Foreign Policy blog “The AfPak Channel”.

The Quetta Shura bloc is said to be the central threat to the government in Kabul and “I.S.I. operatives sit in on meetings of the Taliban leadership council”, Ms. Gall wrote.

Mr. Abbot added:

Pakistani support is channeled toward both the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, who is believed to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, and the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Taliban but operates fairly independently, said the report. The Haqqani network is based in the North Waziristan tribal area along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s spy agency has considerable control over both groups and even has agents on the Taliban’s leadership council, which is known as the Quetta shura, said the report.

Brad Thor and The Jawa Report reported in May the Quetta Shura leader was in Pak custody, according to intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Pak, and the U.S. State and War Departments had full knowledge of this. To which, Josh Rogin at his Foreign Policy (FP) blog, “The Cable”, wrote they were “totally off the mark”. I responded that both claims are half-truths:

I wouldn’t be surprised if his sources confirmed U.S. knowledge of Mr. Omar being held by the I.S.I. and misinterpreted this to mean the Pak president or prime minister have knowledge of this. Frankly, there is no reason to believe the ‘civilian’ government of Pak has any clue what happens just about anywhere in that agency.

The L.S.E. reports strengthens my conclusion.

‘Sino-Pak-US-Indo’ proxy war

Barring a BRIC resolution or intense Sino-Indian deal, China could back I.S.I. strengthening of Afghan resistance. As much as China would like to deal with the Indians to mine in Afghanistan and an interest in the isolation of Pak, I.S.I. and the U.S. hold the balls in play. The wealth of resources in Afghanistan changes the turf as an asset; remember that China is not a militant international government, but a pure vulture-state. It preys on war-torn nation-states in complete shambles with bribes to controlling established governments and those internationally isolated—as in its oil dealings with sanctioned Iran and nuclear dealings with Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty non-signatory Pak.

With the U.S. debt—mostly held by China—to eclipse its GDP by 2015, the War Department won’t hand over Afghanistan without a serious fight. A fight China will directly avoid. Neutrality isn’t in the picture, but indirect support for Pak results with the heightened U.S. militant influence in Afghanistan that Beijing and Delhi would prefer ends as soon as possible.

More important, it produces Sino-Indo friction, but the isolation of Pak to the points of escalating internal violence will cripple Islamabad’s ability to do business with Beijing. A more realistic possibility is a Russo-Sino-brokered Indo-Pak peace deal (most likely with Brazil, Turkey and/or Japan playing key roles), which would transform the region in a way the new world disorder has never seen—although it could transform Kashmir into the West Bank. Iran’s relatively good relations with all of these nation-states could become an X-factor that removes Tehran from isolation, putting the NATO nation-states in a position where it becomes in the European governments’ better interests to isolate the U.S.

The sell to Western opposition to the war, prolonged occupation and further cooperating with another government fiercely hated by the population of the Islamic nation-state it governs is that “providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war”, Mr. Risen reported. At the same time, the U.S. War Department won’t keep its hands off of the strings:

International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

If prolonged occupation seemed like speculation before, shit just got real.

EDIT: Professor Stephen Walt hit crucial points at his FP blog:

As Jack Snyder noted in his book Myths of Empire, the “El Dorado” myth is a common justification for imperial expansion. Great powers often convince themselves they have to control some far-flung area because it is supposedly rich with gold, diamonds, oil, etc., and that physical control is essentially to preserving access to them. In most cases, however, the cost of trying to control these areas isn’t worth the resources they contain, and it usually isn’t necessary anyway. Gulf Oil used to pump oil from Marxist Angola, and those pesky Iranians would be happy to sell us oil and gas and give us fat development contracts for their petroleum industry if only we were willing to do business with them.

We don’t need to control Afghanistan in order to gain access to whatever minerals do exist, because whoever is in charge is going to have to sell them to someone and won’t be able to prevent them from being sold to us (even if indirectly) if we want to buy (that’s how markets work). And if we want to make sure that U.S. companies have the opportunity to compete for the opportunity to mine these resources some day, it might be a good idea if we didn’t spend the next decade blundering around and angering the local population.

The first paragraph I quoted is spot-on and the second is a point that I hope is stressed in this post, but Prof. Walt has the players wrong. The U.S. has not the positioning to usurp the resources without military might enforcing is gatekeeper status—as the U.S. government’s wealth is non-existent and getting redder by the minute. China holding the power over this redness makes a U.S. withdrawal a de facto handover to India and China of Afghanistan. A Sino-Indo-puppeteered Kabul removes U.S.-based multinationals’ privilege of externalizes costs on the people governed under Washington; it’s the BRIC-owned and -backed corporations which will usurp this wealth potential. This will be the draw for Europe-based multinationals to isolate Washington.

EDIT2: John Cook at the Yahoo! “Newsroom” blog phoned Mr. Risen after his article had received some criticism. I have an immense amount of respect for Mr. Risen and greatly admire and value his work. Frankly, I thought his article was great, but he saw that framing his article as “a Pentagon plant, designed to show the American public a shiny metallic light at the end of the long tunnel that is the Afghan war”, as Mr. Cook summed up the criticism, as insulting. He did apologize to Mr. Cook, but I was pretty shocked at the belligerence.

And though rich mineral deposits untapped in Afghanistan is not new discussion, to say that his article wasn’t newsworthy and of an adequate level of integrity crosses the line of legitimate scrutiny. That said, I hated the word “discovered” in the lede and quoted it pejoratively, if you didn’t notice. Mr. Cook notes, in response to Mr. Risen’s boobishness:

Risen defended the article against claims that Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was largely a matter of public knowledge prior to his story. “If it wasn’t news, then why didn’t anybody write about it?” he asked.

In fact, McClatchy Newspapers reported last year that “the region is thought to hold some of the world’s last major untapped deposits of iron, copper, gold, uranium, precious gems and other raw materials.” In February, Agence France Presse quoted Afghan president Hamid Karzai, citing a U.S. Geological Survey study, claiming that his country had $1 trillion in mineral assets. Just last month, Karzai repeated the claim at a U.S. Institute of Peace event, saying the value was between $1 trillion and $3 trillion.

What Mr. Risen responded was newsworthy was the process of the task force’s discovering details. I can buy this to an extent. What I found more newsworthy was the details being planted when it did, but this isn’t Mr. Risen’s fault. He got some good details and put together an informative article to use as a good primary source on which to build to discover more.

Read Mr. Cook’s post here. It is a worthy read.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Little Alex, Paul V. Pintor. Paul V. Pintor said: ‘Discovery of Nearly $1tn in Untapped Mineral Deposits in Afghanistan’ Will Heat Pak Intel Proxy War With U.S. & I… http://bit.ly/d6bbhI […]

  2. […] Surveillance Unit 16 June 2010 Little AlexDaily Briefing—15th June 2010 15 June 2010 EditorsWashington War Department ‘Discovery of Nearly $1tn in Untapped Mineral Deposits in Afghanistan’… 14 June 2010 Little AlexDaily Briefing—14th June 2010 14 June 2010 EditorsEvening Briefing—11th […]

  3. […] Nic Robertson, senior correspondent at CNN International, referenced an intelligence source saying the leak is “old bad news in a new bad time”—mainly of Pakistan intelligence puppeteering the Afghan militant resistance networks. […]

  4. […] the Afghan and Pakistani militaries, but most notably the confirmation of—what’s long been accepted as fact by everyone but the U.S. government in public—Pakistani intelligence aiding, abetting and […]

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