Optimistically, 15-20 Years Before Tapping Afghanistan ‘Motherlode’… So What?

Posted: 17 June 2010 by Editors in Af-Pak War
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Ann Marlowe, Afghanistan expert at the Hudson Institute, told Russia Today that it would take at least a couple of decades before Afghanistan’s untapped minerals are significantly accessed, under optimal conditions (5:15):

Wahidullah Shahrani, the Afghan minister of mines, is selling the point that the untapped reserves to be mined in Afghanistan could top $3tn to representatives of multinationals with whom he will meet on Thursday in London, Allisa Rubin and Mujib Mashal reported today at The New York Times (NYT):

It was Mr. Shahrani’s first public appearance since news that the country had at least $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources became public after an article appeared Monday in The New York Times that detailed findings of the Pentagon and United States Geological Survey. Afghan officials described the $1 trillion estimate conservative and said their estimates suggested the reserves could be worth as much as $3 trillion.

[…]

The previously unknown deposits include huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium. With so many minerals that are essential to modern industry, Afghanistan could be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, according to American officials.

Two hundred mining investors from around the world have been invited to next week’s meeting in London where they will offer suggestions for how to develop the iron ore deposits at Hajigak, said Craig Andrews, the principal mining specialist for Afghanistan for the World Bank.

Then, the ministry will develop a tender offer for that area. For instance, it is possible that the government would require that the bidder develop both a steel plant and the iron ore mine since there are also nearly deposits of coal, Mr. Andrews said. By September, the government hopes to be able to solicit expressions of interest from mining companies and perhaps by December narrow the number to five or six companies who have the capacity to undertake such a large the project.

A lot of dramatic dialogue has followed the NYT article this week. Whether the reserves are closer to one trillion or three, it will take 20 years or 40 to tap them is relevant to the discussion, but delegitimize the discussion in little-to-no way.

The key points are that imperative to tapping the minerals will be:

  1. A brutally strong, forceful and far-reaching central government in Kabul;
  2. Security forces maintaining an extremely privileged perimeter around corporate-monopolized fields;
  3. The extremely corrupt mining ministry issuing enough returns to Kabul and provincial governments to provide the minimal amount of social services to pacify the population just below a boiling point; and
  4. The provincial governments to stay the hell out of the negotiation process.

These four points can all be accomplished by a foundation built by the U.S.-led occupying coalition. When military personnel and politicians use “vital” to describe the reasons for strengthening Kabul’s monopoly of force, they are manufacturing the categorical imperative to dominate the narrative; deviating from this categorical imperative becomes a red herring to the ‘conventional wisdom’.

The most liberal estimate for the total dollar amount of foreign oil contracts in Iraq over the next 30 years is probably around $425-450bn and look how many years multinationals have been buying off governments to monopolize the nation-state. The only standing in the way in Iraq was a central government that became hostile to such a takeover. The greatest efforts toward the degree of takeover necessary for multinationals to monopolize land and begin mining is already ‘accomplished’ in Afghanistan.

Now, the multinationals will swap supplies with governments and rent non-governmental military contractors to seal perimeters. This isn’t a long shot, by any means. Genocide and mass displacement will occur with any effort to tap these resources during occupation and without occupation, the resources won’t be significantly tapped. Do the math.

We’re not saying this hostile takeover is moral, ethical, legal or acceptable in any way. We’re saying it’s stupid to treat this story as irrelevant because it’s a long-term endeavor. It’s actually the long-term aspect of the endeavor and the obstacles along the way that foreshadow the atrocity of expediting access to the resources. We’re saying that there’s no reason to act as if corporations and governments will cease to be atrocious.

Does anyone really believe multinationals will treat the population of the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” with caution? Does anyone treat the Arabs occupied by the House of Saud that way?

The current narrative isn’t manufacturing the consent vital to sustain such a prolonged occupation, but vital to monopolizing the resources in the ground of the Afghanistan territory is prolonged occupation. Will the resources manufacture mass consent? Who knows? Who cares? As long as it can be financed and politicians can get their campaigns financed and the people can be pacified in the West, the vital means of controlling the Afghans to the ends of tapping trillions worth in resources is more than possible. It’s to be expected.

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