The bad news is the minerals will test corrupt Afghan government and tribal leaders, stimulate the Taliban to retake the country and China and the rest of the drooling major powers to compete and exploit its new found riches.
This is a game-changing story first reported Monday by veteran writer James Risen of the New York Times and so far overlooked by media and bloggers in the West because, frankly, stuff such as iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium are dull topics of discussion.
Lithium, a mineral used in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and Blackberries, potentially has larger deposits than Brazil.
The mineral deposits were surveyed by U.S. geological experts and updated and far exceeded what the Soviets mapped during their occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.
China was the first major power to negotiate a contract for copper mining. It was tainted by a $30 million bribe given to an Afghan government official who since was fired and replaced.
Of major concern to Pentagon officials is how to work with Afghan officials to develop the mines without exploiting its people or the environment.
“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines. He said the country's gross national product is about $12 billion mostly from opium production and narcotics trafficking.
Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.
“No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces,” observed Paul A. Brinkley, undersecretary of defense and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.
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 big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”
Pentagon and industry officials quoted in the Times story seemed to position the U.S. as chief adviser for the Afghans in hopes of being a step ahead of other nations bidding for the mineral wealth as a just reward for fighting its wars so far costing the lives of more than a thousand Americans since late 2001.
The Times story is a must read. It means the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is more than justifying its invasion in retaliation for 9/11, fighting al-Qaeda, putting up with government and tribal corruption and condoning the opium and drug trades. Thar's money in those arid hills and valleys after all. I don't know if this escalates the wars or signals the beginning of a new era of colonialism. Done correctly, the mining operations are a jobs boon for the Afghan people.