The War for Minerals in Afghanistan

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense,” fellow Baltimorean Tom Clancy once said. The biggest headline in the world today reads like a chapter straight from one of his spy novels:

“U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan,” trumpets The New York Times this morning.

Turns out there’s iron, copper, cobalt, gold and other highly sought after metals all over the place in Afghanistan, says a Pentagon report. There’s a boatload…early estimates guess $1 trillion worth.

“Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world,” the Times paraphrased the government report, which later called Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”

Of course, such a discovery will completely transform Afghanistan’s $12 billion annual economy. Luckily for them, in this fantastic coincidence, there are highly industrialized invaders hanging around, ready and willing to “help” this ravaged nation.

“The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development,” the Times adds.

So… A “War on Terror” extended far too long for the sake of precious resources, like oil in Iraq, and now precious metals in Afghanistan? That certainly doesn’t make much sense, at least from an ethical point of view… But as Clancy noted, it doesn’t have to.

We’re not the first to try to develop Afghanistan’s massive metal deposits. “Just last year,” the Times report continues, “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.”

Heh, those bribing bastards! Don’t they know who’s in charge over there? “The minister has since been replaced,” the Times concluded, displaying a crafty use of passive voice.

“Just as public surveys reveal the American people are losing faith in continuing the interminable war in Afghanistan,” writes Byron King, who has been on this story for quite some time, “we read news of a years-old major mineral assessment that may be worth a trillion dollars.

“Oh, the benefits of a timely press release, eh?

“Still, the fact is that the resources are there in Afghanistan. In an unintended, unplanned outgrowth of the war, we’re watching the game change. We’re seeing the roots of resource competition during the next century.

“As this story unfolds, we’ll see a scramble for mineral concessions, and the critical question of control over development, extraction and the proceeds of sale.

“The bottom line in Afghanistan is that Western companies are competing with Chinese firms for access to riches, in the backyard of the ancient Persian, Russian and Indian Empires – and these rocky mountains happen to be some of the most remote and dangerous real estate on the planet.

Not exactly Coeur d’Alene

“The stakes are immense, in terms of total resources and the costs of development.

“It drives home the point that if you want resources, you have to go where the right rocks are. You have to deal with whatever is the situation on the ground – whether it’s a war in the Hindu Kush or drilling wells under thousands of feet of seawater, in the case of deep-water oil.”

(This seems like an appropriate moment to note that Iran has the third largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world, according to the CIA, and also controls the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of the world’s shipped oil passes every day.)

Ian Mathias
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning