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Untapped Kegs

June 15, 2010

I hope you’ve already heard this, but I’ll tell you anyway: the United States has “discovered” $1 trillion worth of mineral deposits in Afghanistan.  Apparently, this is supposed to be enough to “fundamentally alter” the Afghan economy and maybe even the Afghan war itself (uh, okay—don’t we have a timetable of like, one year?).  If there’s a reason you haven’t heard about this, or think you orta have heard about it earlier, don’t worry, because this isn’t really news.

The idea that this is some sort of surprise boon is pretty silly: Afghanistan has always been thought to have large swathes of untapped resources (the $1 trillion figure is based on aggregate December 2009 market data), and the country does not even begin to have the infrastructure to be able to get at this kind of stuff.  The idea that this can have any effect on the war a’tall is basically, well, B.S., says Blake Hounshell:

So, am I still skeptical? You bet I am. We are taking years, if not decades before Afghanistan will be able to take advantage of these resources. This is a country that can’t even pay its police … let alone build roads. The mining ministry is among the most corrupt government agencies in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

“Considerably more work needs to be carried out before it can be properly called an economic deposit that can be extracted at a profit,” Stan Coats, a top geologist formerly with the British Geographical Survey, told The Independent. “Much more ground exploration, including drilling, needs to be carried out to prove that these are viable deposits which can be worked.”

Afghan officials seem to understand this. “Mining needs studies, infrastructure and security in order to attract the investments,” the mining ministry spokesman told reporters today.

But they’re going to start taking bids within six months!  The suspicion appears to be that this just a little nugget was intended to counteract the bad-news cycle that has been coming from Afghanistan recently (such as reports of the ISI’s support for and Karzai’s continued wishy-washiness with regard to the Taliban), or, as Stephen Walt suggests, “an attempt to provide a convincing strategic rationale for an effort that isn’t going well”.

Either way, this definitely isn’t anything to get excited about.  It’s not a surprise, and nobody will be able to get at this stuff for years, meaning it can’t really affect the war because we’re supposed to be long gone by that time.  So, back to other Afghan news: it’s not going so well, and Karzai is still a flake.  That is all.

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