Mineral wealth could remain elusive and a curse for Afghans

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Washington, June 17 (ANI): Though American military experts and geologists working with the Pentagon have pointed to Afghanistan having a trillion dollars worth of unearthed mineral deposits, there is a view that access to this wealth could remain elusive and a curse in the long-term.

According to a National Geographic news report, while Afghanistan could be transformed from a war-torn economy dependent on narcotics trade to the wellspring of a new energy future, all is not as it seems.

Afghanistan's metal and mineral deposits-far from newfound-have been known and fantasized about for millennia. But the ability to harvest the riches does not currently exist.

And, in the case of lithium, the market is uncertain.

The Afghanistan Ministry of Mines reports on its website that the country has been known as a source of precious stones and minerals for thousands of years. However, it was not until the 1800s that systematic attempts, first by the British and then the Geological Survey of India, were undertaken to assess the resources.

"From the 19th Century onwards, various geological expeditions investigated areas along the main caravan routes and later along the arterial motor roads," the Ministry reports.

These gambits have been interrupted by continual conflict, including invasions by the Soviets in 1979, and by the United States and Great Britain in 2001, as well as by civil war and the Taliban siege.

"In the past we were unable to get at it because of the constant warfare and lack of infrastructure such as railroads," says Michael T. Klare, author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum.

Klare now suggests that China, a prodigious builder of railroads, may be the only candidate with the ability to undertake such a project, but it would face obstacles as daunting as the mountainous terrain.

"They will probably be dealing with warlords who will want bribes. There are no regulatory bodies, no rule of law. That is the likely outcome." He said it could take decades for actual production of minerals to begin," he adds.

The development of lithium deposits is particularly problematic.

Certainly demand for lithium has skyrocketed with the proliferation of cell phones, portable computers, and other electronic devices that rely on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

A 2008 U.S. Geological Survey report notes that the use of lithium in cell phone batteries skyrocketed from 1.8 metric tons in 1996 to 170 metric tons in 2005.

And, as with oil, the United States flipped from producer to a prodigious importer dependent on foreign sources for more than half its lithium use. Chile is the leading lithium producer in the world, and top source of imports for the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's latest market report on lithium.

Bolivia too has huge stores of lithium, but these have not yet been developed.

The debate on mineral wealth may not matter to Afghan citizens nor would they think of it as doing much good to them, feels Klare, a professor of Peace and World Security Studies based at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

"In very poor countries, when suddenly a new source of wealth is discovered, various factions fight to control that wealth, to keep it in their own hands and they use the military and the police to control it causing a perpetual state of corruption and violence," Klare said.

He refers to Nigeria and the Republic of the Congo as examples. (ANI)

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