Dr Muhammad Khan
ACCORDING to some of the recent media reports, Mr Trump, the Businessman President of US is now eying at the Afghan minerals and rare metals. Since he was concerned over huge US expenditures in Afghanistan, therefore, now, he would like Afghanistan to pay back the amount, US has expended in that country since last 16 years. According to economic survey, US has expended over $117 billion in the reconstruction of Afghanistan in the last one and half decades. The US Geological Survey has estimated the cost of mineral deposits in Afghanistan as over $1 trillion. Whereas, other survey reports estimates that, mineral deposits in Afghanistan are much more than US estimates and there are some rare metals are also found on Afghan soil. The known metals in Afghanistan include; deposits of gold, silver, platinum, iron ore, uranium, zinc, tantalum, bauxite. Besides, the country has huge reserves of; Oil, coal, natural gas and significant copper – a particular draw given the dearth of rich new copper mines globally.
President Trump is fearful about Chinese investment in Afghanistan. Over the years, China has made a lot of investment in Afghanistan. Besides China, India is also making a lot of investment in a number of areas. The Indian investments include in areas like; mining, Information Technology (IT), agriculture and livestock industries and logistics. Currently more than 17 Indian companies are working in Afghanistan in a number of fields. US may not be bothered about the Indian investment; however, there is a real worry over the growing Chinese investment in that country. President Trump and US policy formulators feel that, US has fought the Afghan insurgency for 16 years, but economic advantages are being gained by others. It is worth mentioning that in October 2014 President Ashraf Ghani emphatically said, “We look at China as a strategic partner, in the short term, medium term, long-term and very long-term.” President Ghani made such a commitment with China during his first international tour after taking over as the new President of contemporary Afghanistan.
China and Afghanistan signed strategic partnership agreement in 2012, after which both countries are cooperating on a number of projects, mostly socio-economic in nature. China pledged to provide financial assistance to Afghanistan on many accounts, mainly the developmental sector, providing 2 billion Yuan ($330 million) in grants to Afghanistan through 2017. Besides, China also provided assistance to Afghanistan in the provision of professional training for 3,000 Afghans over the next five years. It is worth mentioning that Chinese state-owned companies are already working in the mining sector of Afghanistan, exploration and bringing to use of many minerals; copper deposits of Aynak, being the biggest sector.
In this regard, Chinese companies have invested $4.1 billion to develop 5 million-ton copper deposits. Oil and gas exploration in various parts of Afghanistan by Chinese companies is also being undertaken. The Year-2017 marked the ninth anniversary of the Mes Aynak concession, which was agreed in 2008. Two Chinese state-owned companies, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and the Jiangxi Copper Company Limited won the projects and since then has made a lot of progress in the development of the projects. The consortium later called itself MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals (MJAM) to formally operate the project. It is estimated that, Mes Aynak mine is the 2nd largest copper ore body in the world, with the deposit estimated to contain 5.5 million metric tons of high-grade copper ore. Some experts opines that, Afghanistan has the potential to become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium”. This rare metal has its usage in cell phones and electric car batteries.
The experts of international relations opined that, President Trump is seriously considering the option of privatizing the war in Afghanistan. The new US strategy of ‘re-engagement in Afghanistan’ is said to be part of privatization of war. Already, there were thousands of civil contractors, employed in Afghanistan, following the drawdown of US and NATO forces in 2014/15. Sending additional 5000 US troops and may be another 5000 troops by NATO partners would aim at providing security to these contractors. There are even media reports that, nine US military bases are located on or near those areas, which have costly and rare metals, explored in that country. There is confirmed news that, on the issues of minerals and rare metals, President Trump has taken into confidence the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani in a recently held meeting. President Trump feel that, US has right to receive the War reparation, which it has fought for 16 years.
With the economic dimension of Afghan war, which remained overt so far, there will be fewer chances of peace and stability in this region. Afghan economy is one aspect, US is eying at the vast resources of Central Asia and Caucasus regions. It is premature to say, how China and Russia would respond to this new development. However, this for sure that, US and its strategic ally, India is eying at the regional resources apart from strategic objectives. Pursuit of these objectives will give way to a new dimension to the ongoing conflict; putting the region into a new security dilemma.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.
Dr Muhammad Khan