Wednesday, April 25, 2018

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

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.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines.

American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.

Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, 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. The minister has since been replaced.

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. 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, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.

At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. “The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Mr. Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”

With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. “They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan.”

The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.”

Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings, and then briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

For the geologists who are now scouring some of the most remote stretches of Afghanistan to complete the technical studies necessary before the international bidding process is begun, there is a growing sense that they are in the midst of one of the great discoveries of their careers.

“On the ground, it’s very, very, promising,” Mr. Medlin said. “Actually, it’s pretty amazing.”


Source: The New York Times

Afghanistan Elected to Vice-Presidency of 65th General Assembly

This morning, the General Assembly met to elect the President and Vice Presidents for the upcoming 65th session of the General Assembly, scheduled to begin on 14 September, 2010, and to select the Chairs and Rapporteurs for the Main Committees. His Excellency Mr. Joseph Deiss, of Switzerland, was elected to serve as President of the General Assembly.

The Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations was also honored this year, with two positions of leadership in the upcoming Session. His Excellency Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations, will serve as one of the Vice Presidents of the 65th General Assembly. In addition, Afghanistan’s Fourth Committee Delegate was also selected by the General Assembly to serve as Rapporteur for the Fourth Committee and as a member of the Bureau of the Committee.

This is the second time in three years that Ambassador Zahir Tanin has served as Vice President to the General Assembly – Afghanistan was also elected Vice President during the 63rd Session. In addition, this is the second consecutive year that Ambassador Tanin has served as Chair of the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform, first appointed during the 63rd General Assembly, and then reappointed in the current session as a result of the trust the membership showed in his impartiality and leadership. That process is now moving into more concrete negotiations on the basis of a widely-acclaimed negotiation text, under Ambassador Tanin’s guidance.

Afghanistan was among the founding members of the United Nations, joining officially in 1946. In the 1960s, Abdul Rahman Pazhwak served as President of the 21st session of the General Assembly, the only Afghan to hold that post. Since then, and as a result of the decades of conflict and violence that rocked the country, Afghanistan’s presence at the UN has waned. However, recently, Afghanistan has begun to reclaim an important role in world affairs, a role that is certainly in evidence today at the United Nations.

Rethinking the “third world”

Seeing the world differently

The poor world has changed fundamentally. Others are barely coming to grips with the implications

EARLIER this year, Bob Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, grandly declared that “2009 saw the end of what was known as the third world”—that is, the end of a distinct, separate section of humanity that is poor, aid-dependent and does not matter very much. Is he right?

Suppress, for a moment, the thought that the term itself went out of fashion long ago. This still seems a plausible time to consider the idea. While the rich world stumbles out of recession, Asia, Africa and Latin America are accelerating and contributing more than ever to world output. Two fast-growing countries, Turkey and Brazil (“powers of the future”, says Iran’s president), struck a deal in May that was intended to break the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear programme. Though less than meets the eye, the agreement was still an intriguing case of emerging-nation diplomacy. And the football World Cup gets under way this week in South Africa, arguably the poorest country to host the event.

Yet at the same time, Mr Zoellick’s bank is not in any danger of going out of business. Aid still flows. Last month Western donors were debating whether an increase of nearly $14 billion in aid to Africa over the past five years was enough. Whatever you call it, the category still matters (“third world” later became “developing countries” or “less developed countries”). It matters for trade, to non-governmental organisations and in the United Nations. Poor countries are treated differently under the UN framework convention on climate change, for instance, with fewer commitments to cut emissions. The European Union has a special trade and aid agreement with 79 poor nations. The world is still split between haves and have-nots (though the group of seven richest haves is now a group of 20 of them). Not surprisingly, many NGOs dislike Mr Zoellick’s assertion because, they fear, it will encourage Westerners to ignore poverty abroad.

In one sense Mr Zoellick is right to say the third world is finished—if 20 years late. The poor world is usually thought of as coming “third” after the first, capitalist West, and the second, communist East. Since the second one imploded in 1989, it seems past time to put to rest the nebulous and sometimes toxic third-world concept.

But the term third world did not originally refer to geopolitics. The first to use it in its modern sense was Alfred Sauvy, a French demographer who drew a parallel with the “third estate” (the people) during the French revolution. In 1952 Sauvy wrote that “this ignored, exploited, scorned Third World, like the Third Estate, wants to become something, too.” He was paraphrasing a remark by Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès, a delegate to the Estates-General of 1789, who said the third estate is everything, has nothing but wants to be something. The salient feature of the third world was that it wanted economic and political clout.

It is getting both. Cold-war terminology implied that third-world countries had limited room for independent manoeuvre. They aligned themselves with one side, or got ground between millstones. That is changing. Walter Russell Mead, an American foreign-policy analyst, argues that Brazil and Turkey are both countries once within America’s circle of influence where new leaders have challenged longstanding domestic elites and are trying to shake off their reliance upon America. In both cases their ambitions are global.

Developing countries are becoming something else, too: engines of the world economy. Since 2008, says the World Bank, they have contributed almost all of what economic growth there has been. In the 1980s they accounted for 33.7% of global income, at purchasing-power parities. This year, the share will be 43.4%. The map above shows how the world would look if country size were adjusted in line with the projected GDPs of countries by 2015.

For richer, for poorer

These trends have been going on a long time but the end of the great recession has speeded them up dramatically. Richer countries have not fully recovered: their income is still below what it was before the crisis. But in poorer ones—notably in Asia, the Middle East and Africa—income now exceeds pre-crisis levels by wide margins.

All this has—or should have—changed attitudes towards poor countries. The term “third world” used to mean poor and dependent. In the 1950s and 1960s a branch of economics even emerged called “dependency theory”; one of its most eloquent voices, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, became president of Brazil. Almost by definition, third-world countries were economic failures (successes, like the East Asian tigers, were seen as special cases). “Third world” countries often ran irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies and, even when growing fast, they still relied on the West for capital and markets.

One part of this picture is still true. The world remains binary. Over 1 billion people live on $1.25 or less a day, more than did when the term third world was coined. Many live in countries, like Brazil and India, that seem to have escaped from the third world. And 60 or so small poor countries retain third-world characteristics: aid dependency, corruption, violence. Alison Evans, the head of the Overseas Development Institute, a British think-tank, argues that it makes more sense to talk about the changing composition of the third world, rather than to make sweeping pronouncements about the whole thing.

Still, some generalisations are justified. Most developing countries have rejected populism. Now, it is rich countries that are running vast budget deficits. The IMF has said capital controls and industrial policy might work, after all. The economic mainstream has moved and it is no longer possible to distinguish between third and first worlds on the basis of economic policy.

Nor are emerging markets as dependent on aid from the West as they used to be. China recently agreed to finance oil refineries in Nigeria worth over $23 billion—nearly twice the total increase in aid to Africa over five years in one deal. Private flows to developing countries are worth three times official aid and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian former finance minister, thinks “it’s high time Africa saw and presented itself as the fifth BRIC, an attractive destination for investment, not just aid.”

The upshot is that it is no longer clear who depends on whom. Poorer economies still depend on Western markets: their slump at the end of 2008 showed that. But their recovery reveals that they are more resilient than they used to be, partly because their economic policies are better and partly because they trade more with each other and protect one another from the worst of rich-nation recession. Trade between developing countries, and between them and the BRICs, is rising twice as fast as world trade.

Even more strikingly, while growth has headed south, debt has headed north, the opposite of what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when poor countries ran up vast debts. Gross public debt in rich countries is rising, from about 75% of GDP at the start of the crisis in 2007 to a forecast 110% by 2015, says the IMF. Public debt in emerging markets is below 40% of GDP and flat.

As a result, the prudent members of the third world are becoming safer places to invest than the profligate ones of the first. South Africa has a higher credit rating than Greece. Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and Peru have all had their credit ratings upgraded this year. Those of the PIGS—Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain—have all been downgraded. Remarkably, the yield on ten-year government bonds is the same in Thailand as it is in America. Amar Bhattacharya, the head of the Group of 24 (a body of poorer countries), argues that the first world depends at least as much on the third as vice versa because the large and growing contribution to global demand and high returns in poorer countries are indispensable to rich ones in their attempts to return to growth and reduce debt.

In 1826 the British foreign secretary, George Canning, boasted that he had “called the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old.” Now the third world has come into its own to redress the imbalances of the old. Canning and others also helped to transform the diplomatic architecture of Europe after the end of Napoleon. Far less has been done—in international financial institutions, in patterns of aid-giving and in diplomatic habits—to reflect the reality of the third world’s end.


The Economist Newspaper | International

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan