A deal signed in 2008 with the previous US-backed government, but it came to a standstill after a Taliban-led attack.
By Maliha Safi
A Chinese delegation will visit Afghanistan end-March to discuss resuming a disputed mining project that never got off to a start after a 2008 agreement.
The original project is based on a deal signed in 2008 with the previous government. The site includes an ancient Buddhist city that is in danger of being lost.
The Taliban will resume discussions with the China Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC Group) on resuming copper mining in Mes Aynak, in Afghanistan’s Logar Province south-east of Kabul, it is learnt. (Mes Aynak is the Pashto for little source of copper.)
The two sides will revisit an earlier agreement entered into by the then Western-backed Afghan government and the MCC Group in May 2008. The agreement bound the MCC Group to pay US$ 400 million every year for a 30-year mining concession, according to the agreement.
The MCC Group claims to have invested more than US$ 2.5 billion in the first phase of the project. The project could not proceed after the Taliban carried out attacks in Logar.
The mine is part of Afghanistan’s copper belt, some 30 km from the capital Kabul, and includes the ruins of a city dating back 2,000 years when Buddhism was the local religion. The major Buddhist archaeological site, an ancient Buddhist city, could get wiped out as it falls within the project area.
It is not clear how the project will move out the centuries-old monasteries, stupas, cemeteries and wall paintings before undertaking the mining.
The 2008 contract committed China to move the antiquities and contribute to the preservation of many bronze-age sites in the area.
The Taliban are more concerned about other offshoots that will come with the project the MCC Group had signed – a power plant to electrify Kabul and a railway line and train service to the country’s border with Pakistan.
But there is disagreement on local downstream copper processing units. Besides, locals will need to be compensated if their land is to be acquired for the project.
Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources. Surveys have come up with varying estimates of the country’s mineral wealth – between US$ 1 trillion and US 4.5 trillion.
An agreement with the Taliban will open the gates for more Chinese mining corporations to explore the rare earth minerals in the Afghanistan mountains, solidifying Chinese control over global reserves of rare earths. Rare earth minerals are required for the electronic semiconductor industry
Afghanistan also has big, unmined reserves of gold in the Zana Khan area of Ghazni province and lithium deposits in Herat, Ghazni, Nimroz and Farah provinces.
Besides providing liquidity to a cash-strapped Taliban government, a renegotiated project will secure copper supplies for Chinese industry.
The US has locked the Taliban out of any of the country’s financial assets since their return to power in August 2021. Aid made up over three quarters of Afghanistan’s welfare finances and the ensuing economic blockade and the diversion of donors to Ukraine threatens to put innumerable Afghans below the poverty line.
Image: Jerome Starkey / Wikipedia