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Afghanistan to allow mining of minerals

By Deb Riechmann and Amir Shah
Associated Press / June 18, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Officials are gearing up to award contracts to mine one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits buried in a peaceful province that has at least $3 trillion in untapped minerals, the country’s top mining official said yesterday.

Geologists have known for decades about Afghanistan’s vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and other prized minerals, but a US Department of Defense briefing earlier this week put a startling, nearly $1 trillion price tag on the reserves.

Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani called that a conservative estimate. He said he’s seen geological assessments and industry reports estimating the nation’s mineral wealth at $3 trillion or more.

For Afghanistan, a war-torn, landlocked country with virtually no exports, it is a potential windfall, although formidable obstacles remain including lack of investment, infrastructure, and adequate security in most of the nation.

“The ministry has been working closely with the international organizations, including the World Bank, the US Geological Survey, and the international mining and finance community for some time to ensure all of the Afghan people benefit from our rich natural resources for decades to come,’’ he said.

Shahrani plans to travel to Britain next week to present 200 foreign businessmen with information about the estimated 2 billion tons of iron ore at Hajigak in Bamiyan Province, where the Taliban and other insurgents have no significant presence.

The project is to be bid on this fall with contracts awarded late this year or early next year, he said.

Critics of the war in Afghanistan have been skeptical that the dollar amount of the country’s untapped minerals was being promoted at a time when violence is on the upswing and the international community is hungry for positive developments in the nearly nine-year-old war.

They argue that if impoverished Afghanistan is seen as having a bright economic future, it could help foreign governments convince their war-fatigued publics that securing the country is worth the fight and loss of troops.

Still, without increased security and massive investment to mine and transport the minerals, it could take years for Afghanistan to bank the rewards.

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