Afghanistan should watch out; vulture capitalists on the prowl

Although it receives little media coverage, Afghanistan has vast energy reserves. This is perfect for foreign firms to exploit a very vulnerable country. This story on ABC highlights the Australian role in this sordid activity:

Afghanistan wants more Australian help – not from the military, but from Australian mining companies – to kick-start a post-war economy with a mining boom.

“So far I have not got in touch with any of the major Australian investors – Australian companies like Rio Tinto, BHP and the others – but I’m going to Melbourne to see if there is a possibility of getting those major companies interested,” Afghanistan’s ambassador to Australia, Nasir Andisha, said.

Afghanistan, like Australia, is rich in natural resources – iron ore, copper, gold, lithium, coal, uranium, oil and gas.

So far Chinese and Indian companies have been given the frontrunning in exploiting these resources.

The last mining boom in Afghanistan was over 2,000 years ago in the era of Alexander the Great, when gold, silver and precious stones were routinely mined.

Geologists have known of the extent of the mineral wealth for over a century, as a result of surveys done by the British and Russians.

In an interesting historical footnote, an American company was offered a mining concession over the entire country in the 1930s but turned it down.

Despite this historical knowledge, global interest was only really boosted last year when the Pentagon commissioned a report from the US Geological Survey (USGS).

The report spoke of “trillions of dollars” worth of minerals and energy resources in the country.

While the US military has been focusing on its strategic security interests in Afghanistan, American companies have expressed concern about being sidelined in the bidding process for mineral and energy licences.

A Chinese state-owned company won the rights to one of the largest copper deposits, at Mes Aynak, near Kabul. And an Indian consortium recently won the rights to the enormous Hajigak iron ore deposit.

At the Bonn international conference on the future of Afghanistan this month, president Hamid Karzai told the international delegates that his government is working hard to exploit the mineral resources for “long-term growth and prosperity”.

But some Americans are questioning the way this underground wealth is being auctioned off.

“It used to break my heart sitting in Beijing, the second largest embassy in the world, looking at neighbouring Afghanistan,” former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said during a recent candidate’s debate

Now a Republican presidential candidate, Mr Huntsman said: “We have 100,000 troops there. The Chinese would move in and take the mining concession”.