Afghanistan's untapped minerals and resources
GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)
Returning to power in Afghanistan after a 20-year absence, the Taliban have regained control of natural resources that a former mines minister of the country once said could be worth up to $3 trillion. That estimate was made toward the end of the last commodities supercycle in 2010 and could be worth even more now, after a global economic recovery from the coronavirus shock sent prices for everything from copper to lithium soaring this year.
- Afghanistan is rich in resources like copper, gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron ore, rare earths, lithium, chromium, lead, zinc, gemstones, talc, sulphur, travertine, gypsum and marble.
- A 2019 report by Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines and Petroleum put the country's copper resource at almost 30 million tonnes.
- There were another 28.5 million tonnes of copper in undiscovered porphyry deposits. That would bring the total close to 60 million tonnes, worth hundreds of billions of dollars at current prices as demand for the metal grows.
- An internal US Department of Defense memo in 2010 reportedly described Afghanistan as "the Saudi Arabia of lithium," meaning it could be as crucial for global supply of the battery metal as the Middle Eastern country is for crude oil.
- The comparison was made at a time lithium was already widely used in batteries for electronics devices but before it had become apparent how much lithium would be needed for electric vehicle (EV) batteries and the world's low-carbon transition.
- A 2017/18 report from the US Geological Survey notes Afghanistan has deposits of spodumene, a lithium-bearing mineral, but does not provide tonnage estimates, while the 2019 Afghan report makes no mention of lithium at all.
- With hydrocarbon-rich Iran and Turkmenistan to its west, Afghanistan harbours around 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and another 500 million barrels of natural gas liquids.
- Most of the undiscovered crude oil is in the Afghan-Tajik Basin and most of the undiscovered natural gas is in the Amu Darya Basin," the report said.
- Afghanistan has historically been a major source of lapis lazuli, a deep blue, semi-precious stone that has been mined in the country's northern Badakhshan province for thousands of years, as well as other gemstones such as rubies and emeralds.