Afghan mining will get a 10-million-pound boost from Britain, announced British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday. Cameron hopes “to make sure this mineral wealth is a blessing for your country and not a curse.”
Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is currently $19 billion, according to World Bank data. The nation is sitting atop minerals worth some $1 trillion to $3 trillion, according to estimates from Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, and the British government.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Thursday that his administration will invest $10 million pounds (US$15 million) in Afghan mining.
He recounted the hardships Afghanistan has faced for decades, including Soviet occupation in the 1970s. Cameron said, according to an official transcript: “Those have indeed been curses for your country, but your country is blessed with this extraordinary mineral wealth, and it is an immense opportunity.”
“We must do everything we can to make sure this mineral wealth is a blessing for your country and not a curse,” Cameron said, referencing the conflict minerals in Africa and other regions that have empowered warlords and caused much strife.
He cited positive examples of mineral wealth in Chile and Norway.
Afghan Minister of Mines Shahrani joined Cameron at 10 Downing Street for the announcement.
“In the next few weeks we are going to put some additional deposits of iron ore, copper, gold, lithium and oil and gas on tender,” Shahrani reported. “I would strongly urge the London-based investors to grab these opportunities.”
Shahrani said he is committed to greater transparency in the Afghan mining industry.
Of particular concern has been the investment deal made by China Metallurgical Group Corporation in 2007, the details of which remain under-wraps, reported the BBC. Heavy investment from Chinese and Indian companies may leave little room for others, according to the BBC’s international development correspondent David Loyn.
Challenges to Afgan Mining
Mining requires good infrastructure and security—two things notably lacking in Afghanistan, acknowledged UK Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Sedwill, in 2011.
Sedwill maintained at that time, however, “Despite the significant risks, mining is the future for Afghanistan.”
The most recent World Bank report on Afghan mining, published in 2010, noted infrastructure challenges, and also the length of commitment needed to develop the industry.
“For any discovered deposit … feasibility studies, issuing of permits, engineering, procurement and construction could require up to four or five years. And exploration for new deposits could require, on average, eight years to discovery,” stated the report.
Britain began investing in Afghan mining three years ago, said the prime minister on Thursday. The current 10-million-pound investment will be spread over three years, reported the BBC. Shahrani estimated it will take Afghanistan’s mining industry five to ten years to stand on its own.
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