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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Afghanistan's huge mineral riches

A. Montero
at La Otra Economía reports, following a NY Times source, that Afghanistan has been found to have huge, largely undeveloped, mineral wealth, worth more than USD 900 billion.

For what I can see, about half of this value is iron, one of the most aboundant elements on Earth. However others may be less valuable in accountancy terms but more in geostrategical ones, specially now that the BRIC powers are undermining US hegemony.

One of them is niobium, used in steel alloys and high technology applications. Afghan niobium seems to be potentially worth 81 billion. More interestingly, there are only two producers of nionium nowadays: Canada and Brazil... but Brazil produces 90% of it, what makes even more important for the USA and its NATO allies (remember the recent comments of the German ex-President) to control Afghan production of such strategic mineral.

Even maybe more critical may be the various rare earth elements, whose lead producer today (by far) is China. These minerals would be worth 7.4 billion in Afghanistan. These elements are used in a variety of high technology applications.

Evolution of rare earth elements' production (from Wikipedia)

Other major Afghan mineral resources are:
  • Copper (worth 274 billion): relatively common but widely used. It's lead producer is Chile, followed at a distance by Peru, the USA and Indonesia.
  • Cobalt (worth 51 billion): used specially in superalloys suitable for aircraft engines. Currently the main producer is DR Congo, followed at a distance by Zambia, Brazil, Cuba, Canada and Russia.
  • Gold (worth 25 billion): production is quite distributed but lead by South Africa.
  • Molybdenum (worth 24 billion): also used in heat resistent alloys, among other applications. The main producer is the USA, followed by Chile, China and Peru.
Also asbestos, silver, potash, aluminum and lithium are mentioned in the article as highly valuable.

While Afghan authorities seem excited about the huge potential of these resources, the fact that many of them are in unstable guerrilla areas means that they are unlikely to be exploited easily.

However it is clear that these findings provide a further reason for the USA and NATO to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. Initially it was mostly a campaign to create a strategical base in Central Asia that would threat other powers such as China, Russia, India and Iran, while also providing potential access to Central Asian oil and gas resources (the infamous "pipelinistan" project via Baluchistan), as well as succulent benefits derived from the highly corrupting opium trade which has boomed since the US-led invasion and that Russia has denounced in strong terms recently.

It looks now like the Imperial armies will remain in Afghanistan for long. That is... unless Afghans throw them out.

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