Afghan conflict transforms from ‘war on terror’ to minerals exploitation mission

By M. Nadeem Alizai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/2 19:48:39

In 2001 no Afghan had an idea what exactly the US was looking for in their country. The ultimate goal was concealed under the banner of the "war against terrorism." As the dust of ambiguity is settling down, Afghans are realizing that the objectives of Washington are not what was stated in 2001.

Earlier, American officials said that the US presence in Afghanistan was to oust the Taliban and eliminate terrorists. For over one and half decades they have fooled Afghans because none of the stated objectives have been achieved so far. For instance, the Taliban and Islamic State have bases in Logar province despite the fact that it is hardly 25 kilometers away from the capital Kabul.

In the past week, over 125 Afghans were injured and their houses were damaged in an eight-day battle between government forces and militants in the Baghlan-e-Markazai district of Baghlan. This is not to mention what happened in other provinces.

Aerial surveys conducted by the Bush administration in 2006 and the task force established under Barack Obama for the Afghan mining industry went unnoticed because international players and locals were busy counting civilian and military casualties.

Now, the Trump administration has let the cat out of the bag. According to a news report in the New York Times published on July 25, US President Donald Trump and his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani discussed Afghanistan's mineral wealth. The country's untapped mineral deposits are estimated to be worth from $1-3 trillion. Exploitation of the fragile state's minerals is another good reason for the US to stay in the war-hit country. 

Discussion between the two presidents on mineral wealth has made it clear that Washington would not only use Afghanistan as an outpost, but also create an environment which would help American multinational corporations to plunder Afghan natural resources. Seemingly, the precious natural resources have become a curse for Afghanistan as oil had become for Iraq. The US attacked Iraq on the pretext of weapons of mass destruction - despite disapproval of the UN - to control oil reserves.

Afghanistan is sharing the same fate. The Trump administration has sped up work on the mineral wealth extraction plan as his three senior advisors met with the chemical executive of American Elements, Michael N. Silver. American Elements specializes in extraction of rare-earth minerals. In addition to that, the owner of DynCorp International, a large US military contracting firm, has already briefed the US president on security in the country. Stephen A. Feinberg would likely get a contract to provide security at the mining sites.

Looking at the recent developments, it is easy to predict that the security situation will further deteriorate in Afghan provinces, especially those that sit on mineral deposits such as Helmand. Insecurity, corruption, fragile government and warlordism would help US authorities and corporations to extract minerals on their own terms.

If the Afghan government tried to stop American companies from extracting these riches, the White House would make its presence of troops conditional.

Most probably, Afghanistan would accept the condition seeing itself caught between the devil and deep sea. However, the wiser option would be to look at the future of coming generations.

Therefore, Ghani should discuss the security of the country with Trump rather than issues that can wait. There is no denying that extracting minerals is not possible without better security. In order to have a better environment for mining, the US should target terrorists. Unfortunately, the Pentagon will not do that as past experience shows.

In the first week of July, program fellow with the International Security Program at New America Anand Gopal said that the US has regularly deceived the Afghan people. The Afghan daily Weesa quoted Gopal as saying, "The US is further inflaming the war in Afghanistan with different [contradictory] policies." Gopal is the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes. Thus, his viewpoint is based on thorough research. 

That's why the Ghani administration should remind Washington of its promise to improve law and order in Afghanistan. The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US is a written document of that promise. In the absence of improved security, which is tied to implementation of the BSA, discussion of mining projects will further weaken the Ghani government. His administration is already facing strong opposition at home for its failure to improve law and order.

The author is a Kabul-based journalist. nadeemalizai@gmail.com Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion



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