Taliban resume talks with the Chinese for copper mining in Mes Aynak
A Chinese delegation will travel to Kabul later this month to discuss the details. The original project is based on a deal signed in 2008 with the previous government. The site includes an ancient Buddhist city that is in danger of being lost. Afghanistan’s mineral resources are estimated at US$ 1 trillion.
Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Talks are underway to resume copper mining in Mes Aynak, in Afghanistan’s Logar region of Afghanistan, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum said.
The new Taliban government has asked China Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC Group) to pursue a project that was never completed for various reasons. The details will be discussed with a Chinese delegation set to travel to Afghanistan later this month.
The agreements signed in May 2008 between the then Western-backed Afghan government and the MCC Group, called for the Chinese side to pay US$ 400 million a year for a 30-year mining concession.
According to the Tolo News agency, the Chinese company invested more than US$ 2.5 billion in the first phase of the project, but was delayed by security reasons (Taliban carried out attacks and al-Qaeda was present), and because the site also contains a major archaeological site.
The mine is part of Afghanistan’s copper belt, some 30 km from the capital Kabul, and includes the ruins of a city dating back 2,000 years when Buddhism was the local religion.
Monasteries, stupas, cemeteries and wall paintings should be moved before mining starts, but at the moment it is not clear if and how this will be done.
If the Chinese go for open mining, more than half of the finds would be in danger of being lost, the Wall Street Journal reported. However, the parties will have to discuss other issues.
The 2008 contract committed China not only to move the antiquities, but also to build a power plant to supply electricity to the site and Kabul, and a railway to the border with Pakistan, as well as ensure that copper processing was done in Afghanistan and that locals whose land was to be taken would be bought out.
According to Shahabuddin Dilawar, Taliban minister of Mines and Petroleum, the Chinese have tried to pull out of these commitments.
Afghanistan’s mountains are rich in mineral resources, estimated at US$ 1 trillion a decade ago.
Restarting the project would allow the Taliban to get liquidity and give China a secure supply of copper, an increasingly scarce mineral.
Since the Taliban came back to power last August, Afghanistan lost international aid, which made up almost 80 per cent of the state budget; the ensuing economic crisis has left 97 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.
Beijing already controls most of the world's rare earths, a group of metals used to make smartphones and other electronic products.