Afghan needs, global priorities, and the treasures of Mes Aynak | Climate Crisis

Since taking power in Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban have faced the formidable task of rebuilding and developing a country ravaged by decades of war. The new government is trying to turn a new page, but Western sanctions are choking the country’s economy. So far, an agreement to lift sanctions has been difficult to reach.

As the government tries to break its international isolation for financial assistance, it is also looking at other sources of income, including the development of mineral deposits, some of which could be key. key to the world’s energy transition. Based on Brookings Institution Reportedly, Afghanistan is located on about 2.3 billion tons of iron ore and 1.4 million tons of rare earth minerals.

More significantly, the country is estimated to own around 30 million tons of copper. In fact, one of the most important copper mines in the world is located in an area called Mes Aynak in Logar province.

This resource can not only provide substantial funds to the country to help pursue its development goals, but it can also help the rest of the world in their fight against climate change and poverty. Copper is a key component of advanced renewable energy technologies. Demand for it is growing, as the world goes through a green energy transition and tries to meet the seventh United Nations Sustainable Development Goal – providing affordable and clean energy access. affordable for everyone.

Electric vehicle manufacturing require 2.5 times more copper than internal combustion vehicles. Solar farms use twice as much copper per megawatt of installed capacity as gas or coal-fired power plants; for offshore wind projects, this amount is more than five times larger.

At the same time, 733 million people globally are without electricity. This means that poor countries, which are trying to expand energy production and electricity grids, have to compete with rich countries for copper, as growing demand is driving prices up. Mining Mes Aynak would have a significant global impact, helping to meet demand for copper and possibly lowering prices so that poorer countries can better afford it.

In this context, the development of deposits at Mes Aynak is in the interest of the whole world, as well as in the interests of Afghanistan. And there is a way to develop these resources acceptable to the Taliban and foreign powers, which have imposed sanctions and financial restrictions on the group.

Our organization, the Sustainable Development Strategy Group reviewed the requirements for the development of Mes Aynak several years ago as directed by ARCH International, an organization that works to protect cultural heritage world.

Development of the site will be challenging and will require the construction of new power sources, transmission systems, transportation systems and water supply routes. It will also require the establishment of processing plants.

Revenue from the project can significantly improve the lives of Afghans. The country will benefit not only from newly built infrastructure, but also from employment and investment opportunities. Community development agreements may be drawn up to allocate funds to schools, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure for the benefit of neighboring communities.

Developing Mes Aynak will require capital investment, technology sector development and mining expertise, which the Taliban government does not have and cannot access due to Western sanctions and restrictions. That’s why, to achieve this there needs to be an agreement between the Taliban and at least some of its critics, namely the United States.

Equipment and machinery installed by Chinese excavators are seen near a copper mine in Mes Aynak, Logar province, February 14, 2015. China and Afghanistan remain deadlocked over a $3 billion copper mine la was stalled five months after Beijing demanded that royalties be nearly halved, highlighting Kabul is struggling to support itself as foreign aid dries up.  Copper, located beneath the ancient Buddhist ruins of Mes Aynak, is one of the world's largest untapped mines.  But the project has been delayed since the state-run Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) won the contract to develop it in 2007. The rising Taliban insurgency has tightened control of the surrounding area. around Aynak, and after threats, missile attacks and landmine threats, the MCC withdrew Chinese workers from its heavily guarded copper mining camp last year.  And then there are the Buddhist ruins.  Archaeological work to preserve treasures from ruined monasteries and stupas is dangerous and slow, and must be completed before mining can begin.  Photo taken February 14, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Equipment and machinery installed by Chinese excavators are seen near a copper mine in Mes Aynak on February 14, 2015 [File: Reuters/Omar Sobhani]

An agreement could see international recognition of the government and the lifting of sanctions and financial restrictions on the basis of the United Nations framework on human security in exchange for the Taliban’s flexibility on education and recognition of women’s rights.

Both sides benefit from such an agreement. For the cash-strapped Taliban government, the development of copper mines could provide much-needed funding to tackle the growing humanitarian crisis in the country, where 92 percent of the population faces extreme poverty. food insecurity.

For the United States, a larger supply of copper in the global market could reduce the costs of its own green transition and stimulate its economy. The Taliban’s concessions on key human rights issues would also be a policy victory for Washington.

In the absence of any agreement, there are at least two major dangers in trying to develop this project. One is an attempt to make a quick buck by stripping the highest grade ore and transporting it by truck for processing overseas, possibly to China. While this can generate some quick cash, it will not reach the potential of this site.

It will be solved with short-term benefits, in coins, when the value of a properly developed project will be huge and its benefits are long-term. The employment and infrastructure benefits of a fully developed project are lost.

Furthermore, exploiting the site for quick profit will most likely harm the environment. The aquifers near the mine that supply water to Kabul and beyond will be at risk of serious pollution from mining. This will also affect agriculture in the area, killing the livelihoods of local communities.

Another great danger offers an unhappy parallel to the past. Twenty years ago, the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan, sparking international outrage and further spurring foreign powers to isolate the group.

Today, the important Buddhist heritage at Mes Aynak is in jeopardy if its resources are improperly exploited. Buddhist monastic complexes are located on, on and in copper mines. It seems that the previous inhabitants of this area were engaged in mining and copper production. These buildings, tunnels and monuments are all part of the world’s historic heritage and mining at the site must not damage or destroy them.

Our previous assessment of the site for ARCH International seemed to indicate that with care, the copper mine could be exploited with only limited damage to part of this priceless archaeological complex. , has yet to be fully explored, studied, and understood.

This photo taken on Tuesday, October 12, 2010 shows ancient Buddha statues inside a temple in Mes Aynak, south of Kabul, Afghanistan.  This archaeological site is located in the world's second largest untapped copper mine in the province of Logar.  The Chinese government-backed mining company, China Metallurgical Group Corp., won the contract to mine the site, giving archaeologists three years to complete the excavation.  (AP photo/Dusan Vranic)
Ancient Buddha statues were discovered inside a temple in Mes Aynak, south of Kabul, Afghanistan [File: Dusan Vranic/AP]

The Taliban government has indicated that it is committed to protecting and preserving this cultural heritage. This can best be achieved if the development of the site takes place in close consultation with international archaeological organizations and United Nations cultural agencies. It could even be developed into a cultural heritage tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Illegal mining in Afghanistan has been a problem for many years. It not only deprives the state budget of much-needed revenue, but enriches the lords and undermines security and stability in the country.

If the Taliban and the United States reach an agreement to lift sanctions, it is highly likely that Mes Aynak will be developed in a way that ensures transparency, environmental protection and local development. This is because the United Nations and international financial institutions will participate and will require accountability for investments and compliance with environmental and development standards.

We expect the government of Afghanistan to also demonstrate a commitment to transparency on how the proceeds from the mining of Mes Aynak are spent. They should be dedicated to improving health, education and infrastructure.

If these conditions are met, Mes Aynak could set an example for other mineral resources to be developed and managed for the benefit of the Afghan people. If that doesn’t happen, however, Afghanistan risks joining a long list of countries where the exploitation of mineral resources has led to environmental destruction, impoverishment and looting of wealth.

We suggest that the potential for finding an agreement that would enable the development of Mes Aynak and the investment flows needed for that purpose should be explored vigorously.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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