Mineral Riches of Afghanistan: Need for Thinking Out of the Box

Posted in Broader Middle East , Afghanistan , Pakistan | 04-Jul-10 | Author: Ijaz Khan

In the life of individuals as well as States there are moments when they must take crucial decisions which determine their future. Opportunities knock at every door; only few are awake and thus respond when there door is knocked. Pakistan has missed many opportunities, yet another one is knocking its doors. Will Pakistan respond? And if it responds how will it. The answer to these two will determine its future.

Media has reported the findings of rich mineral deposits in Afghanistan. According to New York Times, they may be in the tune of one trillion US dollars. Other estimates put the figure ads high as three trillion US dollars. The previously unknown deposits - including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium (the mineral used in Laptop and Cell phone batteries)- are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world. The biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pakhtun areas of southern Afghanistan

Though it will take years, experts estimate 10 to 15 years and peace to exploit these resources, investment will start very soon. This investment would bring pressure for peace. It will also facilitate peace by providing job openings that Afghans would not be able to fill. It will bring new competition as well.

Peoples Republic of China was able to out bid US and other western competitors for copper mining last year. There would be competition between European, Japanese and US mining interests as well. And then there would be the medium sized newly industrialized and industrializing states that include countries like besides others India as well.

We are going to witness a change in international attitudes and policies towards Afghanistan. The negative and mainly traditional geo political and security considerations that just wanted to stop the use of Afghan territory and by extension Pakistani territory from forces inimical to the west to more positive interests.

Now going back to the initial two questions, will Pakistan react and then how will it react. Well the answer to the first question is easy; it will react simply because anything happening in Afghanistan cannot be ignored by Pakistan. However, will it be viewed as an opportunity to build something new or as a new area of challenge because probably India would be there too? To be responded with Pakistan's traditional India centric security dominated strategic culture?

At the outset let me submit, reaction depends on the personality of the person whose reaction we are trying to assess. States develop a particular framework within which they formulate their policies, which is referred to as 'Strategic Culture'. The method in which decisions are taken also tells one about what decision to expect. The most important part of how decisions are taken is who and to what extent takes part in decision making. In short, the strategic culture is determined and molded by the decision making method and inputs in the decision making process.

Pakistan's foreign policy which is an extension of its security policy has been dominated, even if not the exclusive domain of its security institutions, as some believes. Pakistan's security paradigm simply focuses on and revolves around threat perceptions from India. Its Afghan policy is an extension of its India centric security and thus foreign policy. The issues of Durand Line, Pakhtun Nationalism, reaching out to Central Asian Republics are all shaded by it.

In the given 'Strategic Culture' Pakistan most probably will react how to further its attempts to control Afghanistan, deny it to India and convince the west that Pakistan is its best bet to exploit the new found Afghan riches. Another more conservative approach resulting from part of the State's dominant mind set can be; further efforts to control Afghanistan and subordinate its new found riches to Pakistan's security agenda exclusively, denying it not just to India but also to rest of the World. They would argue that if the global capital is permitted to enter Afghanistan, it will become almost impossible for Pakistan to hold Afghanistan and keep India out.

To think alternatively you have to decide alternatively. To think out of the box you have to come out of the box. To come out of the box that keeps people and their representatives locked out of the real decision making, Pakistan has to democratize and make space for independent inputs in decision making. The people of Pakistan have an opportunity to assert themselves and take matters in their hands. Gen. Asad Durrani in a recent workshop in Peshawar correctly remarked, 'when those who are supposed to lead and decide cannot lead and decide, others will'. Well it is high time those who are suppose to lead and decide go ahead, lead and decide.

Pakistani State has to start trusting the logic of economics and location or as they say geo economics. Pakistan can tie its security with the new global interests that are bound to enter Afghanistan. Whoever rules Afghanistan would want outside World to come to Afghanistan and the new found riches to leave Afghanistan. Pakistani skilled and semi skilled human resources can play a vital role, which can help both Afghanistan and Pakistan and serve as the basis for a new and very strong bond between the two peoples and the states as well as connect it to the incoming outside capital. This new bond can further be strengthened by different sized Pakistani business and entrepreneur interests. Pakistan can be a positive factor in the new geo economics of the region and adopt a win win policy. Pakistan has the opportunity to search for security in peace and trade rather than violence and denials. Pakistan can gain by becoming the route - the most peaceful, secure, economically viable and politically correct - to Afghanistan's minerals. It can create a vested interest of the global capital in a secure, stable, developed, democratic and progressive Pakistan. A new understanding of security has to be developed in line with modern developments and changes taking place around the globe.


Chairman, Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar. Author of Book, 'Pakistan's Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy Making" published by Nova Science Publishers New York, 2007

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