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China pursues Afghanistan’s mineral resources after the withdrawal of the United States

MES AYNAK, Afghanistan — Following the American exit from Afghanistan, China’s move to insist on the country’s vast mineral wealth is concentrated in the mountains south of Kabul.

The mountains and barren valleys in Logar, a two-hour drive from the capital, have one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper reserves.

According to Chinese and Taliban officials, China is in talks with the Taliban authorities to start mining at a site called Metz Inak. Beijing is also in talks to begin work on oil and gas reserves in the northern part of the country, Amu Darya. The project was put on hold for years due to the war that ended when the Taliban seized power in August.

In recent weeks, dozens of Chinese mining companies have landed in Kabul seeking contracts for other mines.

U.S. officials said China was concerned about filling the void left by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, when Beijing recently established a relationship with the Taliban and Western missions escaped the Taliban takeover. The Kabul embassy continued to function.

Another US rival, Iran, is in talks to secure a huge iron ore deposit in the western part of the country. Tehran also has a good relationship with the Taliban.

Although Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, its mountainous geology contains vast wealth of gold, gems, coal, oil and gas, lithium and rare earth minerals. China already manages most of the world’s rare earth minerals. It is used in the manufacture of a variety of technologies, including touch screen components for electric vehicles and smartphones.

Ten years ago, American experts estimated the value of Afghanistan’s mineral resources to be $ 1 trillion, and the United States deployed tens of thousands of troops there and spent hundreds of billions of dollars. Could not be unleashed.

“The rest of the world has been mining mines and using them for national development while we were engaged in the war for 43 years,” said Shahabdin Dilawar, Minister of Minerals and Petroleum in the Taliban. , Our resources remain untouched. ” ..

A member of the Taliban on a tour of the Metz Inak tunnel, which is said to possess the finest copper.

Mr. Dilawa said he wants the US and other Western companies to come to Afghanistan now that the US military presence is gone, and that he prefers American mining companies to Chinese companies because of his expertise.

Mining in Afghanistan is a good time, as commodities are in a bullish cycle, prices continue to rise for years, and the battle between the U.S. military and the Taliban could end, analysts said. It may be.

Neil Rigby, a mining consultant who previously advised the Pentagon and the Afghan government on Afghanistan’s mining assets, said the world is facing a copper shortage.

“Therefore, the importance of Afghanistan and its mineral resources,” Rigby said. “If you look around the world, hell has been explored everywhere, but Afghanistan is widespread.”

The mining industry is tackling the economic collapse caused by the acquisition, so the Taliban looks like the best opportunity to create big new business activities. The new government, separated from international aid, is a population that is facing a large amount of hunger, rapidly increasing its income.

However, for Western companies, US and international sanctions on the Taliban mean that while dealing with Afghanistan is dangerous, environmental and human rights standards and security concerns are also imminent.

Riggby said Meth Inak possesses the finest copper. So China wanted it very badly.

He said Mes Aynak was a world-class reserve, but more such deposits are likely to be found in what is believed to be the central Afghanistan copper belt.

Copper has one major problem. It is located under the ruins of Mesuinak, a vast ancient city dating back about 2,000 years. Mesuinak is a magnificent outpost of the prosperous Buddhist civilization in Afghanistan, located in northwestern Pakistan centuries before Islam. Rose.

Mes Aynak prospered from the 1st to the 7th centuries. There are Buddhist monasteries, stupas, graveyards and murals. The eastern side of the mountain is covered with antique buildings that formed the city.

Perhaps a large terracotta body part of the ancient Buddha is stored in a room at the ruins of Mes Inak.

Cataloged ceramic and terracotta archaeological fragments collect dust in Mesuinak, the outpost of ancient Buddhist civilization.

Mr Dilawa said the relics were protected, but authorities had not decided how to do so. His preference was to move the entire city somewhere nearby and rebuild it, and many prizes were transferred to the Kabul Museum.

Noor Aga Nuri, who was the head of archeology in Afghanistan until the Taliban left the country, said the excavation of the site was about 70% complete after 10 years of work. It’s over. “

He would need at least three years of archaeological excavation before the mining could begin if the Chinese were ready to mine underground through the tunnel and the ruins of the city could be left untouched. Said.

If the Chinese plan to dig open-pit, or dig up from the surface and eat up the entire mountain, it will take seven to ten years to record and move the ancient ruins. In that scenario, he said, more than half of the ancient relics were lost because it was impossible to relocate them all, and the archaeological integrity of the ruins was lost.

There is also copper in the valley adjacent to the mountain, and there are no ancient ruins.

Metallurgical Corp. of China, a state-owned mining company in China,

In 2007, he obtained a Mes Aynak contract from a government backed by the then US government in Kabul, but did not respond to requests for comment. After winning the contract, mining did not begin due to the ancient scale discovered. Disagreement on the terms of the war and the Afghan government.

Under the contract, the mining minister said that China would build a power plant to supply energy to Site, the surrounding area and Kabul, process copper in Afghanistan, build a railroad to the Pakistani border in Torkham, transfer relics, and villagers.

Archaeological excavation site of Mes Inak, with its vast mineral resources, south of Kabul.

Chinese companies have tried to withdraw all these obligations, he said. , And you can’t give a third until you see practical behavior in these two. “

Kabul’s Chinese ambassador, Wang Yu, confirmed that discussions were underway between the Mes Aynak copper mine and the Amu Darya oil and gas project in the north, but to make the investment valuable to the Chinese. Said that better conditions were needed. “It is very important for both parties to get reasonable profits,” Wang said.

The state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, which had never developed three exploration blocks in the Amu Darya basin, awarded by the Afghan government in 2011, did not respond to requests for comment. The basin centered on the adjacent Turkmenistan is the most abundant hydrocarbon resource in Central Asia and the mainstay of Turkmenistan’s economy.

The ministry said the ministry, unlike some other departments taken over by the Taliban, was busy and businessmen were regularly involved in SUV surges and signed contracts for several new small mines. rice field.

Entrepreneurs are calling for discussions on the mining of lithium and rare earth deposits, which are considered big awards in Afghanistan, but the mining minister said they have not yet been bid.

“Given China’s squeeze on the global rare earth market and its Western commitment to blood and treasures in Afghanistan, it is unwise and unwise to allow China to walk and harvest Afghanistan’s rare earth wealth. It seems fair, “says Fraser Institute, a think tank in Canada.

The road guards to Metz Inak have been abandoned since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.

Write to Saeed Shah (saeed.shah@wsj.com)

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