Central Asia and the Future of Afghanistan’s Vast Mineral Riches
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
A NYT report, June 13, 2010, on the vast “newly discovered” mineral riches in Afghanistan quotes General Petraeus, who confirms that, ““There is stunning potential here.” Afghanistan may provide the greatest potential model for economic justice yet, perhaps rivaling or exceeding the potential for economic justice through universal, individual ownership of the oil in an Iraqi political federation.
The Taliban are in a commanding position, which is why U.S. strategists are beginning to go along with President Karzai’s insistence that the U.S. forces can never defeat the Taliban and therefore should negotiate with the Taliban leaders as soon as possible rather than trying to intimidate them first, which would only make negotiations impossible.
According to James Risen’s article, “U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan”, “The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said”.
The major question now is whether the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians or all of them together can offer a better deal than U.S. mining companies backed by U.S. troops. U.S. officials say merely that international investment could produce a lot of jobs for the Afghanis. The tribal leaders would laugh at that, because for them the only issue is who would own the resources and how can they best play international investors and their governments against each other to get the best terms.
The Taliban could present itself as the would-be defenders of the persons and peoples both in Afghanistan and in the two provinces of Pakistan west of the Indus River, which make up three-quarters of the entire country of Pakistan, including the large natural gas resources of Baluchistan. The “great game” now could consist of competition among the international powers to offer the most popular bids to develop Afghanistan’s newly confirmed storehouse of critical world minerals.
The key could be which power can serve the interests of a consortium of domestic owners. This might consist of 75% ownership by every resident of Afghanistan and 25% ownership by every recognized tribe in the specific deposits located within its jurisdiction. This was a formula that my Native American Economic Development Corporation outlined thirty-five years ago for Native American joint ownership of all the coal, oil, uranium, and copper on indigenously owned American land.
Such a formula, if advocated by the U.S. government and U.S. mining companies, would do more for U.S. strategic interests than another trillion dollars of military campaigns.
Of course, the devil is in the details. Baluchistan, which houses the Taliban leadership in its capital, Quetta, has been waging an on-again-off-again war for either a larger share of the profits from its natural gas or for outright independence from Pakistan. Many Pushtuns would like independence from both Afghanistan and Pakistan as by far the largest nation in the region. The Usbeks and Tadjiks in the north of modern-day Afghanistan do not seem to own very much of the identified mineral resources, so they might try to leverage Russia on their behalf. Half of the Baluchis are in Iran but they are in revolt to the extent that they can be against Tehran. And, of course, the Shi’a Hazaris in the mountainous central part of Afghanistan, who are closely allied to Iran and used to be used by the old king as body guards and police because they are not linked to any other tribe, may have more mineral riches than any other place both per capita and per square mile. Even the British, Russians, and Americans, and even Al Qa’ida and the Taliban, have not dared to mess with them.
The key would be a broad-based economic federation of indigenous forces as a much more powerful substitute for competition among warlords to control a central government actually controlled by foreign forces, like America. U.S. policy-makers have always preferred highly centralized economic and political control as the best means to assure stability and access for U.S. economic interests, but this has merely caused more instability and the felt need for more concentration of power, which serves only as a self-fulfilling boomerang.
The most significant factor or variable in this game is the attractiveness of “power to the people” through individual private ownership of the resources “provided by God”. If American strategists could appreciate this, we could be the mediator among all the competing interests, or even the king-maker, providing that we withdraw our combat forces. The Saudis and Gulf emirates for just a few billion dollars could set the parameters of the competition.
President Obama could be the new savior both at home and abroad, but he would encounter seemingly invincible special interests, as you and I did in promoting broad-based capital ownership rather than merely subservient jobs for Native Americans in the mid-1970s. The difference is that the heyday of special interests is waning, because there are global interests today that may trump them all.