Underneath Afghanistan's battle-scarred land, the spoils of war await. According to U.S. geologists, the country has nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral wealth.
"US geologists have discovered nearly one trillion dollars' worth of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, including vast reserves of copper and lithium, the New York Times reported Monday.
The deposits, which also include huge veins of iron, gold, niobium and cobalt, are enough to turn the battle-scarred country into one of the world's leading mining exporters, senior US government officials told the Times.
Afghanistan's potential lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which currently has the world's largest known lithium reserves, the Times said.
Lithium is a key mineral used in rechargeable batteries, as well as everything from cell phones and laptops to electric cars.
Afghanistan has so much of it that it could become the 'Saudi Arabia of lithium,' according to an internal Pentagon memo quoted by the newspaper.
The iron and copper deposits are large enough to make Afghanistan one of the world's top producers, US officials said.
'There is stunning potential here,' General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, told the newspaper. 'There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.'"
Canadian foreign policy has always been carried out with the interests of Canadian corporations in mind, and the war in Afghanistan has been no exception. Then Foreign Minister Peter MacKay made exactly this point at a 2007 event hosted by the Vancouver Board of Trade and sponsored by Canadian mining firms Teck-Cominco and Hunter Dickinson Inc:
'[MacKay] added that Canada’s overall foreign policy, including the country’s involvement in Afghanistan, is designed to help promote security, good governance, and economic and social development, all of which 'dovetail with the interests of Canadian business.'"
Hunter Dickinson, in fact, was a runner-up in the bidding for the right to exploit Afghanistan's massive copper deposits located at Aynak -- the largest private investment in the history of Afghanistan. China's state-owned Metallurgical Group eventually won the contract; earlier this year, it was alleged that the minister of mining had accepted a bribe of at least $20 million from the heads of the Chinese bid.
The Aynak decision certainly irked the U.S. and the other NATO powers, not least of all Canada, and one could speculate that it has contributed to the increasing tensions between the Karzai regime and its western backers.
Now it turns out that Aynak was far from the only mining prize in Afghanistan. One hundred thousand NATO troops will help see to it that China does not gobble up the rest of the $1 trillion treasure. The western powers are sure to assert more forcefully now that 'to the belligerents go the spoils'.
The new revelations about Afghanistan's massive mineral wealth mean that the interests of Canadian business and Canadian war-making now dovetail more than ever in Central Asia. It's all the more reason to expect the government in Ottawa to find new ways to prolong Canada's military involvement in the occupation.
Update: Over at the Huffington Post, The Real News' Paul Jay writes that the U.S. knew about the Afghan mineral bonanza back in 2007. Jay also aises questions about the timing of this news: "Why the story broke in the NYT on Sunday could be linked to a desire by the Pentagon to create a reason why US troops might want to stick around in Afghanistan for some time to come. Things are not going very well on the ground and the promise of vast mineral riches would sound enticing."
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