The Vast Riches of Afghanistan

Afghanistan has long been one of the world’s poorest and most backward countries. Now, in a twist of fate that has a distinct whiff of deja vu, it looks as though it may be a land of almost unimaginable wealth: “U.S. Discovers Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan.”

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
he previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — 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 United States officials believe.

This could be good news:

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

Then again, it might not be. What happens when you superimpose a trillion dollars worth of natural resource wealth on a primitive society? That’s what happened in Saudi Arabia, and the results were not pretty. A Defense Department memo quoted in the linked New York Times article makes the parallel explicit by suggesting that Afghanistan could become “the Saudi Arabia of lithium.” Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be true.

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