Exploiting Mineral Wealth Under Taliban Leadership
By: Eissa Mehr
With the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan, they have been vying for control of the underground wealth, sometimes leading to military confrontations. Ultimately, the victor in this battle has determined the ownership of these resources. The Haqqani network has been alleged to be the most prominent faction in controlling the mines, while other factions have been mentioned less. However, evidence suggests that the Taliban leadership and its loyal circle have also been attempting to exploit the mines, albeit in a more lenient manner than the Haqqanis, who have dominated these resources by force.
Trade–Off Between Road Construction and Mining: Is it Nation–Building or Resource Exploitation?
On April 1, 2023, in accordance with the orders of their Supreme Leader, the Taliban transferred the extraction of Lead in Kandahar Province to an individual in exchange for the reconstruction of a road between the Khakrez district of Kandahar and the Dhaward district of Oruzgan. This decision may appear to be beneficial to those who have not been able to benefit from their underground resources, however, it is actually a result of internal group competition for the personal exploitation of mineral wealth.
The Taliban‘s Supreme Leader, in consultation with his inner circle, has devised a plan to provide public services through the use of mines in order to gain access to the mineral resources that have been instrumental in the group‘s success over the past two decades of war. Intense competition between factions within the Taliban regime to gain control of these underground riches, either through force or private companies, has prevented the leadership from directly accessing them.
At the behest of Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, Afghanistan‘s mines are being distributed to those who provide public services without any formalities. This decree allows Akhundzada‘s circle to construct roads, clinics, or mosques in the name of a public project, and to extract any type of mine such as gold, silver, ruby and sapphire, lapis lazuli, lithium, lead, copper, iron, and more from all over Afghanistan without any competitive process.
In the order issued by the Economic Deputy Prime Minister‘s Office to the Ministry of Mines, it is stated that any individual who wishes to obtain a mining contract in exchange for public benefit projects will not be granted a tender until the international price has been determined and approved by the Economic Commission.
In accordance with this decree, the Economic Deputy Prime Minister of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has directly awarded the lead and zinc mines of Bibi Gawhar in Kandahar Province to a person without any competitive process in exchange for the construction of a road. This individual, registered as an entrepreneur under the title “Bilal Basir Mining and Processing” with a capital of AFN500,000 in the year 1401 in the Central Registration Office of Kandahar Province, has no experience in mining or qualifications in street construction.
The Taliban‘s supreme leader enabled his circle of loyal followers to win the bidding, and issued a directive to prevent others from obtaining the contracts. This decree stated that companies associated with Taliban officials were not allowed to participate in tenders for mining contracts. It is clear that the Taliban leader and his circle of loyal followers are using the minerals for their own gain, while claiming to provide public services.
People’s Hardships as a means of Taliban Exploitation of Mines
The Taliban Supreme Leader‘s inner circle is attempting to gain control of another mineral resource, claiming to be addressing the people‘s issues. According to reliable evidence, the Taliban Economic Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for the implementation of the “Mine in exchange for public benefit“ program, is attempting to give a lead mine to Wais Jamalyar in Ghor province in exchange for the construction of schools and clinics.
In a letter sent to the Taliban Ministry of Mine and Petroleum, Mawlawi Zabihullah, the head of Baradar‘s office, stated that the residents of the Delwar area of Saghar district in Ghor Province had submitted a petition to the Taliban Economic Deputy Prime Minister, requesting that the mining of lead and antimony in the district be granted to Wais Jamalyar in order to construct a school and clinic for the area with the profits.
Due to the villagers‘ lack of access to the Taliban authorities and their lack of knowledge regarding the location and nature of the country‘s mineral resources, it is unlikely that the villagers made such a request. It appears that this situation was orchestrated by the Taliban supreme leader‘s circle in order to gain control of another mine under the guise of constructing a clinic.
Why Lead and Zinc?
The lead and zinc mines are highly valuable due to the presence of other minerals in their composition. The Taliban have acknowledged that there is gold and silver in the mine, which has been exchanged for road construction. However, this claim is false as gold and silver are found in conjunction with lead and zinc, and during the extraction process, it is obtained alongside lead, which cannot be put back underground without technology more advanced than what is currently available in the world.
It appears that Mullah Hibatullah‘s circle is more astute than Haqqani and other factions in exploiting subterranean wealth. In contrast to other factions, which prioritize gold, Mullah Hibatullah‘s circle seeks to extract four minerals (lead, zinc, gold, and silver) concurrently in order to acquire substantial wealth quickly. One kilogram of gold can be sold for up to $64,000 and silver for up to $800 in the global markets. Each ton of lead and zinc is worth between $2100 and $2500.
Why Did the Projects Start from Kandahar?
Kandahar is under the control of the Taliban leadership, and its proximity to Pakistan allows for easy access to the country‘s markets. The second units of the ministries and departments in Kandahar are subordinate to Akhundzada, and serve him in terms of the administrative hierarchy. This project was initiated solely by the Department of Mines and Petroleum of Kandahar province, without the presence of the officials of the Ministry of Mines. The implementation of such projects in Kandahar will help Akhundzada and his loyal circle to transfer the minerals extracted from this mine to Pakistan without interference from rival groups, and easily convert them into cash.