The relentless and unlawful mining activities by the Taliban have raised concerns among the citizens. Some residents of the country assert that no government or company should sign extraction contracts with an illegitimate and irresponsible regime regarding Afghanistan’s underground resources. They argue that entering into contracts concerning national assets requires legal governance and adherence to international obligations and documents, while the Taliban do not accept domestic laws and international agreements. They believe that this group, through these contracts, paves the way for “plundering national wealth and engaging in illegal mining.” However, experts point out that mineral extraction is an extremely complex process, dependent on frameworks, strategies, specialized institutions, and appropriate infrastructure, which the Taliban lack. Nevertheless, over the past two years, this group has signed contracts for the extraction of dozens of small and large mines. In the latest case, they announced the signing of agreements for seven mines worth six and a half billion US dollars and also assigned some of their affiliated religious scholars to oversee mining projects.
Over the past two years, the Taliban have signed several contracts for mining and resource extraction with both domestic and foreign companies. The trend of their contracts has been on the rise in recent months. The signing of contracts without legal oversight and regulatory monitoring has heightened citizens’ concerns.
Some citizens of the country assert that over this period, the Taliban, instead of respecting human rights, ensuring the legitimate freedoms of the people, and creating a conducive environment for work, have been preoccupied with political power struggles and strengthening the criminal economy. They state that the Taliban lack the necessary capacity for governance and mineral extraction, and with contracts they know are impractical, they provide opportunities for “plundering and seizing” mines. According to these citizens, over the past 20 years, the Taliban have financed part of their war expenses through smuggling and illegal mining.
These citizens further argue that no company or government has the right to enter into contracts concerning the wealth of the Afghan people in the absence of a legitimate system that holds national and international standing. They claim that foreign companies engaging with this group are primarily interested in intelligence resources and use this engagement to keep the Taliban occupied, diverting their attention from strengthening terrorist groups opposed to these countries and obtaining their required raw materials at the lowest cost.
The National Resistance Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan also deems the Taliban’s signing of mining contracts as unlawful. The council stated in a released statement: “The Taliban have no religious, legal, or legitimate legitimacy and decision-making authority regarding mines.”
Citizens’ concerns have escalated as the Taliban-controlled Ministry of Mines and Petroleum recently announced the signing of contracts for seven mines with private and mixed Afghan, Chinese, Iranian, and Turkish companies. During the signing of these mining contracts, the Taliban stated that these contracts cover the extraction and processing of the gold mine in Takhar Province, the second phase of the Ainak copper mine in Logar Province, the lead and zinc mine in Ghor Province, and the first to fourth phases of the iron mine in Herat Province.
The Taliban have also appointed a group of ten religious scholars and Quranic scholars to oversee the extraction of the Qaraghan gold mine in Baghlan province, offering them a monthly salary of 15,000 Afghanis. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum under Taliban control claims that these religious scholars prevent illegal mining and misappropriation of mineral resources, a move that has garnered strong reactions.
Some experts and analysts emphasize that oversight of mining operations can only be carried out by legitimate, professional, and specialized institutions. Dawood Shah Saba, the former Minister of Mines and Petroleum, speaking to the Hasht-e Subh Daily, stated that mining contracts, including long-term agreements typically made by governments, cannot be valid in the absence of a legitimate government in Afghanistan. The Taliban, lacking the legal-political status of a government, cannot represent the people in signing mining contracts. According to him, any mining activities based on Taliban contracts would be invalid. Mr. Saba underscores that in the future, national and international companies that have obtained these contracts should be held accountable as usurpers of public property and should pay compensation through legal means.
The former Minister of Mines and Petroleum states that none of the winners of the Taliban’s contracts have prior mining experience, and their commercial history is also questionable. Mr. Saba says, “Afghanistan’s mines have potential value, not actual value. Mentioning large-dollar figures, as was used as a tool to deceive the public during the Republic era, is purely for political consumption.”
He emphasizes, “When I was the minister before, I wrote in the Hasht-e Subh Daily that Afghanistan’s mines are not an economic panacea for our progress and prosperity; rather, they are a source of wars and countless miseries for the people of Afghanistan. Therefore, the management of mines must be carried out with precision and patience, and their use as a political tool should be prevented.”
The former Minister of Mines and Petroleum emphasizes that no country in the world has prospered solely based on its mines and underground reserves, but many countries, including Afghanistan, have fallen victim to their mineral wealth. According to him, neighboring countries, especially China, Pakistan, and Iran, see Afghanistan as a favorable ground for exploiting its mineral resources and are therefore “transactional and, in common terms, engaging” with the Taliban.
Mr. Saba adds, “Managing mines requires professional personnel and strategic patience; two factors that were not valued during the recent Republic era, creating a breeding ground for mismanagement, mining destruction, environmental damage, exploitation, and the “mafia-ization” of the mining sector. And now, we should not expect proper mine management from the mullahcracy.”
This comes in contrast to some sources confirming the involvement of Taliban officials in mining and smuggling operations in the country. These sources claim that alongside smuggling mineral resources, the Taliban also take steps to misappropriate public assets through the signing of contracts. One anonymous source confirms that coal, chromite, talc, and marble are sold to neighboring countries at the lowest prices and even smuggled.
It should be noted that comprehensive and complete data regarding Afghanistan’s underground resources have not been publicly disclosed. For many years, estimates have been provided regarding the country’s mines. The previous government had stated in the “Mining Roadmap” that fundamental studies for identifying Afghanistan’s underground resources began in the mid-20th century. In this document, it was mentioned that when the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, it collected a wide range of statistics and information related to Afghanistan’s natural resources.
The document described the studies conducted during the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan as follows: “The studies conducted included systematic geographical mapping, the collection and analysis of rocks and sedimentary layers, geophysical aerial surveys, and systematic mineral exploration.” According to the information in this document, following these efforts, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with the Afghan Geological Survey and U.S. agencies, conducted studies aimed at surveying and investigating Afghanistan’s mines.
So far, no detailed studies have been conducted regarding the country’s mineral resources, but initial statistics published by the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum under Taliban control under the name “Limited List of Mines” report 680 mines in the country.
It should be noted that in the current situation, there are numerous challenges facing the mining sector in Afghanistan. The lack of a standardized transport system for the transfer of mineral materials and heavy metals to consumer markets, energy shortages, complex and unknown investment processes in the land, and the absence of specialized and professional management are among the major challenges that the mining sector grapples with.
Initial studies indicate that there are more than 1,400 mineral deposits, mineral materials, and mineral reserves in Afghanistan. Geologists and researchers working for the United States military in Afghanistan estimated the value of the country’s lithium resources at “three trillion dollars” in an assessment in 2010.
It is also said that Afghanistan holds approximately 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, about 60 million tons of copper, around 183 million tons of aluminum, about 2,700 kilograms of untouched gold, 1.3 billion tons of marble, over 500 million tons of limestone, and 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium in its natural resources.