This Weekend’s News: Ironing Out Corruption in Afghanistan’s Mining Sector

Resource challenges continue to play a role in shaping the security environment in Afghanistan. Yesterday, Reuters reported that Afghan warlords could exacerbate violence near the central provinces of Bamiyan, Parwan and Wardak where a 2 billion ton iron deposit worth 350 billion dollars remains vulnerable to exploitation. The iron deposit, known as the Hajigak project, is said to be “Asia’s largest unmined iron deposit,” and “may provide hope for the prosperity of the country,” according to Reuters.

Yet the government’s struggle to combat corruption threatens to undermine efforts to sustainably manage the iron deposit.  “Integrity Watch Afghanistan [IWA], a Kabul-based group that aims to spotlight corruption, said while [Mines Minister Wahidullah] Shahrani and Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal were committed to a transparent mining sector, the government lacked the capacity to stamp out ‘reported endemic corruption’,”Reuters reported. “The Afghan government will not be able to ensure that Hajigak is well managed and, ultimately, beneficial for the future of the country,” IWA said in a report cited by Reuters.

Meanwhile, Afghan warlords could exploit the government’s inability to manage the Hajigak project, potentially undermining stability gains. “Integrity Watch Afghanistan said there was serious concern that warlords -- military commanders who built up private armies and fortunes during years of civil war who still command the loyalties of their supporters -- could spark further violence in a bid to profit from the country's minerals,” according to Reuters. “Warlords will certainly be tempted to become active in Hajigak and in the sector, and this will be a sure trigger for violent conflicts over resources,” the IAW report said. “People familiar with the status of contracts in the natural resources sector have been airing the fear that warlords may seek to invest in the sector as a means to legalize their activities and enjoy their ill-gotten wealth,” the report added.

Afghanistan’s mining sector has experienced setbacks in recent years, with accusations of corruption reaching ministerial-level officials. As the country prepares to start production on the Aynak copper mine in 2014, its largest resources contract to date, officials in Kabul will have to strengthen their oversight of the nation’s mining sector to provide the foundation for transparent economic development that the country needs in order to stand up after 10-years of war and decades of internal conflict. Indeed, how well the Afghan government is able to manage it resources in the coming years could be a telling indicator of the nation’s long-term stability.    

This Week's Events

Today at 10:00 AM, Brookings will host an event on Famine in Somalia: An Expected Turn for the Worse which will take a look at the effects of the current drought and the challenges with international response. 

On Wednesday at 8:30 AM, the Bipartisan Policy Center will have a discussion on Evolving Nuclear Technology and Regulations: Lessons from Fukushima. Then at noon on Wednesday, there will be a lunch briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building on Biodiversity Conservation in Afghanistan Advances U.S. Security Interests hosted by the Wildlife Conservation Society.