Government officials sounded headily optimistic Monday as they fielded questions from local and international reporters about a new report on the extent of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth that suggests considerable potential for products other than opium, which until now has been the country’s most lucrative export.I am sure that there is a few trillion dollars worth of minerals on Mars as well - but you cannot economically get it to market. First things first.
The report, produced by the American military and the United States Geological Survey, found that Afghanistan had at least $1 trillion in mineral wealth.
In a news conference primarily with Afghan reporters, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, called the report “the best news we have had over many years in Afghanistan.”
“The Afghan government is actively looking to its Ministry of Mines, to its Ministry of Commerce and to other entities in the Afghan government to start to bring these to the benefit of the Afghan people,” he said.
As they waited to hear Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, some Afghan reporters excitedly calculated among themselves how much each Afghan would theoretically get if the mineral treasure trove were divided equally. Assuming the $1 trillion valuation and Afghanistan’s population of 29 million, that would give each Afghan man, woman and child $34,482.76.
Without a safe and secure environment - not of this means anything. Without a safe and secure environment, you cannot safely get labor and equipment to mine the minerals. Without it you cannot get the product out of the country.
Without the rule of law, you cannot safely assume that you will be allowed the results of your investment. Any profit will be bled out through corruption and confiscation.
Mineral wealth is infrastructure heavy. AFG does not have a rail network. It does not have an effective road network that can handle anything more than jingle trucks.
All the above are just the first few economic facts. Here is your thumbnail sketch;
- Safe and Secure Environment (SASE): 10 years.
- Rule of law: 15 years - within a reasonable degree, though not to Western standards.
- Substantial infrastructure: 5 years after SASE.
Then you have to get it to markets.
The Dutch are leaving now. The Canadians next year. President Obama wants us to go home starting in 2011 (though everyone from SECDEF on down just wink at you and nod their head - I hope they are correct).
Don't get caught up in the hype. This is WAY down the road, if ever. Don't get distracted. Focus on what is real.