Gunmen in control of sulpher deposits
KABUL (Pajhwok): Vast deposits of sulpher, a key chemical element that the insurgents allegedly use in making bombs, exist in volatile areas of the country, experts say.
They believe the existence of potassium nitrate, a natural solid source of nitrogen, in sulpher makes it easy even for inexperienced individuals to produce explosives.
A mining expert, Ibrahim Jafari, said sulpher was used in industries for making a highly corrosive mineral acid -- a component of paints. It is also employed in processing minerals and filtration.
In addition, he said: “Sulpher is mixed with potassium nitrate and coal powders which are used in making gunpowder and explosives.” The expert said excavating sulpher was simple and could be done with shovels and pickaxes.
The pale yellow nonmetallic element occurs widely in nature in several free and combined allotropic forms and is used in black gunpowder, rubber vulcanization, the manufacture of insecticides and pharmaceuticals, and in the preparation of sulpher compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and sulpheric acid.
Another expert Dr. Atiqullah Siddiqui called sulpher a usable gunpowder ingredient, but said it was not destructive. “But its combination with potassium nitrate makes it very strong.”
Mohammad Arif Taniwal, a chemistry lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences at Kabul University, said: “Sulpher is a chemical element with the symbol (S) and atomic number (16). It is an abundantly multivalent non-metal.”
He believed the closeness of sulpher mines to the earth surface had eased their mining. He said sulpher’s combination with potassium nitrate and carbon powder was an easy method for producing explosives.
The lecture was concerned about the existence of some sulpher mines in areas controlled by Taliban insurgents, saying the rebels used these mines against the government.
Dr. Najmuddin Tarin, the Afghanistan Academy of Sciences deputy head, described some positive uses of sulpher. He said sulpher was a very good chemical element mostly used for killing germs and insects. Tarin said the excavation of sulpher was not that easy.
According to the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, sulpher deposits are found in Badakhshan, Jawzjan, Balkh, Nangarhar, Samangan, Bamyan and Parwan provinces.
An official of the ministry said the untapped sulpher reserves were yet to be estimated. Under the ministry’s mines classification policy, he said, sulpher deposits in Afghanistan were placed in third grade or small mines category
He said preliminary works had been launched to estimate sulpher reserves and some companies had made offers in this regard as well, but the issue was yet to be finalised.
“Initial estimates show the size of sulpher deposits is as large as enough to fulfill the country’s needs and even we can export it abroad.”
Eng. Aminullah Lali, Samangan mines department director, said studies showed sulpher reserves were located in Yakhshi Gunbad locality of the Saighan and in parts of Yakawalang districts.
“We have just conducted initial surveys, there is need to measure these reserves and know their exact amounts,” he added.
Lali said there was good chance for investment in Samangan’s mining sector because security there had improved.
According to the Mines Department, sulpher deposits in Samangan are fully secured and sulphur found here is of gray bluish colour and smelled like acid.
The Jawzjan Mines Department director said sulphur in the province was not found in its pure form rather it was a combination of gas and sulpher.
Badakhshan Mines Department officials said sulphur reserves existed in parts of Ishkashim, Zibak and Yaftal districts, where militants have no presence.
But security sources said insurgents held sway in some parts of Karan Wa Manjan district – home to large scale reserves.
Eng. Dad Mohammad Zazai, Balkh Mines and Petroleum Department director, said sulpher reserves were located in the Alburz Mountains in Chamtal district, but a fragile government’s write prevailed there.
He stressed the need for fresh surveys to ascertain exact information about sulphur mines in Balkh following a fire incident at a sulphur mine in the past.
According to Pajhwok reports, the Chamtal district was recently the scene of clashes between insurgents and security forces and other incidents of violence.
Balkh police chief Col. Abdul Rehman Rahimi claimed the Taliban had established training camps with support from Pakistan’s intelligence agency in the district.
Meanwhile, Eng. Shukrullah Tolo, ex-Nangarhar mines director, told Pajhwok that sulpher mines also existed in Shamspur area of Surkhrod district. “The lawlessness does not permit us to go and visit these reserves,” he said.
He said the Taliban on their websites had names of subsidiary organisations busy illegally extracting minerals in areas under their influence.
The government, however, claims it has taken measures to protect mines. Ministry of Interior spokesman Sidiqque Siddiqui said no effort would be spared in ensuring security for sulpher mines. “Till date, no illegal excavation has been allowed at main reserves in Balkh.”
The Interior Ministry spokesman said insurgents lacked the capacity to extract sulpur.
However, Nawab Mangal, member of the Parliamentary Committee on Internal Security, believed due to poor law and order situation, militants had been able to extract minerals like sulpher with no difficulty.
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