Lapis lazuli mines seen as conflict, graft driver
The Taliban and other armed groups are earning up to 20 million dollars annually from Afghanistan’s lapis mines, used in jewellery around the world, Global Witness found, demanding the stone should be classified as a conflict mineral.
In a report, the watchdog said violent competition for control of the lucrative mines and their revenue, between local strong men, MPs and the Taliban had deeply destabilised the northeastern province of Badakhshan.
“With the Taliban on the outskirts of the mines themselves, as well as controlling key roads into the mining areas, there is now a real risk that the mines could fall into their hands,” Global Witness noted, calling the mines a strategic priority for the so-called Islamic State.
Unless the Afghan government acted rapidly to regain control of the natural wealth, the battle for the lapis mines would intensify and further destabilise the country, as well as fund extremism, it warned.
“The lapis mines … are a microcosm of a problem that is replicated across the country, where mining is the Taliban’s second biggest source of income. Money from mines is an important source of wealth to fund essential services, including security, health and education,” the report said.
Afghanistan sits on over a trillion dollars mineral, oil and gas deposits, which could provide the government with over $2 billion in revenue a year, if developed properly. But corruption and failure to secure mining sites means that mines have been targeted by insurgent groups and are now a major contributor to conflict.
The new mining law, currently being amended by the government, fails to include the actions needed to counter the threat. The mines are one of the richest assets of the people and should be driving development and prosperity” said Stephen Carter, Afghanistan Campaign Leader at Global Witness.
“Instead, the beautiful lapis lazuli stone has become a conflict mineral. The mines provide a tiny fraction of the benefit they should, and have become a major source of conflict and grievance, which is driving the insurgency and undermining hope for stability in Afghanistan – which could have consequences globally.”
Global Witness urged the Afghan government and its international partners to make problems around mining a critical priority to tackle the crisis. The organization called for the publication of mining data, reform oversight and support community monitoring of mining.
“President Ghani has made a number of recent commitments at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London which show he clearly understands the risks involved in Afghanistan’s mines. But, the Afghan government urgently needs to prioritise security in mining areas, as well as ensure that the mining law is actually fit for purpose.”
While the US government has also identified development of Afghanistan’s mining sector as key to ending the country’s dependence on foreign aid, Global Witness warned that they failed to pay sufficient attention to the security risks involved.
The US has given nearly half a billion dollars in aid to the extractives sector since 2009 in an attempt to jump-start Afghanistan’s mining sector but invested very little in tackling insecurity and weak governance.
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