Embassy News

The Afghanistan goldrush

BRITISH companies could reap a gold mining bonanza in Afghanistan, the country’s ambassador revealed last night.

By MARCO GIANNANGELI

PUBLISHED: on SundayExpress 00:46, Sun, Sep 23, 2018 | UPDATED: 00:57, Sun, Sep 23, 2018

At least two firms have been given “preferred bidder” status for a range of gold and copper concessions in the war-torn country, said to contain £2.5trillion worth of untapped resources ranging from minerals such as gold and copper to lithium and hydrocarbon.

It follows breakthroughs made at an AfghanUK conference last week attended by representatives of business and the departments of international trade and development.

While UK firms have tried to mine before, efforts were hampered by security and logistical issues, as well as adverse regulations.

But last night Ambassador Said Jawad revealed several key developments, including the creation of a “mining security force” tasked with preventing corruption and terror outfits like the Taliban and ISIS getting their hands on the riches.

“We recognise security concerns but most mining operations in the world are carried out in difficult areas. We must ensure security goes beyond mining companies having their own security, to include a real involvement with the local community and making sure it benefits.”  Mr Jawad

Mr Jawad, 60, said: “There was strong representation by mining companies from the UK at Monday’s meeting.

We emphasised that investing in mining is a win-win for both sides: For Afghanistan it helps with security, provides stability and connects us with neighbouring countries.

We have improved to allow UK companies to operate. We have smoothed out regularity obstacles and have the ancillary industries in place.”

The gold mining area is thought to be in the province of Badakhshan, in the north-east, and said to be worth hundreds of millions.

However, the area is said to be under the Taliban’s influence.

Mr Jawad added: “We recognise security concerns but most mining operations in the world are carried out in difficult areas. We must ensure security goes beyond mining companies having their own security, to include a real involvement with the local community and making sure it benefits.

That way, the community will defend it. However, we are also creating a mining police force.

Unfortunately because of the war we’ve become very good at our own training.”

Other Afghan-UK deals include agriculture, with pomegranate producers last week striking a £15million deal to sell pomegranate and grape juice to supermarket chains across London.

Mr Jawad added: “We’ve been relying on the help of our allies to cover security commitments but this will inevitably end. We need to be in a position to take this over properly. We want mining revenue to increase from four per cent of GDP to 25 per cent. The prospect of collecting £1.9billion from mining enterprises is there.”

But last night campaigner Global Witness, which exposes corruption and abuse, urged caution.

Stephen Carter, head of its Afghan team, said: “Our sources indicate that a large part of Badakhshan is under control of the Taliban.

He added: “We want these projects to benefit the Afghan people. If the government is spending more in protection than it’s getting in royalties it would make more sense to do the project further down the line, when the situation improves.”

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