Afghan government accused of inaction on mining safeguards

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two anti-corruption organizations on Sunday accused Afghanistan’s government of failing to take action to protect its vital mining sector from graft and conflict.

Global Witness and Integrity Watch Afghanistan said President Ashraf Ghani’s administration didn’t present any concrete measures for protecting and developing its $1 trillion worth of mineral assets during a meeting of donors in Kabul.

Mining is one of the few avenues for developing a self-sustaining economy in Afghanistan and ending the country’s reliance on international aid. Despite its potential, international investors are reluctant to enter Afghanistan because of conflict, corruption, poor infrastructure and lack of a mining law that meets international norms.

The Taliban, which has waged a 14-year insurgency in Afghanistan, has seized mineral assets across the country, profiting from illegal mining of gold, talc, marble, chromite and gemstones.

A new United Nations report said the Taliban’s income from illegal mining operations and extortion activities was “very significant,” worth perhaps tens of millions of dollars each year and second only to revenue from narcotics.

Opium produced in Afghanistan accounts for most of the world’s heroin and is estimated to be worth $3 billion annually, about one-third of it going to the insurgents.

Delegations from 41 countries and 11 international non-government organizations, which support Afghanistan’s economic, security and social reconstruction, met in Kabul on Saturday to discuss Afghanistan’s progress in meeting reform pledges. Ghani took office a year ago promising to bring peace and prosperity.

Ikran Afzali, head of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, says the Senior Officials Meeting “has not produced a single commitment to action … to counter the threat of conflict and corruption around the extractives industries.”

Stephen Carter, Global Witness’s Afghanistan campaign leader, said the meeting could have outlined measures that have “a real impact on reducing the major threat of conflict and corruption around mining.”

The mining law should be transparent, he said, and include publication of contracts, project-level payment and production data. There also should be transparency about mining company ownership and a framework for community monitoring of mining, he said.

Ministry of Mines and Petroleum spokesman Mohiuddin Noori said steps are being taken to establish a security force specifically for mining assets to reassure potential investors.

“Several measures have been taken” to make the sector more transparent, but it was still early days in the life of the new government, Noori said. “We are doing our best,” he said.

The Senior Officials Meeting report said the Ministry of Mines is reviewing a minerals law passed last year “to further improve the institutional and business environment for investors.” In the report, Ghani’s government awarded itself high grades on a range of issues — a “B” on improving security and political stability, a “B-” on tackling corruption and a “C+” on economic growth and job creation.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and consistently ranks among the most corrupt. Economic growth has slumped to an expected 2.5 percent this year, according to the World Bank, after an annual average of 9 percent from 2003-2012. Joblessness is contributing to a spike in migration as well as fuelling fears that insurgent groups will have a ready pool of recruits to continue their fight against the government.