Sunday, June 13, 2010

Afghanistan Wins the World Lottery

No, not the World Cup. Not even close.

All the reports are linking to The New York Times but whenever I open the NYT website, it messes up my computer.

[Must be a conservative computer, trained to shut down when it encounters an evil liberal site? Well, that’s the simplified technical explanation. The more complicated one involves fairies with cookies]

Anyway, the story is a stunner. Here are a few details accompanied by some cynical commentary from Durden Tyler at Zero Hedge:

And there are those who wonder why the US has spent countless dollars and thousands of dead soldiers protecting a few desolate mountain passes in Afghanistan. And no, it turns out it is not just the opium trade.

The NYT reports that “The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.”

“Fundamentally alter the Afghan economy”...or drive it to the very apex of Saudi degraded corruption? Just sayin’…

This is akin to a destitute street person winning millions in the lottery. While everyone is happy for his ‘good’ fortune it isn’t long before the money’s gone - taken by every opportunist who can manage to grab him - and then he’s back on the street, in worse shape than before.

Again, from Mr. Durden - I like his style:

The article continues, “The previously unknown deposits - including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium - are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.” Ah yes - “previously unknown.”

Yet the punchline of the piece: “The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists.”

One ponders the words “ a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists”… so what were these officials and scientists actually doing out there in the badlands of Afghanistan? Backpacking? Trekking?

Mr. Durden opines drily:

Because $1 trillion worth of minerals just lie there waiting to be discovered almost 10 years after the initial incursion. Next thing you know FCX already had an entire mining infrastructure in place just in case a contingency like this miraculously occurred.

Wha?? You don’t believe in miracles? Here’s FCX for those of us who don’t keep up with precious metal commodities.

Meanwhile, sez Durden:
- - - - - - - - -
… look for gold prices to plunge as the newly uncovered gold deposits are rumored to be “large” enough to once again refill Fort Knox and to push the supply curve three miles to the right.

More on this truly “stunning” discovery:

The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

he previously unknown deposits - including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium - are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and Blackberries.

According to the commenters at the Zero Hedge site, many of them far more cynical than Mr. Durden,…“dream on”.

I can’t wait to see the headlines that claim we have known this for years and we only went to Afghanistan for the minerals, just like we only ventured into Iraq for the oil. Of course the Chinese ended up with the Iraqis’ oil, so who do you think will get the Afghan minerals?

Mr. Durden thinks we will:

Is it time for “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: Part 2, the 21st Century paradigm”? Yet presumably not all is as expected: “Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact. Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.”

Which is why it will be best to have the US military not only stay in Afghanistan indefinitely but to get a million man reinforcement surge. After all now that it is finally becoming clear that the most recent US state is located somewhere in the middle of Asia, things are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

General Petraeus thinks it’s got a “stunning potential”. The paranoid Greek choruses in some of the financial blogs think that Big Satan planned this all along. Or that it’s just some “misdirection” to take our attention off the American economy or the soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Hmmm…I have a novel idea: let’s wait and see what happens before we start throwing stones, shall we?

Meanwhile, we could start training the Afghan people to learn “The Star Spangled Banner”. We’ll round up some robust Pashtun singers for the grand finale.

12 comments:

Zenster said...

This is akin to a destitute street person winning millions in the lottery.

Hardly. Resource extraction on this sort of scale rarely, except in the case of bribery, makes piles of money magically appear.

News of this began to surface over a year ago when China announced a 30 year copper extraction lease worth $88 billion.

China's participation almost automatically assures that the usual flock of corrupt vultures will start to circle:

When the Government selected the Chinese company, some rivals grumbled that it should not benefit from the security and aid that Western countries were providing. Others accused the Chinese of paying kickbacks, as their offer was $1 billion higher than expected.

Ranking near the very bottom at #176 on Transparancy International's Corruption Perceptions Index, Afghanistan's people will most likely see very little of that wealth sifting down to their level. As with its entire history, much of the loot will end up in the pockets of 0.0001% of Afghanistan's population.

The wars and killing will continue. Only the objectives will change, if slightly. Meanwhile, the West will spend trillions more to provide security for a Chinese mining operation.

Anonymous said...

I want to know why our tax dollars are being spent doing mineral exploration for Muslim terror states. If any of this stuff is extracted I guarantee the Taliban will get billions to fund their terror activities. Morons.

kritisk_borger said...

So what is the current US military strategy in Afghanistan, to defeat the Taliban? I personally think that this is an unachievable task. The Taliban has taken control over large areas on the Pakistani side of the border, and there is never going to be a shortage of new willing Taliban recruits. Pakistan is full of them and there are people from all over the Muslim world ‘dying’ to get a chance to join in the jihad against the ‘great Satan’. The US has been in the country for nearly a decade now and the Taliban is still there going strong.

And besides I don’t believe that the people of Afghanistan wants a US style democracy in their country so trying to introduce one is a big mistake. And regarding the Chinese oil in Iraq, the US is so indebted to the Chinese that the Chinese could probably ‘influence’ the US on certain matters if they wanted to. The US used this tactic against the Brits in the Suez crisis.

I also read an article some time ago in which the author suggested that it would have been a lot smarter for the US to buy all opium crops in Afghanistan and resell it to pharmaceutical companies in the US and Europe for profit. The farmers in Afghanistan then wouldn’t have to sell it to dodgy drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban. And it would have been a lot cheaper than having tens of thousands of US troops chasing after a person who is most likely dead.

But then again that would probably have been bad for business for some of the large companies selling weapons and services to the US army.

Anonymous said...

In the long run, I don't think this will make much of a difference. Extraction will take huge outside investment, the kind not likely to happen until the security situation improves. Further, as has been pointed out, Afghanistan has a very high corruption index. Corruption is a capitalism killer. When every profitable enterprise gets squeezed from all sides just to stay in business, it quickly becomes unprofitable. Foreign investors will factor that into their decision to invest.

It is very likely that Russian and British geologists also noticed the mineral wealth. There is a reason why it is still undeveloped.

If the Chinese begin copper mining, you can expect them to make a bigger contributioin to security, even if only local security near their mines. They further will likely local miners who would otherwise be taliban fighters.

But if there is to be mineral exploitation, it couldn't happen to a nicer place. No EPA. No rules against strip mining. The land there is already so wasted that it would make very little difference.

Look for National Geographic to to a Photo essay in 20 years about all the new diseases that modern life has brought to the peaceful thriving culture of Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

What Afghanistan really needs is to host the next World Cup Soccer games. That would really turn them around, just like South Africa.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe we'll find that the price of gold will plunge. It's being viewed as currency and there is no way there is enough in the ground in Afghan to make a difference when it comes to how in debt the world governments are.

DirtCrashr said...

Listen to the story of a Soldier named Jed,
Infantry grunt barely kept his family fed,
Then one day was huntin' caves in the 'Stan,
Then out of a hole came a bunch of Taliban - with lithium, minerals and gold and such. And he shot 'em.

Painlord2k said...

A positive point of this is mining development need investments, very large investments. So, if the government want the money from the mines, it need to guarantee the security of the workers. If you look at Saudi Arabia or Angola, you will note that [diamond] mines (or the oil fields) are heavily protected.
The bandits that currently are used to protect poppy fields and opium trading can be used/paid to protect the mines and the workers.
The government in power will protect a source of revenues like this at the best of his ability.
With enough money the government could be able to be self-supporting and not be dependant on foreign troops to survive.

Zenster said...

For DirtCrashr:

(With apologies to Paul Henning)

Sung to the tune of:

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES

Come ‘n hear a sura ‘bout a man named Mohammed
Had himself nine wives, barely kept his family fed
Then one day, he was shootin’ at some Jews
And up through the ground come a bubblin’ crude
Oil, that is, black gold, Arabic tea

Well, the first thing you know, old Mo’s a terrorist
Kinfolk said, he’s a salafist!
Said the Caliphate is the place you oughta be
So he loaded up his camels and moved to Galilee
West Bank, that is, bomb belts, gun sex

Well, now it’s time to say goodbye to Mo and all his kin
Got a few payloads that’ll soon be droppin’ in
You’re all advised to back away from this locality
Or you’ll get a heapin’ helpin’ of radioactivity
American, that is, burn in hell, blow your curly toed slippers off …

Y’all rot in Hell now, hear?

ToreyDawn said...

Not so breaking news: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=1819

xlbrl said...

This is simply very old news recycled. The Obama administration ginned up the report to present new incentives to our "allies" for staying in the alliance, which they are not going to do. Their withdrawal will make for unbridgeable difficulties in sustaining Obama's lack of policy in that region.

ZZMike said...

"... discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan..."

Wow! That's great news! Only twelve more of those and we could pay off the Federal deficit.

Still, this does put a new hat on that dog. Opium crops may now become petty cash.

I'm a bit skeptical about how "a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists" could determine the total value of Afghanistan's mineral content. Maybe there's a device of some sort, that you plug a probe into the ground, and a meter, graduated in trillions, indicates the underlying value.

I think the stuff would have to be lying around above ground - gold nuggets and such, to reveal a rich strike.

As to the copper, that's been used for a few millennia for tools and objects - is there any history of the Bronze age in Afghanistan? If so, then there's a good case for the find.

I just found this:
Afghanistan Bronze Age

"Among the hidden treasures [of the National Museum in Kabul] were Bronze Age gold pieces, hundreds of ancient coins, and the famous "Bactrian hoard," a collection of some 20,000 gold, silver, and ivory objects from burial plots at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan."

Zenster: "Afghanistan's people will most likely see very little of that wealth sifting down to their level..."

Sorta like Saudi Arabia, where the princes live like princes and the people at the bottom live like, well, people at the bottom.