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Afghan Metal: Sustainable Trade for a Stable Future
If history tells us anything, it is that lopsided deals create disastrous long term results. History seems to have a ready template. The weaker country usually lacks a proper overseer, executor, trustee or fiduciary that has the strength to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal. The foreign company grows frustrated with the weaker country’s tactics and inability to satisfy its needs, so it asks its home country to influence the weaker country into making a deal. The parties then strike a deal, with terms clearly advantageous to the foreign company. Not long thereafter, a nationalist revolt by the native population ensues.
In the end, foreign companies and the native populaces have paid consistently and dearly for such upheavals that are born from unrealistically asymmetrical trade deals.
Afghanistan’s future plight may be no different than the historical norm. Afghanistan’s newly (re)discovered natural resources place it in the sights of many a foreign power. Both India and China, in addition to Western economic forces, will welcome going to their own backyard rather than going to far-flung locations such as Sierre Leone and Angola, respectively, for the extraction of important raw materials. So how will Afghanistan prepare to negotiate for positive terms that are both economically and politically sustainable for itself and simultaneously attractive for multinational investment? Much of its educated and financially-capable elite that would have been groomed for the task have long since fled and have yet to return as the fighting and instability continues.
The resources beneath the earth cannot readily be taken and used to supply the war chests of bandit-armies in the way cocaine does for the FARC in Colombia, heroin does for the Taliban, or blood diamonds have done for certain militia groups in sub-Saharan Africa. It is not, as some argue, within the scope of the Taliban's core competency to gain control over the scattered locations of the discovered veins of valuable metals. After all, they carry Kalashnikovs, not hard hats and blueprints, and if they had the expertise to develop the mines, they would have done so based on the old plans the Russians had already developed. That line of reasoning resembles exploring why the Maoist rebels in India have not developed a tech support call center for Dell computers.
Valuable metals, like oil, require order, peace, and technology to be profitably and consistently extracted, as the hiatus in infrastructural development created by decades of continuous war has shown it to be true in Afghanistan. It is imperative for a new approach: the borrowing of competent, experienced experts and power players to act as fiduciaries to oversee the development of Afghanistan’s mining industry in this time of transition.
This “Council of Fiduciaries” must be made up of an alliance of both the most important stakeholders of Afghanistan’s future as well as international experts in order to imbue any trade deal with the oversight and enforcement needed to create sustainable long term business endeavors to develop a mining industry. With strong and wise fiduciaries overseeing Afghanistan as its trustees, whether they come from a powerful domestic elite, the U.S. Government, NGOs, international entities, a consortium of private companies or some competent mixture of the players mentioned, Afghanistan may stand a fighting chance and avoid monopolistic control over its resources, and reciprocally, international firms can see a more stable environment for their operations to continue for the long term. Consequently, Afghanistan, international firms and countries associated with the latter, may all prosper. More regulated competition among the seekers of this resource also means a stronger natural negotiating stance for the people of Afghanistan and their government and more checks on abuses both from outside the government and within it.
New stable and self-sustaining industries can one day incorporate former insurgents into mainstream industry and rehabilitate a large part the country's potential manpower away from warfare and drug trafficking, spreading peace and development rather than destruction. The profits Afghanistan will recover from mining can surely boost its investment in infrastructure, creating opportunities for valuable reinvestment in the development of the nation. Much needed roads, schools, agricultural programs, and a myriad of other infrastructural programs, will all spring up with proper management and oversight. Through benevolent stewardship and oversight of negotiation and reinvestment by the U.S. and its fellow trustees, Afghanistan can heal, grow and re-enter the world market.
Responsible and well-regulated globalization can help Afghanistan avoid the instabilities that have plagued many other nations while setting the stage for its advancement. However, until global fiduciaries come together to shield Afghanistan from the world's raw hunger for its metals, Afghanistan, despite years of unfathomable endurance, remains an exposed and vulnerable nation unprepared to face its greatest challenge and source of progress yet: international trade.
J.D. Candidate, Washington College of Law (2011)