After years of stalled attempts, the Taliban is finally giving China the “go ahead” to start work on a $3 billion Afghan copper mine that could bring huge financial returns to the area.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan directs all its Mujahideen to help in the security of all national projects that are in the higher interest of Islam and the country,” said the Taliban in a November 29th statement, reported CNBC.
However, the Afghan government dismisses the Taliban’s claims that it is “committed to safeguarding” the Mes Aynak site about 40km away from Kabul — home to the country’s largest copper deposit, but also to some of its greatest cultural treasures.
“The Taliban never protects projects, and it isn’t their job. There is no stake for a terrorist group in the [national] projects,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Faisal noted that the Taliban have “attacked highways, destroyed bridges, burned schools, clinics, and universities” over the past 15 years. In 2001, the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, statues that had been standing since the 6th century, watching over the Bamyan Valley in central Afghanistan.
The Mes Aynak site was signed over to China’s state-owned Metallurgical Group Corporation (MGC) in 2008. However, the Chinese company has been consistently delayed from starting work on the mine.
Although Afghan archaeologists have known about the archaeological importance of Mes Aynak, it wasn’t until 2010 that an excavation revealed the site contained rare 5th-century Buddhist domed temples known as stupas. With the copper mine threatening to destroy everything, archaeologists have attempted to raise international awareness to save the relics through a documentary.
“Mes Aynak is the most important discovery in my career,” said Qadir Temori, head preservation archaeologist at Mes Aynak. “We have worked so hard to protect this ancient site, even risking our lives to save it.”
But even when compared with the Afghan government’s ongoing conflict with the Taliban and its contractual struggle with MGC, the battle to save Mes Aynak for its archaeological value is still not the most pressing issue preventing the Chinese company from opening the copper mine.
To make way for the future mine, the Afghan government has forcibly relocated local villagers who say their human rights have been violated.
“We are all helpless. We don’t have a way to fight for our human rights,” said Lal Agha, a local village elder whose community has been relocated by the project.
“The government is responsible for creating [the security problems] by grabbing people’s lands, beating them up, and humiliating and disrespecting their values,” he continued. “It’s when people fight back, the government calls them ‘Al-Qaeda.'”
Even with all these concerns, the copper mine could also mean economic salvation to a region suffering from abject poverty.
A mine built to extract the 600-ton copper deposit estimated to be worth up to $1 trillion could create 7,000 jobs and inject the Afghan economy with $1.2 billion in revenue.
And with a 30-year lease on the site, MCG has time to wait a little longer before it begins extracting the valuable mineral resources that Afghanistan has come to be recognized for.
China has previously demonstrated its diplomatic resolve with its northwestern neighbor by hosting top-secret peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban last year.
And while the Taliban may be okay with a Chinese-operated mine operating in Afghanistan, Chinese aren’t so likely to forget that the Taliban had also kidnapped a Chinese tourist last year.
By Charles Liu
[Images via Saving Mes Aynak / Ministry of Mines and Petroleum]
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat