The government appears powerless to take back the operation and officials admit that the Taliban have greater control than they do over Afghanistan’s mining industry and its mineral wealth, valued at more than £800 billion. In fact, mining has become the group’s second-biggest income source after the opium trade, while government revenues have dwindled.
Lapis, prized for its intense blue colour, has been mined in Afghanistan for 9,000 years.
Nato forces hoped that the country’s mineral wealth would underpin its recovery when they ended combat operations in 2014. However, riddled with corruption and damned by mismanagement, the mining industry has been reduced to a shambles as the state is fractured by the insurgency.
Sigh. That £800 billion comes from a Pentagon report (of $1 trillion). But that’s the value of the minerals after they have been dug up and sold. It does not include the costs of doing the digging up, it’s a gross revenue number, not a margin one.
The Taliban are mining lapis lazuli in northern Afghanistan, marble and coal in central, southern and western provinces, and gypsum, chrome ore and talc in the east. A report by the Global Witness NGO last year placed their earnings from lapis alone at £16 million a year.
Even that’s not right:
In 2014 the two mining areas of Deodarra and Kuran wa Munjan alone provided around $20m to armed groups, according to rough but conservative estimates – equivalent to the government’s declared revenue from the entire extractive sector in 2013. This includes about $18m to Commander Malek and informal armed groups linked to him, and more than $1m each to the Taliban and to armed groups mainly allegedly associated with Zulmai Mujadidi.
Armed groups made at least $12m from lapis in 2015, according to rough but credible estimates, with a government ban on the trade in early 2015 countered by massive smuggling through the Panjshir valley. The Taliban increased their share of this as their strength grew, to an estimated $4m. As of mid 2016, payments to the Taliban reportedly amount to at least 50% of the revenue from the mines.