China’s embassy in Afghanistan warned its companies and citizens on Friday not to “blindly” visit the country to inspect mineral resources, after reports of foreigners being detained without exploration permits.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has “extremely strict” standards for issuing permits for prospecting for minerals, the embassy said, adding that companies and individuals that do this without a permit risk being detained.
“Currently there have been many incidents of foreign citizens being detained without permits in various parts of Afghanistan,” it said in a statement on its website.
Afghanistan was estimated by a former mines minister in 2010 to have untapped mineral deposits worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion, ranging from copper to gold to rare earths.
It also has large reserves of lithium, a key component used for the batteries of electric vehicles, but lacks the infrastructure needed to mine it.
Specially Arranged Visas
Representatives of several Chinese companies visited Afghanistan last month on specially arranged visas to inspect potential lithium projects, the state-backed Global Times reported in November.
China is the world’s top consumer of minerals and has invested in projects in many of the world’s resource-rich countries, including Afghanistan.
Analysts say Beijing has much to gain from investing in Afghanistan.
“China is the most likely power to benefit owing to its politically neutral stance,” Nicholas Fitzroy, a senior analyst for the Middle East and North Africa at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said.
“The economic benefits [China] can offer through infrastructure investment, financing and trade are more significant than other competitors,” he added.
Taliban ‘Deter Investment’
Western miners have said the recent change in government in Afghanistan in favour of the Taliban would deter investment in the country.
The Taliban took over the country in August, leading to an abrupt withdrawal of foreign aid that has left Afghanistan’s fragile economy on the brink of collapse and facing increased insecurity.
An economic recovery in Afghanistan is complicated by widespread drought, the collapse of rural livelihoods and civil upheaval, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said.
At least 18.8 million people are facing acute food insecurity – unable to feed themselves on a daily basis – and that number is projected to rise to 22.8 million people by the end of 2021.
FAO said it would support farmers and herders with seeds, fertiliser, cash and other support to keep agricultural production going and to avoid widespread famine.
- Reuters, with George Russell