WASHINGTON: Afghanistan promised Monday to work with foreign investors to ramp up mining as the United States provided high-tech maps to help the war-torn nation exploit its natural wealth.
With US-led combat forces due to leave later this year, Afghanistan’s minister for mines and petroleum voiced confidence that his government would ensure security and approve legislation to bring clarity to investors.
“The only way we can have progress in our economy... is through mines, minerals and hydrocarbons. The way we think that can be done is that we do these deals transparently,” the minister, Mohammad Akbar Barakzai, said in Washington.
Barakzai said that the impoverished nation took in $146 million in revenue each year from mining but wanted to boost the figure to the billions by 2020. Barakzai was speaking at the Afghan embassy where the US Geological Survey ceremonially handed over data that provides Kabul with a high level of detail on mineral deposits and other features over 70 percent of the nation.
The data comes from hyperspectral imaging, an advanced technique in which planes create maps by detecting visible and near-infrared light reflected from the earth’s surface.
With the data, Afghanistan has become the only country in the world that is mostly mapped through hyperspectral imaging, said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the US Geological Survey. US geologists estimated in 2010 that Afghanistan was sitting on some $1 trillion in mineral deposits including copper, iron and lithium, a key material in batteries for electric cars. Afghan officials have put the estimate three times as high, raising hopes for a country rocked by war since the 1970s. However, investment is also strongly dependent on infrastructure — which has improved markedly since US-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 but still has gaps — as well as security.
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