KABUL: Afghan authorities are deploying security forces to ensure that insurgents fighting to overthrow the government do not benefit from illegal mining, an official said on Wednesday.
The pledge follows recent reports that the Taliban earn tens of millions of dollars each year from illegal extraction and export of minerals, which the government has failed to keep safe.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said Afghan forces would do more to secure mineral deposits and prevent illegal mining across the country.
“The Taliban not only are benefiting from opium and drug smuggling, unfortunately they have also targeted the country’s mines — mines that are national asset of the country and the people,” Sediqqi said.
London-based advocacy Global Witness said Monday that mineral smuggling is now the Taliban’s second biggest source of funding, after drugs produced in the southern Afghan provinces. Helmand province, a Taliban heartland, is the source of opium from which most of the world’s heroin is produced. The annual opium output is valued at around $3 billion.
In recent years, police had secured several mines in eastern Logar and Khost provinces, where illegal extraction and smuggling of chromite ore had been going on, Sediqqi said.
Last year, police impounded 65 trucks carrying illegally mined lapis lazuli, a rare blue stone almost unique to northern Afghanistan. The lapis lazuli was being transported from the mines in Badakhshan province when the trucks were caught in Parwan province, close to Kabul, Sediqqi said.
Global Witness and the Kabul independent think tank Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit say the Taliban make up to $20 million a year in protection money from strongmen and officials who have taken control of the lapis lazuli mines in Badakhshan.
Much of the stone is smuggled through the Panjshir Valley, then to neighboring Pakistan where it is purchased by Chinese merchants who have it made into jewelry and ornaments for sale in China, where demand is high.
Global Witness accused China of colluding in a trade that funds the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government for 15 years.
Sediqqi conceded that not enough was being done to secure mines across the country, which are said to hold a wide range of minerals — copper, iron ore, gold, coal, lithium, marble, gems and much more — that could, if developed securely and transparently, generate substantial revenue for war-torn Afghanistan’s development.
The Afghan government banned lapis lazuli mining in early 2015 because the mines could not be secured. But the mining continued with impunity, with local police and politicians reportedly benefiting from the illegal extraction and export of the stone. The Global Witness report identifies warlords, police chiefs and politicians who it says benefit from the trade.