The Taliban entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, regaining control of the country and its huge deposits of gold, iron, copper, zinc, lithium and other rare earth metals, as the war-torn nation is sitting on one of the richest troves of minerals in the world.
In 2010, an internal Pentagon memo stated that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium, after American geologists discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in the mountainous landlocked country, far beyond any previously known reserves.
Fast forward to 2021, those resources still remain almost entirely untapped and are estimated to be worth between $1 trillion and $3 trillion, according to an article written by Ahmad Shah Katawazai, a former diplomat at the Afghan Embassy in Washington D.C. published on The Diplomat in February last year.
More recently, a report by The Hill in April 2021 put the value at about $3 trillion. And yesterday (August 16) Rod Schoonover, head of the ecological security program at the Center for Strategic Risks, a Washington think tank, told Quartz: “The Taliban is now sitting on some of the most important strategic minerals in the world.”
Various rare earth elements are used for making key components of phones, cameras, computer disks, TVs, laptops and other mobile devices. They also have applications in clean energy and defence industries (precision-guided weapons, drones, stealth aircraft, etc).
Global demand for lithium, a silvery metal essential for electric vehicles and renewable energy batteries, is projected to skyrocket 40-fold above 2020 levels by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.
Geopolitical competition over rare Earths will intensify as their geostrategic importance rise exponentially with global demand continuing to grow for these critical components of renewable energy technology and advanced electronics
China dominates the rare earths market globally. About 35% of rare earth global reserves are in China, the most in the world, according to the United States Geological Survey.
In 2019, the US imported 80 per cent of its rare earth minerals from China, while the EU states got 98 per cent of these materials from the Asian country.
Afghanistan’s potential is great but mineral wealth has a long history of fueling conflict in unstable countries.