Who owns Afghanistan’s riches?

Aijaz Zaka Syed

A New York Times report has confirmed what many have long suspected: That Afghanistan, like Iraq, is sitting on the vast reserves of rich mineral resources and precious metals and that the invasion and occupation of the country has nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or Shaikh Osama.

The untapped mineral deposits that include huge quantities of iron, gold, copper, cobalt and critical industrial metals such as lithium are said to be so huge and so rich that the war plagued and long exploited Afghanistan could change forever, emerging as one of the most important and affluent mining centres in the world.

So much so an internal Pentagon memo suggests that the Central Asian country could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a precious raw material used in the making of batteries for laptops and mobile phones.

The findings are based on a survey carried out by the US Geological Survey, Pentagon and the Afghan government. However, it is not the US that has discovered this limitless treasure that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, agrees offers “stunning potential.”

The survey was carried out on the basis of some old charts and data collected by Afghan engineers and Soviet mining experts.

Clearly, the Russians had been aware all along of the mineral jackpot that the dirt poor, underdeveloped Afghanistan had been sitting on when they invaded the country in 1979.

The Russian bear however had to beat it after years of disastrous occupation and a debilitating war. They not just had to fly by night with all their plans to plunder Afghanistan but the disaster changed Russia forever.

It’s a great irony of history that it is not America’s military might, its fancy weapons or its state of the art Star wars programme but the rudimentary, rustic weapons and legendary bravery of the Afghans that brought down the Soviet giant, changing the course of history forever.

And it’s an even greater irony that the US has drawn no lessons from the fate of the evil empire, as Ronald Reagan would call it. Uncle Sam has rushed headlong, eyes wide shut, to dig himself deep into the Afghan quagmire not long after the humiliating retreat of the Russian bear.

After the 9/11 strikes when our friend George W Bush was preparing to “shock and awe” Afghanistan, promising a “new crusade” of ‘With Us or Against Us,’ some solitary voices around the world dared to suggest Afghanistan was being invaded because of its rich natural resources.

Some of them went to the extent of questioning the official version on the 9/11 attacks, implying they had been part of a vast conspiracy involving US intelligence agencies, neocons and Zionists to invade and take over the resources of Muslim countries.

At the time, those conspiracy theories sounded like the loony tunes of a feverish, overactive imagination even to me. Given the shocking poverty and backwardness of Afghanistan, the idea sounded totally bizarre.

I am not so sure any more though. Especially after the absurd lengths to which the US has gone and the kind of outlandish excuses it invented to invade Iraq, the world’s largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia.

And remember, before Iraq it was Iran. If the Iranians, one of the most cultured and civilized people anywhere, distrust and despise the Americans, British and virtually all of the West from the depths of their hearts, there are enough reasons for it.

In fact, there’s a long history of conspiracies, manipulation and old fashioned exploitation by big powers against Iran.

From playing petty games with the last Shah of Iran to deposing his defiant father to sending mercenaries to bring down Prime Minister Dr Mosaddeq, the Middle East’s first elected leader, they have tried every trick in the book to cheat Iranian people out of the rich resources God has gifted them.

The fun hasn’t stopped even with the fall of Shah and the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The continuing UN sanctions and the talk of “action” against Tehran, driven by you know who, only rub salt into the deep wounds on Iranian psyche. No wonder the nuclear programme has become an issue of national prestige for most Iranians, even to those ostensibly opposed to the ayatollahs.

Of course, this long saga of colonial exploitation has not been limited to the Middle East. This game is as old as the history of Western colonialism itself. From Africa to India to the Far East, it’s the same story of exploitation everywhere. It’d be no exaggeration to suggest that the West’s breathtaking march to industrial and scientific progress has been fuelled and driven by the riches of the so-called Third world.

It’s become fashionable for Western wonks to rile against crushing poverty, endemic corruption and misrule in much of Africa. But who created this mess in the first place in a continent that is a vast, big mine of incredible riches? Who colonised, ruled and exploited Africa at gunpoint for over four centuries? In fact, who has ruled and exploited much of the world over the past few centuries, plundering it to fill their own coffers?

India, the jewel in the crown, was denuded and robbed of all its beauty and brilliance by the time the last British viceroy flew into the empire’s sunset. Kohinoor, the legendary diamond in Queen Elizabeth’s crown mined from Golconda, is the ultimate testament to our colonial masters’ insatiable craving.

You would forgive and forget it all if it had been a mere page from a hoary, long forgotten history. But it’s not. This game of exploitation is still a living, breathing reality. Western colonialism may be dead but the mindset is very much alive in one form or the other. Players may have changed but policies haven’t. Yesterday, it was the East India Company. Today, it’s Uncle Sam’s trigger-happy boys or mighty multinational corporations.

However, the Americans may have the deadliest arms known to man and infinite resources at their disposal. History, geography and time, however, are on the other side. This is a war Afghans have never lost. Not in the past, not now. Especially not now when they have to protect their national resources. Afghanistan’s riches belong to its people, not to the coalition of the willing.

The writer is opinion editor of the Khaleej Times. Email: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com

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