KABUL: The Taliban said on Monday they were not in a hurry to give China access to Afghanistan’s lithium reserves, despite an offer to pay for access to the rich deposits of the metal.
Afghanistan has abundant mineral riches, which also include copper, gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, bauxite and iron. The US Department of Defense estimated in 2010 that it could be holding $1 trillion of untapped mineral deposits.
The country’s reserves of lithium are key to the global supply of a metal that is crucial to the production of batteries for electric vehicles.
Chinese company Gochin held talks with Afghan Mines and Petroleum Minister Shahabuddin Delawar last month and, according to the ministry, offered to invest $10 billion in mining the metal and employing 120,000 people for the operations.
But although the deal could fuel hopes for the revival of Afghanistan’s reeling economy, its Taliban rulers say they are in no rush.
“We are not in a hurry for the lithium contract, we will not take hurried steps and action in this regard. We are not obliged to give this contract only to China,” Hamayoon Afghan, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, told Arab News.
“It’s yet to be known when the contract will be signed and it’s not necessary for the contract to be signed only with China. We will consider our own benefits.”
Another government source, who was not authorized to talk to the media, told Arab News that a number of foreign companies had in recent months expressed interest in investing in Afghanistan’s mining sector.
The reason Beijing is interested in Afghanistan’s lithium reserves is related also to their proximity, according to Muhibullah Sharif, a political science expert in Kabul.
Afghanistan and China are connected by land through the narrow, resource-rich Wakhan Corridor.
“China wants to get it at a very low price and without applying any related international standards,” Sharif said.
“Such activity is intended to provide from one side raw materials for the industrialization of China and from other side to create a political block at the regional level against Western countries.”
While the Mining Ministry pledged after its meeting with China that the lithium would be processed entirely in Afghanistan and infrastructure would be built for the purpose, Sharif said he was skeptical about the commitment.
“It will be difficult for the Taliban to ensure that China will carry out its promises properly and in the interest of Afghanistan,” he said.