Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cursed With Riches?

Does the discovery of vast, previously unknown mineral deposits in its territory count as good news for Afghanistan, or bad? While the article discusses the country's potential as a "mining superpower", and even says that it could become the "Saudi Arabia of lithium" due to its rich deposits of the increasingly expensive and in-demand metal, if there's one thing we've learned from the post-colonial histories of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, it's that for a country already contending with violence, tribal tensions, and a corrupt, ineffectual central government of questionable sovereignty, adding valuable natural resources to the mix rarely improves the situation. Afghanistan is already in arguably worse shape than any other country on the planet, with numerous factions already battling each other to the death even with nothing but territory, ideology, and tribal grievance to fight over. Throw in mineral riches as a potential accelerant for the flames and, well - it doesn't bode well when you look at the precedent set by Iraq. Or Nigeria. Or Sierra Leone. Or Indonesia. It's a bit early to make predictions, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me if in the end, it doesn't turn out that Afghanistan would have been better off had the primary resources for which it is known remained carpets, camels, and heroin, with the valuable stuff left in the ground until society had a chance to stabilize a bit more.

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