The Trillion-dollar Afghan Battlefield


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Afghanistan just got its worst news since the Soviet invasion three decades ago: American geologists have charted as much as a trillion dollars’ worth of mineral deposits in that tormented landscape.

Up to now, Afghanistan’s internal factions and neighbors have been fighting over worthless dirt, Allah and opium. Assigning the battlefield a trillion-dollar value is not a prescription for reconciliation. Expect “The Beverly Hillbillies” scripted by Satan.

Even were Afghanistan at peace, its endemic corruption would generate a grabocracy — a Nigeria, not a Norway. Throw in inherited hatreds and the appetites of its neighbors, and Afghanistan may end up more like eastern Congo, a playground for state-sanctioned murderers and looters.

Beyond reportedly vast deposits of rare minerals (lithium, etc.) essential to popular technologies, there’s copper, cobalt, iron and gold in them thar hills. Afghanistan never before offered so much to fight over.

Instead of making life easier for our troops, the finds will make it harder to disengage. Washington will succumb to arguments that we need to preserve access to these strategic resources, even though it’s far cheaper to buy them than to prolong a military protectorate. (US firms won’t get the good contracts, anyway.)

We already provide strategic security for Chinese mining interests in Afghanistan — having been chumped by the Karzai government out of the gate. Now the Chinese will arrive in hordes, bribing and smiling.

The Russians will also take a renewed interest. And the Iranians have already crept into western Afghanistan (where key deposits are located). The potential for violence spilling across more borders — including into unstable Central Asia — will be enormous.

But the gravest danger of an all-out shootin’ war comes from Pakistan and India. Until the revelation of these finds, Islamabad (which continues to support the Afghan Taliban) just wanted strategic depth in the event of a war with New Delhi, while India had engaged in Afganistan just to frustrate Pakistan.

Now Pakistan, a country in which the powerful have already stolen all there is to steal, will develop delusions of grandeur about controlling Afghanistan’s subsurface wealth. And India’s swelling economy will develop a sudden hunger for Afghan minerals.

China will side with Pakistan, exploiting Islamabad as a proxy. Iran may line up with China and Pakistan, as well. Pakistan will turn up the heat in Kashmir. The “Great Game” of yore is about to become Monopoly played with corpses.

Afghanistan’s one hope was that, eventually, outsiders would leave it alone. That hope’s gone now. Development of a full-blown mining industry will take decades, but that just means decades of violent competition.

Back in the happy-face United States, optimists insist that these Afghan finds will fund good government, security and development. Ain’t gonna happen. A country living on aid and opium won’t go Harvard Business School when megawealth floods in (the opium trade won’t disappear, either). And the environmental damage will put BP to shame.

Meanwhile, we can’t manage the war we’ve got. The CIA, at least, keeps killing al Qaeda terrorists across the border in Pakistan. But our troops, in the words of one fighter on the ground, just “patrol, patrol and patrol, making themselves IED magnets.”

Afghan National Army training is showing progress, but President Hamid Karzai just dumped his two most pro-American ministers, and our ballyhooed Kandahar offensive — delayed yet again — has begun to seem like “Brigadoon” with body armor.

It’s high time to ask ourselves the basic question about Afghanistan that we’ve avoided since we made the decision to stay: What do we get out of it?

“Chinese access to strategic minerals” is not an adequate answer.


NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Endless War: Middle Eastern Islam vs. Western CivilizationHis most recent novel is “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. His most most recent non-fiction book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” He is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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