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Afghan president cautions about mineral windfall

International Desk |
Update: 2010-06-25 23:51:29

KABUL: Afghanistan`s stunning untapped mineral wealth could prove to be a curse rather than a blessing for the war-ravaged country if it is not managed properly, the nation`s president said on Saturday.

Afghan government officials recently said the country`s mineral deposits could be worth up to three trillion dollars, tripling an earlier US estimate.

"If our country does not have a very solid government foundation and if we do not set up strong regulations for exploration of minerals, 10 years from now these very same rich underground resources could become disastrous for us," President Hamid Karzai said.

He told a gathering of hundreds of people that Afghans should to be cautious of plots to weaken the government to extract Afghanistan`s huge reserves of lithium, iron, copper, gold, niobium, mercury, cobalt and other minerals.

"These companies do not come here for our interests -- they are after their own interests even if it`s at the cost of weakening the government, the people and feeding and strengthening corruption so they can easily exploit," he said.

Karzai went on to say that Iran in the 1950s and several African countries were examples of countries that were destabilised so that their rich natural resources could be exploited by foreign companies.

Afghanistan already has a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

The former minister of mines was dropped from the cabinet in February after being accused of accepting a 30 million dollar in bribe in return for awarding a Chinese company the country`s biggest copper mine contract.
The mineral wealth of Afghanistan has remained largely unexploited because the country has been mired in conflict for three decades and is today embroiled in an insurgency by Islamist militants led by the Taliban.

But the government has said the findings of a recently completed US geological survey could transform Afghanistan from one of the world`s most impoverished nations become one of the richest.

Current minister of mines Wahidullah Shahrani on Friday promised total transparency in the awarding of contracts to exploit the country`s mineral wealth during a trip to London to woo foreign investment.

BDST: 1917 HRS, June 26, 2010

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