Part 3 of 3
Right now, Afghanistan depends on foreign donor money for more than 90 percent of its budget. Decades of war and Taliban repression have left its business institutions fragile. A good part of its own homegrown economy is illicit – think poppy – while another part, the bakeries, groceries and SIM card purveyors, might operate in more of a gray area. Bank laws, tax codes and related legalities have had to all be rewritten, modernized and put into effect. For the first time, Afghanis are using the banking system to deposit weekly paychecks (as opposed to stuffing cash around the house.) Visa has only offered credit card services there since 2008.
One hope to boost the domestic economy is through the mining sector. Afghanistan is blessed with a treasure chest of precious minerals and metals such as gold, copper, iron ore and chromite as well as oil and gas reserves that could be worth as much as $1 billion. We traveled by helicopter from Camp Morehead, to Ghazni province about halfway between Kabul and Kandahar to visit a copper and gold mine that was initially explored by the Soviets in the ’70s and ’80s. The U.S. Geological Service digitized their old maps and is now preparing to offer tenders to mining companies interested in excavating the metals. It’s one of several sites being opened in the hopes that the mines will generate economic development, not only from the wealth they extract but through related jobs they create in villages nearby.
The potential is huge. But mining projects are not overnight fixes. The infrastructure needed to support the mine and the surrounding roads will not be built quickly. A thriving mining village might not take hold for several years. And, there is the worry over insurgency. The area is still considered “hot,” — the special forces officer who led the team that cleared the site before we landed said he felt our security situation was secure but that “the Taliban does know we are here.”