Afghanistan is teetering on the edge. A little-known bill just passed the upper house of its parliament that could help counter threats to the country's stability and future development, but only if the U.S. government works with Afghanistan to ensure that it is fixed before it becomes law.
The United States hopes that Afghanistan's $1-trillion mineral wealth will kick-start the economy, reduce dependency on U.S. aid and ultimately fund Afghan security forces that can stand up to the Taliban. However, there is a serious risk this measure would instead fuel corruption and conflict, while generating little revenue for the government but a lot for insurgents and warlords.
A significant part of the last 30 years of conflict has been funded from the proceeds of natural resources, including emeralds and rubies. Initial research by Global Witness confirms that the Taliban and other armed groups are still taking a significant cut from mining in many parts of the country.
So the mining law matters. What the proposed law, which would replace an existing one, is supposed to do is set out how contracts for the vast mineral riches are granted, who is eligible to get them, what taxes they will pay and what protections there are for the environment and local communities. It should help determine whether the Afghan people receive their fair share of revenue from their natural wealth, or whether power brokers and corrupt officials will pocket the funds in dirty deals. It should spell out whether ordinary Afghans have any right to know who owns the contracts.
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