Workers at a production line of lithium-Ion coin batteries at a factory of the battery manufacturer Varta in Noerdlingen, Bavaria, Germany, 20 July 2020. EFE-EPA FILE/LUKAS BARTH-TUTTAS

Taliban sitting on a treasure trove of lithium as China lurks

Kabul, May 31(EFE).- The Taliban government is sitting on vast mineral reserves in Afghanistan in the form of lithium deposits which remain untapped due to decades of conflict in the country, drawing the interest of foreign investors, especially the Chinese.

“A recent survey conducted by the previous government showed that the discovered mines of lithium in Afghanistan are worth more than $3 trillion,” Ashiqullah Hamkar, an engineer employed at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, told EFE.

Most of Afghanistan’s lithium reserves are located in the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar and southwestern Helmand, while smaller deposits can be found in other parts of the country.

Following the withdrawal of the United States-led NATO from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s return to power, China sees a special oppotunity in the extraction of lithium and has conveyed its interest.

The Taliban government has previously mentioned that Chinese Company Gochin expressed its interest in investing $10 billion in lithium extraction in Afghanistan.

Recently, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum told media that several other countries are also ready to explore the sector.

However, some experts are of the opinion that the Chinese investment could undermine Afghan interests, especially as Beijing lacks skilled professionals and technical experts in this field.

“Contracts with China will not be beneficial to Afghanistan. The Chinese, at best, will get the contract and sit on it to keep control of the supply and prices of lithium,” economic analyst Noorullah Azizi told EFE.

While the Taliban government appears keen on signing multiple contracts with China in exchange for support and recognition on the international stage, experts believe Beijing will exploit the deals to serve its own interests.

“Looking at the recent contracts, it seems they will award lithium contracts also to China. Depending on only Chinese investment is dangerous for both economic and political aspects, (…) therefore we have to have other options as well,” Azizi said

Eiraj Faqiri, another economic analyst, underlined that the country’s takeover by the Taliban had made Afghanistan vulnerable to economic exploitation by China.

“Economics and politics are not separate anymore. A huge investment will benefit China, while Afghanistan would be the center of rivalry among superpowers,” Faquiri said.

“The other concern is the Taliban’s violation of human rights and extremist ideas. If the Taliban find enough financial resources (…) they will not be pressurized anymore and will continue violating rights, especially those of women,” the analyst added.

The Taliban government has claimed that the processing of the lithium deposits would be done within the country, and the Chinese investment would result in over 120,000 direct and a million indirect jobs as it would also involve other infrastructure projects.

Lithium, an important component in new-age batteries, is mostly used in manufacturing of mobile phones, vehicles, computers and drones, among other devices, and the demand for the mineral is expected to surge in the next few years.

In this regard, Afghanistan’s deposits could play a crucial role in the geopolitical developments of the region.

“If the Taliban handle the technical aspects of the contract well and invite other countries’ companies to invest, it will be a boost for Afghanistan’s economy. It is noteworthy that Afghan lithium is of better quality compared to other parts of the world,” Yasin Rahimi, an expert in the mining sector, told EFE. EFE