Lithium is a key component in batteries and other electronics.

Car with Lithium battery, Afghanistan Lithium, Afghanistan war, Afghanistan natural resource
[Car with Lithium-ion battery is being charged. ©Mike, Pexels]

There's a mineral rush taking place in a country ravaged by decades of conflicts with an estimated 1 to 3 trillion dollars worth of wealth buried under its land. Its deposits include copper, iron ore precious gems, gold and lithium. 


It's that last deposits of lithium that’s making countries India, Russia,  the United States and China desperate to get their hands  on its reserves. Today we are going to write about why Afghanistan is considered the new Saudi Arabia of Lithium. 


There are currently six top Lithium producing countries in the world. Bolivia has about one quarter of the entire global reserve with an estimated 21 million tonnes of it including the world's single largest  deposit. The Salar de Uyuni salt flat which is even visible from space. Argentina and Chile are the second and third largest producers worldwide. 


Read More : Is America responsible for Taliban resurgence? 


Lithium is a key component in batteries and other electronics that are becoming increasingly common particularly in electric vehicles and large scale battery storage. 


Governments are looking for reducing carbon emissions and dependency on oil by going green. That means storing renewable energy and making combustion engines a thing of the past. It's argued that Lithium will help make that possible with other tech advances. 


Currently, motor companies and mobile phone manufacturers use Lithium -ion batteries to power their products. For example, India is the second largest mobile phone manufacturer behind China and Narendra Modi government is keen for access to deposits in Afghanistan to power to power its own telecoms industry. 


China has monopolised the current lithium market controlling 80% of the world's raw material refining 77% of world's cell capacity and 60% of global component manufacturing. So, how the world knows Afghanistan has the largest lithium reserve? 

Soviet invasion Afghanistan, Soviet war in Afghanistan, Afghanistan war 1979, Soviet-Afghan war
[Soviet APC on a street of Afghanistan, 1979. ©Britannica ]

Well, through years of invasion and occupation, Afghanistan's mineral wealth was discovered in geographical survey’s during Russian occupation in the country in 1979 to 1989. After Russia left the Taliban shaped the country’s narrative before the 'war on terror' reshaped it. An international coaling bombed and occupied Afghanistan, it was then time for American geologists to verify Russia's research and conduct their own. 


By 2009 when Hamid Karzai was Afghan President, a Pentagon analysis at one location in Ghazni province showed the potentiality for lithium reserve as large as those of Bolivia. Years later, U.S. President Donald Trump hoped that Afghanistan's lithium reserve could repay some of $1 trillion to Americans had spent in occupying the country. 

US soldiers in Afghanistan, American soldiers in Afghanistan, US Afghan war, soldiers fighting in Afghanistan
[US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. ©NYT]


But the same problem exists today that did during the Soviet and U.S. occupations of the country. There's an ongoing violence between armed groups including state authorities, The Taliban and other non-state actors that see territory change hands seasonally. Corruption has contributed to infrastructure delay s,despite billions of dollars aid pouring into the country since 2001. 


Much of it vanishing into private bank accounts mining Afghanistan's minerals would be easy if the landlocked country had the access to a nearby port once Lithium was pulled out of the ground. And of course there are national and international players who use Afghanistan's instability to cut profit. 


China has been moving behind the scenes to smooth its way into the country and that has meant dealing with corrupt state and non-state players alike. These groups illegally mine and sell minerals in areas under their control to fund purchases of weapons from supportive countries . 


So while Afghanistan may be sitting on untold trillions in lithium reserves, there isn’t much hope that they'll be able to fund the rebuilding of the country until it becomes clear who will control all of it. And while Afghan leaders embezzle millions of dollars of ill-gotten loot, ordinary Afghans continue to live under poverty line.


Is that what the mankind wants?




Disclaimer : This article first appeared on TRT World's Decoded program. 

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