China's Copper Appetite Could Hold Key to Future
JALREZ VALLEY, March 7 (McClatchy Newspapers)
In the mountains south of Kabul, the U.S. Army is providing the security that will enable China to exploit one of the world's largest unexploited deposits of copper, earn tens of billions of dollars and feed its voracious appetite for raw materials.
U.S. troops set up bases last month along a dirt track that a Chinese firm is paving as part of a $3 billion project to gain access to the Aynak copper reserves. Some troops made camp outside a compound built for the Chinese road crews, who are about to return from winter break.
The U.S. deployment wasn't intended to protect the Chinese investment - the largest in Afghanistan's history - but to provide strategic security for Kabul. But if the mission provides the security that a project to revive national economy needs, the synergy will be welcome.
"When you have men who don't have jobs, you can't bring peace," said Abdel Rahman Ashraf, a German-trained geology professor who's President Karzai's chief mining and energy adviser.
"When we take money and invest it in a project like Aynak, we give jobs to the people."
Indeed, the project could inject hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and taxes into national coffers and create thousands of jobs.
Beijing is working hard to complete the project and gain access to the estimated 240 million tons of copper ore that are accessible through surface mining.
The area is sown with mines; and China must complete an ambitious set of infrastructure projects, including Afghanistan's first national railway, as part of the deal.