Chinese mining project in Afghanistan alarms Central Asian observers

By Rustam Temirov

Afghan workers fill containers from fuel tankers at an oil depot on the outskirts of Kabul in 2016.[WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP]

Afghan workers fill containers from fuel tankers at an oil depot on the outskirts of Kabul in 2016.[WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP]

TASHKENT -- A Chinese deal to extract oil and associated gas in the Amu Darya River basin in Afghanistan is raising concerns among observers in Central Asia.

Kabul authorities and Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Co. (CAPEIC) on January 5 inked a deal to extract oil from an area covering 4,500 square kilometres (1,737 square miles) in northern Sar-e-Pul, Jawzjan and Faryab provinces.

The 25-year contract also envisions the creation of an oil refinery in Afghanistan.

Jawzjan borders Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; Faryab borders Turkmenistan.

Uzbek border guards patrol the Amu Darya River, which marks the Uzbek-Afghan border, in the autumn of 2015. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

Uzbek border guards patrol the Amu Darya River, which marks the Uzbek-Afghan border, in the autumn of 2015. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

Some 87 million barrels of crude oil are estimated to be in the Amu Darya basin.

The venture is expected to create 3,000 jobs, with more than $540 million to be invested during the first three exploratory years of the project.

Afghanistan will own a 20% stake in the new venture and initially will receive 15% of the profit from it. Under the contract, Afghanistan's share could reach 75%.

The two countries "should work together and co-operate closely to build the project into a successful model of China-Afghanistan co-operation, so it gives confidence for more foreign investors to develop their business in Afghanistan", Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan Wang Yu said at the signing ceremony.

"China and Afghanistan are linked by mountains and water and share the same fate," he said.

Even though they share a merely 76km-long border, China has long eyed Afghanistan as a source of key minerals.

In addition to oil and gas, Afghanistan has vast reserves of iron ore, copper, lithium, niobium, cobalt, gold and molybdenum.

CAPEIC's parent company, China's state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), signed a contract for the same Amu Darya projects in 2011, but the deal was scrapped years later over delays and lack of progress.

What's the problem?

Extracting oil and associated gas in the Amu Darya basin without complying with environmental standards could seriously harm Afghanistan's neighbours to the north, analysts in Central Asia told Caravanserai.

The deal is an apparent revival of the 2011 contract, according to Alisher Ilkhamov, director of the London-based organisation Central Asia Due Diligence.

On the one hand, the ambition of those in Afghanistan who want "to maximise the country's energy independence is understandable and completely legitimate," he told Caravanserai.

"But on the other hand, you need to consider your neighbours' interests in terms of environmental safety, especially if you keep in mind that the Amu Darya is one of two main arteries that provide the water supply to the whole region," Ilkhamov said.

There needs to be a bilateral or multilateral joint assessment of how any economic initiative in the Amu Darya basin could affect the water supply of the region's countries, he said.

Previous ventures, such as Uzbekistan's cotton industry, failed to do so in the past, he noted.

"As a result, we have the almost complete evaporation of the Aral Sea, and the pollution of the lower course of the Amu Darya by ... the accumulated runoff of [pesticides and salts] from the cotton fields," he said.

It is high time for all the relevant countries to band together to conduct a joint environmental assessment in the spirit of neighbourliness, he said, adding that analysts should assess the agreement between China and Afghanistan from the perspective of international law.

"But one thing is obvious [...] now China is trying to become Kabul's main partner, at least on the economic front," he said.

Many analysts also say China is trying to make Afghanistan economically and politically dependent on Beijing so that it can exploit the nation's mineral reserves as it has done in many other countries around the world.

'China couldn't care less'

The Chinese regime is pragmatic, noted Javlon Jurayev, a Tashkent-based economist.

"They have no principles other than to guarantee their own economic security, and that includes energy security. China, as an investor, doesn't much care where things stand with human rights in your country, or what environmental protection laws exist," he told Caravanserai.

"They'll bribe officials wherever they need to. Anything as long as they secure their investment," he said.

In that light, the oil project will not be good for the local population, Zhurayev said.

Under international water law, a country is not required to secure agreement from others when drawing water on its own territory from transboundary waters, said Vadim Sokolov, director of the Tashkent-based Agency of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS).

"It's enough to inform your neighbours. Of course this will affect the ecology of the Amu Darya basin but to what extent is still an open question," he told Caravanserai.

The project will affect and harm the environments of the neighbouring countries, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the majority of whose populations work in agriculture, said Nigara Khidoyatova, an Uzbek politician living in the United States.

"In the next decade, drought is a threat for these countries, and they'll surely be thinking about what damage they'll suffer from the development of these oil-producing areas. But China couldn't care less about that," Khidoyatova said.

"This project is more than a gamble. It has no economic advantages. But China apparently thinks it's important to plant its flag in Afghanistan," she said.

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It is a fact that Afghanistan's mines are remaining from being extracted. And the reason is that we got into a war with the Soviet Union for the interests of the West. While the West left us and our country alone after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces. I remember well as the Afghan widows and orphans were begging and living without any income. The city of Kabul was destroyed by the warring groups created by the Pakistani intelligence. In other cities, the government system was destroyed and people lived as in the Middle Ages. Anyway, during the rule of Ashraf Ghani, who from the bottom of his heart wanted to rehabilitate Afghanistan, the warlords were supported by Iran, Pakistan and Western countries and did not let them to be restrained by Ghani Administration. In any case, the current government must first of all fulfill the requirements of the international community so that they recognize their government and then start giving mining contracts. Otherwise, any contracts they sign with Pakistan, China, Iran or Russia, etc., are illegal because the current government of Afghanistan has neither national nor international legitimacy.


Death to the dirty China and hypocrite Pakistan who interfere in Afghanistan's affairs and loot Afghanistan's mines. Even though China and Pakistan illegally take away Afghanistan's mines, they are not honest with the Taliban government either. The reason is that, if they were really honest, they should have recognized the Taliban's government. The benefit of what China and Pakistan are doing in Afghanistan at the moment goes only to China and Pakistan and that's it. In my opinion, this way, China wants to bring its One Belt One Road system to Afghanistan, but we wonder what benefit China will bring to other countries? None. Because it has not provided any financial aid to Afghans. We want China's One Road One Belt project to be stopped in Pakistan's Baluchistan. For this purpose, it would be better to provide financial and weapons' assistance to Baloch armed groups, and also to provide a Baloch television channel and a Baloch radio channel in the framework of Radio Liberty and Voice of America so that the voice of Baloch people can reach the world.


Taking advantage of the absence of a legitimate and legal government in Afghanistan, China and Pakistan are boldly looting Afghanistan's mines. These mines are Afghanistan's national capital and Afghans have responsibility to protect these mines for the future generations, but as you can see, the Taliban consider these mines as their heritage and give them to whoever they want. Meanwhile, the Taliban talk about mining every day, but they don't help the people, they don't pay teachers and doctors, and they don't do development work. So, what happens to the mining money? It is clear that it is being stolen. Afghan people should not allow China and Pakistan to loot our mines, otherwise, this last hope of Afghans will be lost.


Mining by China in Afghanistan has not only worried Central Asian observers, but many of our compatriots are worried about the signing of the mining agreement with China by the Taliban, and they believe that such wrong actions of the Taliban will destroy the country's national wealth. The Afghan people say that this group has no domestic or international legitimacy, cannot represent Afghanistan and has no authority to make decisions regarding the country's national assets. Experts in the field of mining believe (those with experience in this field) that the Taliban have extensively exploited and smuggled minerals for the past 20 years and still want to continue mining without accounting and bookkeeping with weak and illegitimate agreements and to provide the opportunity to sell mineral resources widely to their local supporters and fill their pockets. Many citizens have written on social media pages that "the unexpected revenues of these agreements cannot fill the economic gaps of Afghanistan in any way." These efforts of the Taliban are launched only to fulfill their own needs. They believe that signing agreements with Chinese companies have dangerous consequences for Afghanistan and that this country gives minimal benefit to the host countries in terms of mining in all African countries.


Mining in Afghanistan has always been a severe challenge and concern. The previous government could not take practical and decisive steps in this area due to a lack of transparency in agreements, widespread insecurity, the unwillingness of distinguished international companies due to administrative and financial corruption, and the lack of unprofessional representatives. The Taliban recently signed the first and most significant oil extraction contract in the Amu River basin with a Chinese company/companies for 25 years. At the same time, some citizens and experts consider the country's mines the only national wealth. They insist that no company or country has the right to sign an agreement with an illegal, incompetent, and irresponsible regime. The Taliban have signed the first and most significant oil extraction contract with China. In contrast, some experts have accused the Chinese government of collaborating with the Taliban in overthrowing the republican system and say that the country misuses the weakness of the current government and gets the mines at a low price. According to them, although China does not recognize the Taliban, it agrees with this group and does not consider its good neighborliness and international reputation. Some political figures, Afghan people, and former government officials say that the Taliban do not have domestic and international legitimacy, so they do not have the right to make decisions regarding Afghanistan's national assets. And it is als


Central Asian countries do not have the right to decide on the ongoing work in Afghanistan. It is the internal affairs of the Afghans how and when to mine their mines. Have we ever asked Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and others how they do their agricultural, educational, educational, and mineral affairs in their countries? Don't all these countries drink the water of the Amu River? Of course, the question is correct, why is the contract to explore these mines with China or Pakistan? China and Pakistan are not friends of our country. Pakistan has been killing our people directly and indirectly for five decades. China has not yet donated ten million dollars to our people in our five decades of wars on us. And if that is the case, then China has no right to work wherever they like in our country. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan were among the countries that sent their soldiers to the Soviet Union army to destroy our homeland and kill our people. Others should stay calm and not interfere in our country.


In short, America is ten times better than China for Afghans. Because America has helped Afghans in the development of Afghanistan and is doing so and has the ability and capacity to do so in the future. What is your point that China has helped us? So far, we have not seen any aid from China. Since the US is far away and cannot directly invest in Afghanistan, one way is to take Afghan youths, train them in American universities, and then give them machinery so that Afghans can mine Afghanistan's mines themselves. I may sound stupid, but why should America do this? America can do this with the hundreds of millions of dollars it helps Afghanistan. Long live the friendship between Afghanistan and America. Death to China, Iran, and Pakistan.


The concern of the Central Asian countries is very unfounded and foolish. I wish they were concerned about the poverty of Afghans. Afghans welcome anyone who works to improve their lives. If any country in the world comes and helps Afghans extract minerals, Afghans will welcome it. During the 40 years that the war was in Afghanistan, I had never heard that the Central Asian countries had expressed their concern. I say, come and work in Afghanistan so the Afghans can see the benefit, and you will also get your benefits. This way, Afghanistan will be developed, and wars will end in your neighborhood. But no, Central Asia did nothing like that but used Afghanistan as a market - brought their products and sold them here. Afghans never complained that their neighbors, especially Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, sent weapons and ammunition to the warring parties in Afghanistan to kill Afghans. Afghans are asking all the countries of the world to come and invest in Afghanistan, to consider their interests, and to benefit the Afghans as well. Afghanistan is the property of Afghans, not the goods market for Central Asia or any other country. Suppose Asia, Europe, and America... do not want the fire of the war in Afghanistan to reach them. In that case, they should invest in Afghanistan and put out the fire of the war, and putting out the war is only in the development of Afghanistan.


For centuries, various mines in Afghanistan have remained unexploited. During the recent years, Afghanistan's mines were being mined, but without coordination with the Afghan government. The Afghan government could not stop the mines' smugglers. Most of the precious mines of the diamond, gold and emerald were in Badakhshan and Panjshir provinces, but the Afghan government did not have control over these provinces. Afghanistan's precious mines have always been extracted illegally and it has not reached to the hands of the Afghan government, all the resources have reached the Jihadi commanders [warlords] who were the local rulers. During the past and current years, no country was or is willing to legally contract Afghanistan's mines and extract Afghanistan's mines legally and transfer them to their countries. The current government of Afghanistan has not been recognized by any country in the world. Finally, the current government of Afghanistan was forced to sign agreements with the government of China without considering the international laws. The water of the seas of Afghanistan has been flowing freely to the neighboring countries for centuries without any agreement, but our agricultural lands are without water and every year our farmers get affected by the drought. During the years, no country in the world raised the voice of this poor nation as why does the water of this nation go to the neighboring countries for free? And with an agreement, China and the current government