Attempted theft of Afghan lithium by Chinese shows realities of dealings with Beijing

By Hamza

Lithium rocks are pictured January 22 in Nangarhar province after authorities confiscated them. Two Chinese nationals stand accused of attempting to smuggle them to China via Pakistan. [Courtesy of Hamza]

Lithium rocks are pictured January 22 in Nangarhar province after authorities confiscated them. Two Chinese nationals stand accused of attempting to smuggle them to China via Pakistan. [Courtesy of Hamza]

KABUL -- Afghans are expressing outrage following the arrest of two Chinese citizens and three Afghan collaborators accused of attempting to smuggle some 1,300 tonnes of lithium-bearing rocks out of Afghanistan.

The suspects moved the lithium rocks from Kunar to Nangarhar in an attempt to smuggle them to China via Pakistan, according to a local intelligence official who goes by the name Dr. Bashir.

"We received intelligence on the illegal mining and smuggling of precious stones," he said January 21 at a news conference in Nangarhar.

"To arrest the main culprits, we allowed them to travel to Nangarhar, and when the smugglers came to Jalalabad city, we arrested two Chinese and three Afghan nationals."

The operating base of a Chinese consortium in Mes Aynak, in Logar province, is pictured last May 17. An ancient Buddhist city carved out of immense peaks near Kabul is in danger of disappearing forever, swallowed up by the Chinese consortium exploiting one of the world's largest copper deposits. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

The operating base of a Chinese consortium in Mes Aynak, in Logar province, is pictured last May 17. An ancient Buddhist city carved out of immense peaks near Kabul is in danger of disappearing forever, swallowed up by the Chinese consortium exploiting one of the world's largest copper deposits. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

He did not elaborate on when the Chinese nationals were arrested.

"Three hundred tonnes of these stones is in Nangarhar, while the remaining 1,000 tonnes is in Kunar," Bashir added.

"These rocks contain 30% lithium," Mohammad Rasool Oqab, a senior official at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, told reporters at the news conference.

"These are very rare stones ... secretly extracted in Kunar and Nuristan provinces."

Bribery and corruption

China is extracting Afghanistan's natural resources through illegal workarounds, bribery and smuggling, analysts say.

"China is a rising country in dire need of raw materials and natural resources," said Sayed Mehdi Munadi, an international affairs analyst based in France and a former Afghan diplomat who was stationed in Beijing.

"Any country endowed with natural resources is a priority objective for China," he said. "Therefore, some African countries and Afghanistan are very attractive to China and its businesses."

China in most cases acquires natural resources of other countries through illegal means, Munadi said.

"Most Chinese firms have external budgets to pay bribes and to illegally win projects and contracts," he said. "They try to acquire natural resources, precious stones and energy contracts by paying bribes, and if that does not work, they turn to smuggling."

"The smuggling of Afghanistan's natural resources by the Chinese is effectively plundering the natural resources and underground wealth of the country," Munadi said.

On the one hand, China's payment of bribes and illegal competition promotes "administrative corruption and embezzlement among the current rulers", he said.

"On the other hand, it will lead to the waste of Afghanistan's national wealth and resources."

'Plundering Afghanistan'

"Most of the mining activities and extraction of minerals in Afghanistan are carried out illegally and unprofessionally by local strongmen, criminal groups, and local and international smugglers," said Esmatullah Sarwari, 28, who has studied mining at Kabul University.

He pointed to the recent smuggling incident.

"The illegal and unprofessional extraction and smuggling of Afghan minerals have been a challenge for Afghan governments, and right now our country is going through political difficulties and turmoils," Sarwari said.

"[Afghanistan's] neighbours, especially the Chinese, are more involved than ever and have been trying hard to legally or illegally extract Afghanistan's minerals and transport them out of the country, which means plundering Afghanistan's natural resources," he said.

"Afghanistan's natural resources have been plundered for years by groups and regional countries either through illegal means and smuggling or formally," said Azrakh Hafizi, an economist based in Germany and former director of the Union of Importers of Oil.

"The Chinese government and companies have a strong interest in Afghan mines," he said. "They acquired the Mes Aynak copper mine and Amu Darya gas and oil deposits for very cheap."

"Unfortunately, Afghanistan has very little share and profit in these contracts while the Chinese get 80% of the shares and profits," he said. "They take advantage of the current [political] situation to plunder the natural resources of Afghanistan."

"The current rulers should not allow the plunder of the country's natural and public wealth by neighbouring countries," he added.

Afghanistan's wealth

"Chinese companies are interested in Afghanistan's natural resources more than any other time following the latest developments in the country," said Sayed Masood, an Afghan economic analyst based in Canada.

But rather than acquire Afghanistan's natural resources through mutually beneficial trade agreements, they are trying to extract them informally and smuggle them with the help of some Afghans, he said.

"Afghanistan has 1,400 mines," Masood said. "The Chinese are eying those mines and trying their best to acquire them in any way possible."

Afghanistan's untapped mineral and metal resources are valued at more than $1 trillion, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum said in 2019.

China is seeking regional influence "so that its competitors cannot dominate the region", Masood said.

"Therefore, it tries to cover the region politically, economically and security-wise through economic projects -- as well as legal and illegal contracts."

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With the reduction of international aid for Afghanistan, perhaps the best way to save the country's economy is to boost exports through other sectors, especially through the sale of minerals. Of course, if these materials are processed, they will have multiple added value. The process of mineral materials in the value chain of mineral industries is the foundation of high added value that can be useful for Afghanistan in a bad economic crisis. After processing, the mineral stones have a high value, and this is something that should be looked at in a special way. Afghanistan is a poor country that has many mines, but the lack of necessary infrastructure has made the discussion of mining process not get a proper place. Of course, the embargo and some interference have caused investors to face problems. Selling raw materials prevents us from making development. In the exports' sector, mineral products, we should try not to export these products in raw form. When minerals are exported in raw form, job opportunities are reduced. This issue makes the added value of these materials decrease for us and they are easily available to other countries. Today, many countries that export processed mineral materials are the first importers of minerals, and we, who have large mineral resources in Afghanistan, should not miss this opportunity. Selling raw materials prevents us from the path of development, many developed countries managed to solve their economic problems by creating added value


Today, they produce oil and gas from coal and get tens of times more income. From the sale of coal, machines that refine the coal and convert it to oil and gas should be purchased. Selling raw materials should not be permanent because in the long run it will be detrimental to us and we will lose our wealth for free.


We strongly condemn the corrupt Chinese regime's looting of Afghanistan's mines and ask the people and the government to work together to save Afghanistan's mines. If you look at the pictures of Kabul in the 1990s and then watch the video I put its link to here, you will know how much Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and China participated in the destruction of Afghanistan. Russia, Pakistan, and Iran directly participated in the destruction of Afghanistan and hired their mercenaries to destroy Kabul. Russia kept criminals named Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani to destroy Kabul; Iran assigned a criminal named Abdul Ali Mazari to destroy Kabul and kill Afghans. Pakistan had tasked Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to destroy Kabul. China did not directly have its mercenary groups, but it supplied weapons and ammunition to these mercenaries through Pakistan, and this way, they looted Afghanistan's precious minerals. It is true that America and Western countries committed atrocities in Afghanistan during the 20-year war, bombed villages, and killed people. Still, there is no doubt that they directly participated in the construction of Afghanistan. Western countries provided education, higher education, commercial, economic, political, military,...facilities for Afghanistan. They tried to rebuild Afghanistan, destroyed by the war between the Soviet Union, Pakistan, and Iran, but our leaders are thieves. Still, Pakistan, Russia, and Iran were behind the scenes, destroying the political system in


Unfortunately, during the republic period, northern alliance gunmen and gangsters, and other MAFIAs destroyed the homeland, and now the valuable items left in the hands of the Taliban are being given as gifts to China and Pakistan. It is saddening to see the situation of the country and the compatriots as they have been killed for years, but there is no way of benefits. What we had on and under the earth is opening up, but we do not witness a good day. Yes, if someone protects our national wealth correctly, the Afghan nation will always remember them well, but whoever has betrayed he will also not be forgotten.


Mines are smuggled by a number of Afghans themselves. During the past years, Afghanistan's mines were first transferred to Pakistan by a number of Afghans, and later they were transferred to other countries with cooperation of Pakistan. Afghanistan's precious minerals market is in Pakistan. Afghanistan's mining traders come to Pakistan from other countries and buy Afghanistan's precious stones from Pakistan. There is an Afghan precious stones' market in Namak Mandi, Peshawar, Pakistan. All Afghan precious stone smugglers from every province of Afghanistan have offices there and a large number of precious stone samples are displayed in those offices. In the past years, China illegally transferred Afghanistan's precious minerals through Pakistan with the cooperation of a small number of Afghans. Currently, China has entered to the scene. Getting advantage of the opportunity, they buy contracts of various mines in Afghanistan at a very low price and transfers them to its own country.


Reading this news made me very worried. It can be seen that this last hope of Afghans will also be destroyed. America, with its irresponsible departure from Afghanistan, created ground for the looting of Afghanistan by China and Pakistan. The world should not let the Chinese communist regime loot Afghanistan. These mines are the heritage of future generations and must be protected, but now that Afghanistan has no owner, greedy countries like China in cooperation with Pakistan want to have access to Afghanistan's natural resources and loot it. The United Nations should establish a committee to monitor Afghanistan's mines and prevent its looting.


It is a big betrayal against Afghanistan's mines that 15 or 20% of the profit is given to Afghanistan while China takes the rest. In the past 20 years, many good cadres have been trained in various fields, including geology, but our misfortune is that the previous governments were sunken in corruption. On the other hand, the warlords and criminals of the former Northern Alliance, along with the Uzbeks under the leadership of Dostum and the Hazara warlords supported by Iran, have looted the national wealth of Afghanistan in their regions, which benefited the mentioned thieves instead of the nation. The benefit went into the pockets of the warlords. I also heard that one mountain in Panjshir belonged to Fahim, another belonged to Qanoni, a third one belonged to Saleh, and another... On the other hand, Western countries did not dare stand with the central government against the warlords. A Hazara warlord shot down an Afghan National Army helicopter in Maidan Wardak or Bamiyan province, but the government did not have enough strength to defeat that warlord. Ata Noor had established control over Balkh province and the neighboring areas and looted all the revenues. When the central government called to take action against him, the American ambassador opposed it and said that you should not use weapons against Noor. The government introduced a governor to Faryab, but the Uzbeks under the leadership of Dostum opposed and did not let him work there. And now? Now everything depends on P


Dr. Bashir is just a talkative person; he talks baselessly. Else, they are involved in theft and smuggling cases from top to toe. Every day, these same people send weapons, precious stones, Kunar wood, and other valuable items to China, Pakistan, Russia, and other countries that can be used to reconstruct Afghanistan or get more money. Their people provide security for the delivery so that the locals do not interfere. Dr. Bashir and others are like the movie players who make dialogues in a scene; else, they are buried in corruption...