An IoS investigation: To the Chinese and the Indians, the spoils of a terrible war

Allies pay in blood while others plot to exploit Afghanistan’s rich natural resources

The money and blood pit that is Afghanistan – where the US and Britain have expended more than 2,100 lives and £302bn – is about to start paying a dividend. But it won't be going to the countries which have made this considerable sacrifice. The contracts to open up Afghanistan's mineral and fossil-fuel wealth, and to build the railways that will transport them out of the country, are being won or pursued by China, India, Iran, and Russia.

Click HERE to view 'land of opportunity' graphic

The potentially lucrative task of exploiting Afghanistan's immense mineral wealth – estimated to be worth around £2trn, according to the Kabul government – is only in the early stages. But already China and India in particular are doing deals and beginning work. Facilities already established are being protected by local army and police, part of whose funding, and most of whose training, has been a US/UK responsibility.

The anomaly of two Afghanistans – one of massacres, roadside bombs, and battles with the Taliban, the other of commercial deals in the hundreds of millions – is not lost on observers. Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: "The Chinese are self-interested. I don't blame them for that. But it is on the backs of the sacrifice made by [the] British and Americans and others, the sacrifices we have made which we hope after 2014 will lead to a more stable and secure Afghanistan, and for the Chinese to capitalise on that doesn't go down well. I don't think it will go down well with the British public. China is a wealthy country in today's world and it's wrong that they are not prepared and haven't been prepared to contribute to the enormity of the task that we have had to face in dealing with Afghanistan."

Dr Richard Weitz, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute said: "From our perspective, China should have done more in terms of security. From their perspective, they didn't need to; they could free-ride, we were going to do it anyway. They didn't see any point because all they would do is incur a lot of sacrifice and antagonise the Taliban and the global terrorist movement, and they'd rather let us incur that."

But others think any involvement in Afghanistan's development, especially by regional powers, is beneficial. Peter Galbraith, former deputy head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, said: "Western companies are exceptionally timid when it comes to operating in places where there is even the remotest hint that it might be a little risky, and the Chinese are not and are willing to go to these places. And the Chinese have business practices that Western countries ... let's just say that Chinese generosity towards local officials exceeds that of what Western companies are capable."

Afghanistan's mineral wealth extends over a huge range of valuable resources: iron, gold, copper, niobium (used in hardening steel), uranium, marble, cobalt, mercury, caesium, molybdenum (a metal which can withstand high temperatures and is used to make various alloys), and other rare earth minerals. The country has especially valuable deposits of lithium, the metal used in the world's batteries. Indeed, a Pentagon official is on record suggesting that Afghanistan could be "the Saudi Arabia of lithium".

As far back as 2008, China agreed a deal to develop the Aynak copper mine in Logar province. This is said to be the world's second largest deposit of high-grade copper. The Afghan National Police has deployed 1,500 officers to guard the mine, while some 2,000 US soldiers provide general security in the province.

An Indian consortium has secured the rights to two blocks in the huge Hajigak iron ore field, the other block going to a Canadian firm. India will also contribute to the establishment of an Institute of Mines in Kabul, and last October signed a strategic partnership with Afghanistan.

The deals are not confined to minerals. In late December, China's state-owned National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won a contract for three oil fields in Zamarudsay, Kashkari, and Bazarkhami in the northern provinces of Sari Pul and Faryab, which will make it the first foreign company to exploit Afghan-istan's oil and natural gas reserves. The intention is that CNPC will build a refinery within three years, and this will be guarded by dedicated units of Afghan police and army.

Chinese state firms have also been involved with seven infrastructure projects, including roads in Kondoz and Jalalabad. They have also won contracts for telecommunications systems in Kandahar and Kabul. And last year, the Asian Development Bank announced it had allocated more than $200m for the development of the gas wells of Sheberghan, and an attendant pipeline. Italy, Turkey and Germany are also actively pursuing deals.

American and British involvement is low-key at present. PricewaterhouseCoopers is advising the Ministry of Mines in Kabul, and the US bank JP Morgan is active, having put together a consortium that won rights to the Qara Zaghan gold deposits.

Many point out that security, especially after US forces cease active operations in 2014, will be crucial, and could yet scupper major exploitation. But Afghanistan has just opened its first major railway and is planning half a dozen more. China, Iran, Pakistan and India all have government or corporate plans for separate rail projects across Afghanistan. Turkmenistan is completing its own plans for another line, and it was Uzbekistan that built the first major rail link, a 47-mile line from the border town of Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan.

Andrew Grantham, an editor for Railway Gazette who runs a website chronicling the history of Afghanistan's failed rail projects of the past, says: "It's not just people drawing lines on maps and saying, "Wouldn't this be nice?"

For now, plans for Afghanistan's railroads are progressing bit by bit. As part of its agreement to develop a massive copper mine in Aynak, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) is being asked to build a 575-mile railway from the mine, south-east of Kabul. One branch would head to the Pakistani border, another in the opposite direction through the capital and connecting with the new Hairatan line in the north. The Afghan government is also negotiating with the Indian-led consortium that won the contract for the equally huge iron deposits at Tajigak in central Afghanistan for the companies to fund a 560-mile railroad – likely through Iran – to bring out the heavy ore.

The plan is to build a series of short, cross-border tracks to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Iran. The tracks would connect to each other inside the country's north by railways built by Iran from the west and China from the east.

"We would be able to import and export to Russia, Turkey, and even European countries," says Noor Gul Mangal, Afghanistan's deputy public works minister. Opening new transport gateways would also reduce Afghanistan's dependence on neighbouring Pakistan as its only link to sea ports.

Sir William Patey, the outgoing British ambassador to Afghanistan, made an impassioned plea that countries investing in post-war Afghanistan "protect their assets" by making greater contributions to the security budget. "We welcome foreign investment from these countries if it improves infrastructure and improves the prospects of ordinary Afghans," he said. "We welcome Russian and Chinese investment, we want to see Pakistan and India invest in copper and oil and gas. But it would be even more heartening if these countries could set aside a budget to help with the security effort; particularly after coalition forces leave.

"There seems to be an assumption that Afghanistan, Britain and America will cover security. But it really needs a more collective effort from the international community; particularly with a security bill that is now more than £4bn a year."

Additional reporting: Kunal Dutta and Brian Brady

The expert views

"Chinese investors – who are able to brush off risk, ignore the bottom line, and grease palms as needed – have capitalised effectively on the sacrifices made by Isaf [the US-led coalition] partners over a decade."

Dr Frederick Starr

Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Washington

"China has been willing to take some economic risks in that regard .... Mining and other extractive industries are likely to be profitable in Afghanistan only in conditions of relative security and so what you might be saying is that China is betting on our success and we should be welcoming others to do the same, including our own investors."

Ambassador James Dobbins

Director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center, and a former Special Assistant to the US President

"Russia and Uzbekistan have gained by transiting goods into Afghanistan. China has gained by scooping up untapped mining wealth. And yet, these and other neighbouring states, save for Pakistan, avoided sharing the burdens of war."

Malou Innocent

Analyst at US think tank the Cato Institute

"I see China, on balance, playing a positive role. On the security front, nobody wanted to see a rising Chinese military power intervening in Afghanistan .... On the economic front, China bought a huge chunk of US government debt, which in turn financed US military intervention in Afghanistan ... China is also an inspiring, market-friendly role model for developing countries in the region."

Dr Leif Rosenberger

Economic Advisor, US Central Command

"China will be a net economic winner upon a US withdrawal. But so what?"

Aziz Huq

Assistant Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch