Money talks: Russia, India, and China are preparing to enter Afghanistan

The original article is in Russian and was published in Sputnik Uzbekistan

PANAGYURISHTE, ($1= 1.67 Bulgarian Levas) – The lightning-fast collapse of the pro-American government of Afghanistan, which in a matter of days fell under not the most violent blows of the Taliban, overshadowed all other world events.

And no wonder: after all, this is the most grandiose military and foreign policy fiasco of the United States since the end of the Vietnam War.

The failure of the world hegemon was so deafening that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell at an unscheduled meeting of the European Parliament committees on foreign affairs called to prevent Russia and China from “taking control of the country and becoming sponsors of Kabul.”

The concern of the collective West is understandable since there are already interested players lining up along the perimeter of Afghanistan who can offer it much more than military occupation and control through a puppet government. And it’s not just about Moscow and Beijing. Afghanistan is extremely rich in minerals, there are nearly one and a half thousand deposits, including oil, gas, coal, copper, iron, precious and semi-precious stones.

The permanent state of war makes it extremely difficult to explore and clarify the available reserves, but even what the British, Soviet, and American geologists managed to reconnoiter in turn hints: the power that can stop the endless flywheel of war and organize some semblance of peace, security and stability will simply swim in money.

The economic theory claims that energy is always the basis of state development in the modern world, and the Taliban if they show a pearl of certain political wisdom, have every chance to go down in history as reformers who pulled Afghanistan out of the Middle Ages.

Let us briefly consider what Kabul has as a strategic reserve.

First, there is a huge Hajigak iron ore deposit in Afghanistan. Its main feature is that the ore lies very close to the surface, which allows it to be mined openly – simply with the help of excavators.

At the same time, in the neighboring areas of Shabashak and Dar-l-Suf there are industrial deposits of coking coal, that is, nature itself has created ideal conditions for the development of metallurgy.

This combination of conditions was simply doomed to attract the attention of India, which approved a state program to conquer the world steel market.

Delhi is very serious about becoming the world’s premier home. Therefore, back in 2016, India, Iran, and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement, under which Delhi invested in the modernization of the Iranian port of Chahbehar, and Tehran built a direct railway line that reached Herat from the northwestern border.

India needs Afghan ore and coal so much that it is ready to invest ten billion dollars in the construction of a mine and a direct railway to Chahbehar. The project was stopped due to the aggravation of the situation in the country, and the Taliban, who seized the province, kept a pause.

In the northern province of Balkh, along the Amu Darya and the border with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, large reserves of hydrocarbons have been discovered.

The US Geological Survey, which conducted field surveys under the cover of the American army, estimated the potential of the basin at 1.8 billion barrels of oil, 440 billion cubic meters of gas, and more than 560 thousand barrels of gas condensate.

For Afghanistan, which consumes a paltry five thousand barrels of oil a day, this is simply fabulous wealth that can solve the problem of energy hunger for decades to come.

To the sadness of Washington, China has its eyes on the oil and gas region. In 2011, Kabul agreed with the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation. The corporation received a concession for the development of three fields, and in return undertook to build three refineries, which was done over the next three years.

China’s main interest here is lithium. Ten years ago, the same US Geological Survey published data from which it follows that three trillion dollars worth of lithium reserves are hidden in the bowels of Afghan soil.

An obligatory remark should be made here. Often, data on lithium reserves in Afghanistan are presented as fact, but this is not entirely true. For two years, American military geologists managed to conduct only surface exploration, identifying the basins, where, focusing on mining and geological conditions, there could potentially be metal deposits. At the same time, the Americans did not find or extract physical lithium.

However, geological exploration has long passed the stage of walking with a hammer, and modern modeling with a very high degree of probability predicts the presence of the coveted rare earth metal. For China, the world’s leading manufacturer of electric vehicles and battery technology, this was more than enough.

Just a couple of hours after the Taliban seized the capital, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang announced that China is counting on “the most friendly cooperation with Afghanistan.” It is noteworthy that the Chinese Embassy in Kabul was also not damaged and is now guarded by armed representatives of the new government.

On the pages of the American press, a real hysteria unfolded in this regard. For example, CNBC writes that now not only lithium will fall into the hands of America’s main rival, but also cerium, neodymium, lanthanum, zinc, and mercury present in Afghanistan. If China gains a foothold in the region, it will become an almost monopoly in the processing and use of rare earth metals.

And what about Russia – do the Russians have nothing to offer and also to stake out our presence in the region? Of course, they have.

You need to start with the signature dish that Moscow traditionally offers to everyone who wants to cooperate – the main gas pipelines. In 2010, a quadripartite agreement was signed on the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline with a length of 1.7 thousand kilometers and a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters.

The reason is still the same: endless instability, fighting, and power that does not control most of its remote provinces.

If the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes, Russia can not only become the main supplier of pipes but also help increase fuel supplies by at least redirecting the five and a half billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas purchased annually to the south. But this is not the main thing either.

Afghanistan is experiencing, without any exaggeration, an enormous shortage of electricity. The country with a population of 38 million, that is, more than modern Ukraine has only seven power plants with a combined installed capacity of 3.1 gigawatts.

For comparison: in Ukraine, the same figure is 55 gigawatts. For more than a decade, Moscow has under the cloth a project of an energy bridge between Azerbaijan and Iran, which, after consolidating the current status quo in Karabakh, has every chance of being implemented. In case of interest from the Afghan side, the energy bridge can be extended further to the east. It is much easier to install power lines than to pull a railway line.

In addition, despite all the hardships, two hydroelectric power plants operate in Afghanistan, Darunta and Pul-I-Khumri, and in recent years Russia has gained a wealth of experience both in modernizing its hydroelectric power plants and building new ones, including small and medium-sized power plants built even in difficult high altitude conditions.

The very near future will show how events in the region will develop, but the given trend hints that the pattern of presence of the main world powers there is likely to change beyond recognition.

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