China is continuing its hunt for minerals in Australia and Africa to secure its future requirements. It is now developing a massive copper deposit in neighbouring war-torn Taliban region of Afghanistan, considered as the most dangerous place in the world.
In November 2007, the Karzai government in Afghanistan in collaboration with NATO forces auctioned the huge Aynak copper deposit under the US Agency for International Development (USAID) plan and arbitrarily awarded the mining rights to Chinese state enterprise, China Metallurgical Group, for $3.5 billion.
Part of the deal was to develop a coal mine located in the vicinity, which in turn could power a Chinese-built 400 MW power plant for the mine and its smelters, and to construct Afghanistan's first railway, which will link Western China through Tajikistan to the Aynak mine and then on to its long-time friend, Pakistan in its continuing bid to encircle India.
Other bidders for the copper deposit were Vancouver-based Hunter-Dickinson, which had made an approximate $2-billion bid, Phoenix-based Phelps Dodge, London-based Kazakhmys Consortium, and a subsidiary of Russia's Basic Element Group.
The 28 square kilometre Aynak copper field, which is said to hold the world's largest unexploited deposits of copper, lies 35 kilometres southeast of Kabul and according to unofficial sources, is estimated to hold approximately 240 million tons of copper ore while online geography journal GeoJournal has put a more conservative figure of over 11 million metric tons of recoverable copper, which can be recovered through surface mining.
The NATO forces, in conjunction with the Afghan government thought it would be too risky for a private enterprise to undertake the massive infrastructure project as well as develop the Aynak copper deposit, which is spread over a vast area of hostile Taliban territory.
Although most Western governments have their state-financed insurance plans to secure such investments, no government is at present willing to consider risking such a massive investment in an environment where no citizen from any nation is safe.
The very process of arbitrarily awarding the mining rights to a Chinese company goes to show that it was a strategic plan to put the burden of development on China, which hopes to gain a foothold in the mineral-rich country if an US-led government rules Afghanistan for in the future.
The railway line, which will be built by the Chinese under the contract will also benefit NATO countries in the future as it will provide access to other mines and development sites yet to be auctioned.
Last month, US troops set up their bases running alongside a dirt track being built by a Chinese company as an access road to the Aynak copper reserves. The US forces are also making their presence felt in Logar province, where the Aynak deposit is located.
Although the US forces are deployed to ward off Taliban incursion in Kabul, inadverntally, they are also protecting Chinese workers at the Aynak copper site.
The Taliban has moved into the outskirts of Kabul after China was awarded the mining rights for the Aynak copper reserve and in the beginning of the year, and the US army deployed more than 2,000 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division to the Logar and Wardak regions of Afghanistan.
Experts have been asking why China is taking such a huge risk by building a huge infrastructure amid the continuing war.
Afghanistan has traditionally been endowed with gems and semi-precious stones, metals, and marble, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) report of 2002 showed that there were more than 1,000 deposits.
The survey also confirmed that Afghanistan not only had abundant minerals but also plenty of hydrocarbon resources and according to an Afghan geology expert, John Shroder, said that although the Soviets had made a survey earlier, the oil and natural gas reserves in Afghanistan as surveyed by the USGS is far in excess of earlier Soviet estimates.
Among the minerals found in the survey were substantial amounts of gold, copper, iron, mercury, lead, and rare metals such as cesium, lithium, niobium, and tantalum.
An Afghanistan ministry of mines brochure claims that an iron deposit at Hajigak in the Bamiyan province, contains 1.8 billion tonnes of ore with a concentration of 62 per cent iron.