Afghanistan’s Taliban announced on Thursday that they have signed mining contracts worth more than $6.5 billion with local and foreign companies from China, Iran, Turkey and Britain.
Taliban Minister of Mines and Petroleum Shahabuddin Dilawar said the seven contracts cover the extraction and processing of gold, copper, iron, lead and zinc in four Afghan provinces – Takhar, Ghor, Herat and Logar.
The nationally televised signing ceremony came as Afghan officials celebrated the second anniversary of the withdrawal of all US-led NATO troops from the country after nearly 20 years of war with the then-insurgent Taliban.
Dilawar said the seven contracts signed on Thursday would “collectively bring investments worth $6.557 billion” and create thousands of jobs in Afghanistan.
The minister said that the agreement given to a Chinese company to extract gold in Takhar would give the Taliban government a 65% share of the earnings over five years.
Dilawar said other contracts involving Turkish, Iranian and British investment for the mining and processing of iron ore in Herat would give the government a 13% stake over 30 years. “It will eventually turn Afghanistan into an exporter of iron,” he said.
Skeptics question the viability of the agreements, citing international economic sanctions imposed on the country after the Taliban regain power in August 2021.
Tamim Asay, a former official in the Afghan Mines and Petroleum Ministry, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, “The Afghan financial and banking sector is almost paralyzed and inactive. Therefore, there is no financial transaction or valuation.”
He argued that the Afghan ministry “lacked the techno-legal-police capacity” to manage and monitor such mining contracts.
Ase said, “The legal-policy framework for the mining sector is not only vague but almost non-existent. The regime doesn’t even have a constitution, let alone a mining legal framework.”
Earlier this year, a Chinese firm signed an oil extraction contract with the Taliban administration. Beijing has also recently shown interest in investing in lithium mining in Afghanistan.
The landlocked South Asian country reportedly has precious minerals worth more than $1 trillion, including reserves of the highly sought-after lithium used in rechargeable batteries.
According to regional officials and independent observers, the Taliban have stabilized Afghanistan’s economy and increased trade with neighboring and other countries.
The World Bank said in its report last month that “year-on-year inflation has been negative” for the past two months in Afghanistan.
“The supply of goods is sufficient, but demand is low. More than 50% of Afghan households are struggling to maintain their livelihoods and consumption,” the report said. It added that the local currency, the afghani, strengthened against major traded currencies in the first seven months of 2023.
But the Taliban’s all-male government in Kabul has come under criticism around the world for its restrictions on women’s access to work and education.
Since seizing power from the US-backed Afghan government on August 15, 2021, the Taliban have imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, in the conflict-torn nation.
The orders of the reclusive Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, mainly set policy guidelines for his government.
Akhundzada has banned girls from attending schools after the sixth grade and most women from working for government and non-governmental aid groups in a country where two-thirds of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. The Taliban have closed thousands of salons run by women across the country. Women are banned from visiting public parks and gyms, and from taking road trips without a male guardian.
The treatment of Afghan women has deterred foreign governments from recognizing the Taliban administration in Kabul, known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The last American soldier left Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, ending the longest war in American history.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden defended his decision to pull out troops in a statement marking the second anniversary of the end of the Afghan war.
“We have demonstrated that we do not need a permanent military presence on the ground to act against terrorists and those who wish us harm,” Biden said.
The president referred to the July 30, 2022, drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at his home in the city of Kabul.