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  • Writer's pictureCIR

Open source analysis reveals more than 200 mining contracts set up since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan

In September 2023, the Taliban announced that they had signed more than $6.5 billion in new mining deals. CIR’s Afghan Witness project delves into the sector dubbed the Taliban’s “cash cow”. 

Satellite imagery of “Afghan Morvarid quarry”, via Google Earth

A new set of companies dominates Afghanistan’s mining sector under the Taliban, according to a report released today by CIR’s Afghan Witness project. The analysis reveals that the Taliban issued at least 205 mining contracts to over 150 companies since their takeover in August 2021 – a rate of more than one contract per week.

Afghan Witness analysts compiled and examined mining contracts published online by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MOMP) between August 2021 and February 2024. Their findings reveal an array of foreign investment deals the Taliban have made with Chinese, Iranian, Turkish, Qatari, and British companies, as well as a partner company likely controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Afghanistan’s de facto authorities “are taking on an increasingly active role within the mining sector” the report finds. The Taliban-led MOMP is a shareholder in at least 9 mining projects, five of which were first announced on the basis of royalties but were then tendered as direct partnerships with the ministry.

The Taliban-led MOMP is a shareholder in at least 9 mining projects

Of the companies that currently hold publicly disclosed mining contracts with the Taliban, only 14 – fewer than 10% – held contracts under the Republican government. According to the MOMP Transparency Portal, which shows mining contracts dating back to 2005, there were 114 active contracts in August 2021 when the Taliban seized power. After assuming power, the Taliban issued four new contracts in nearly the same number of months, before issuing over 100 contracts in 2022. It is likely that the Taliban have issued additional mining licences which were not publicly disclosed.

The Taliban were swift to issue new mining licences after seizing power in August 2021.

Some companies identified hold several mining contracts issued by the Taliban. One of those is the Sahil Middle East Mining and Logistics Company, which holds six publicly disclosed mining contracts – more than any other company.  Prior records indicate that the Kabul-based company held logistics contracts under the former government, but appears to have since moved into the mining sector.

Nangarhar’s rich mineral deposits attract investment 

Almost one-third of the publicly disclosed contracts identified by analysts were issued to mine nephrite, a form of jade used in carvings and jewellery. This is followed by marble, chromite, and gypsum. 

The eastern province of Nangarhar – known for its rich deposits of chromite, talc, and nephrite – has the highest number of mining contracts issued.

The province’s talc deposits were the subject of a 2018 report by Global Witness, which found that almost all Afghan talc generated revenue for the Taliban. That report stated that the IS offshoot Islamic State Khorasan Province, known as ISKP, controlled mineral resources in Nangahar’s Achin district, though Afghan Witness is unable to independently verify these claims.

Nangarhar has the highest number of mining contracts issued by the Taliban since August 2021

Widespread investment and corruption pre-Taliban takeover 

Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits – estimated to be worth nearly 1 trillion USD – have long attracted foreign interest. 

The US spent approximately 962.6 million USD on mineral surveys, exploration, regulatory reforms, and capacity development in Afghanistan between 2004-2021. However, US programs failed to meet their goals and generate widespread economic benefit for the region – according to a 2023 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. 

Corruption was also widespread within Afghanistan’s mining sector under the former government. Despite a 2010 law which sought to restrict state officials from holding mining contracts, in 2015, more than 50 members of Afghanistan’s lower house of Parliament owned mines or were major partners in mining projects. A 2017 United States Institute of Peace (USIP) report described the exploitation of the sector as “large-scale looting,” and argued that mining-enabled corruption was funding the Taliban and other militant groups, and fuelling local conflicts.

Read the full report ‘Afghanistan’s mining sector under the Taliban’ on the Afghan Witness website.



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