Militants, including the Taliban, in Afghanistan are funding their increasingly violent insurgencies by mining talc, chromite and marble in eastern part of the war-torn nation, an investigation by Global Witness, a not-for-profit research firm that tackles natural resource misuse, conflict and corruption, has shown.
Rising global demand for cosmetics, marble and stainless steel is helping Taliban and the Islamic state earn millions of dollars to fund their cause, the report says.
The international group has estimated that the Taliban earns $2.5 million to $10 million a year from mining talc alone. It is unclear how much Islamic State’s local affiliate, which has fought and taken over mining areas from the Taliban in three districts of Nangarhar province, has managed to exploit the mines, according to Global Witness.
Talc is used in producing cosmetics and paint, while chromium, produced from the chromite ore, is critical in the manufacturing of stainless steel.
For the Taliban it’s a lucrative trade along with opium, its main revenue generator. The group’s ability to fund itself effectively complicates U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to end America’s longest war.
“Our research shows that talc mined in Afghanistan is transported across the border into neighbouring Pakistan where it is mixed with Pakistani mined talc before export. Some 40% of talc exported from Pakistan goes to the US; with the EU as another large market,” the Global witness report said.
Despite a ban on the talc trade in early 2015, it has been weakly enforced and ineffective at stopping extraction from insurgent-controlled areas.
Afghanistan, which the U.S. estimates has $1 trillion of mineral deposits, has failed to generate significant revenue or control over its mining industry. The Global Witness report points to the dire state of Afghanistan’s mining industry, where revenue in 2016 supplied only 0.3 percent of the country’s $6.5 billion national budget, which comes mostly from donor nations.
Access to talc mines is also a current source of conflict between the Islamic State and the Taliban – already estimated to be making around $300 million a year from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth – in the mineral-rich Nangarhar province.
Upcoming amendments to the Afghan Mining Law will be a key test for legitimate mining that will have a chance to provide a viable, stable alternative for the people of Afghanistan.