After achieving a toe-hold in Afghanistan with the award of a major iron ore contract, Indian companies are turning their attention to the troubled country's copper and gold reserves.
According to Livemint.com, iron and steel company Monnet Ispat and Energy Ltd is talking with state-owned Steel Authority of India Ltd. (SAIL) about forming a new consortium to bid for Afghanistan's copper and gold reserves:
“Afghanistan is a good opportunity. It is at a nascent stage and we can enter it now,” Sandeep Jajodia, executive vice-chairman and managing director of Monnet Ispat, said in an interview. “We have got a big mining and geological department. All we need to do is attach some copper and gold-specific people to it.”
In November a consortium of Indian companies led by SAIL was awarded a multi-billion-dollar contract (the steel plant, power plant and 200km of rail, road and power lines are estimated to cost $10.8 billion) to mine the huge Hajigak iron ore deposit in Afghanistan — considered one of the largest iron deposits in the world at 1.8 billion tonnes.
The other companies were state-run Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd., private-sector firms JSW Steel Ltd., Jindal Steel & Power Ltd., JSW Ispat Steel Ltd., Monnet Ispat & Energy Ltd., and Canada's Kilo Goldmines.
Livemint.com reports that Afghanistan has invited expressions of interest for gold and copper deposits in four provinces:
"The government is very keen to build a mineral belt in Afghanistan. We have already won iron ore deposits, we could have a common infrastructure for others," said a senior official in the mines ministry, who requested anonymity.
State-run Hindustan Copper Ltd and Mineral Exploration Corp. Ltd. are the other two Indian companies likely to join the consortium, according to the news report.
China has also moved to acquire mining interests in Afghanistan with state-owned Metallurgical Corp’s successful $3.4bn bid to build a copper mine – and a $6bn railway to go with it – that should enter production in 2014.
MINING.com linked to an article last year about a 2007 US Geological Service survey that pointed to $1 trillion in mineral deposits in Afghanistan, which could "fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself.":
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
AFP reported in November that foreign powers are eyeing Afghanistan's resource spoils even before the guns fall silent, in the war that began with the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the United States:
While an end to the fighting seems remote for now, mining lots are being quickly parcelled out among Afghanistan’s resource-hungry neighbours, potentially sparking a new “Great Game” for control of its battle-worn ground.
According to mining ministry documents seen by AFP, Afghanistan is planning to sell extraction rights for up to five mines every year until the departure of the last foreign combat troops in 2014 — a rattling pace, say experts.