KABUL: Afghan lapis lazuli must be classified a “conflict mineral”, an international watchdog says, warning the Taliban and other insurgents are earning some $20 million a year illegally mining the semi-precious stone.
Violent competition between local strongmen for control over 6,500-year-old lapis mines in the far northeastern province of Badakhshan is a key driver of conflict in the country, London-based Global Witness said in a report on Monday.
“With the Taliban on the outskirts of the mines themselves, as well as controlling key roads into the mining areas, there is now a real risk that the mines could fall into their hands,” it said.
The report warned that due to similar situations nationwide, mining was already “the Taliban’s second biggest source of income.”
“Unless the Afghan government acts rapidly to regain control, the battle for the lapis mines is set to intensify and further destabilise the country, as well as fund extremism.” The mines could also be a “strategic priority” for the so-called Islamic State, a group making inroads in Afghanistan, winning over sympathisers and recruiting followers mostly in the country’s east, according to the report.
“The Afghan lapis lazuli stone should now be classified as a conflict mineral,” it said. Calling it a conflict mineral will compel Afghanistan to regulate its mines, many of which are located in troubled insurgency prone areas.
The deep-blue stone is frequently used for jewellery and ornaments, with the bulk of Afghanistan’s mined lapis exported to China, according to the report.
Afghanistan’s vast untapped natural resources, valued at more than $1 trillion, are seen as the warbattered country’s ticket to a self-reliant future, a possible trump card that could jumpstart the lagging economy as foreign aid ebbs.