Afghanistan has significant amounts of mineral resources according to an assessment completed by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2007. However, according to a recent article by the New York Times “the potential resource boom seems increasingly imperiled by corruption, violence and intrigue.” Control over land and resource rights are increasingly becoming a source of contention, especially as the government begins to make land concessions. Local officials and militia leaders are competing over rights to areas with high mineral wealth, while contention over compensation for land is increasing as well. To help ensure investments in the mineral sector advance at the current scale and can provide a sustainable source of income, the government will need to ensure clear and enforceable property rights that enable the long-term investments required for mining. At the same time, local communities will need to be consulted and their land rights compensated, otherwise local grievances could escalate, generate new rounds of violence, and curtail badly needed investment.
The question of land rights is important not only for commercial-scale mining but small-scale artisanal mining as well. The New York Times article references the preponderance of small mines, which are not under state control and possibly fueling the insurgency. There are parallels between the situation in Afghanistan and the alluvial diamond mines that were used to finance the purchase of arms and rebellions in Africa during the 1990s and early 2000s. USAID, through its Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development (PRADD) project, has sought to bring such informal diamond mining activity under the state’s control and to prevent related conflict through the mapping and public validation of mining claims in the Central African Republic. Although there are differences between these two regions and the minerals being extracted, there are potentially lessons learned from the PRADD program that could be applied to help bring illicit mining activities under the state’s control, reduce violence and promote economic growth. For information on the PRADD program see here.