This is one story I did not want to tell. This is one of the sad stories involving Lapis Lazuli. It fills me with indignity that the Afghan people are loosing control of our magical Lapis Lazuli to a group of armed groups and the Taliban. I made it my job to let you know everything I know about our heavenly lapis, so here are the main characters of who have the control of almost the totality of the Afghan Lapis Lazuli Mines.
One of the richest assets, the Afghan people have are the Lapis Lazuli mines of the northeastern province of Badakhshan. It is an extraordinary national treasure that should be a powerful resource for development.
Instead, they are a major source of conflict and grievance. They supply millions of funding to armed groups, insurgents and strongmen and provide a tiny fraction of the benefit they should to the Afghan people.
These mines rather than being beneficial to the Afghan people, represent not just a lost opportunity, but a threat to the whole country.
These ancient Lapis Lazuli mines are currently exploited by two local strongmen rivals. They both have links to national politics and both allegedly have ties to the Taliban. According to rough estimates, the revenue going to these strongmen and the Taliban from one small area of Badakhshan rivals the government´s declared income from the entire Afghan natural resources sector.
This is not an ideology fight, it is a business war. In this war, the Taliban have control of the majority of the mines revenues. It is thought to be the Taliban´s second largest source of revenue.
The hope for the country´s economic growth and its independence from foreign aid lies on the estimated $1trn of mineral reserves that could generate $2bn revenue a year. Ironically, these resources are threatening to do the opposite. They are becoming a chronic source of conflict and corruption, while generating little revenue.
Taking the mines from the Taliban’s is very important to the future of the country. It should be a first order priority. They should increase accountability, transparency and local engagement around mining and prioritizing security in mining areas.
Two former commanders with the Jamiat e Islami political and military faction are the ones in charge. One was military commander for the Kuran wa Munjan district before 2001. He had direct control of the Lapis mines. He became Chief of Police of Kuran wa Munjan until 2012. Then he was transferred elsewhere but returned to lead an armed takeover of the district in January 2014.
The other was also a former Jamiat e Islami commander. He rose to head the 10th directorate of the National Directorate of Security (NDS). He became AMP en the 2005 elections.
Another key player was appointed in 2007 as the head of the paramilitary security force for the Lapis Lazuli mines, the Mining Protection Force (MPF).
The final important character in this lapis war was born in Faizabad, the capital of Badakshan. He is in the chair of the Natural Resources and the Environment Commission, which deals with mining. This position alone is a conflict of interest due to his business ties with mining.
Taliban and Islamic State
They have a growing presence around the mines. The time is coming when they will control 100% of the Afghan Lapis Lazuli.
In 2014, the mines if Deodarra and Kuran wa Munjan alone provided around $20m to armed groups. It includes about $18m to Commander Malek and informal armed groups linked to him. More than $1m each to the Taliban and to armed groups mainly associated with Zulmai Mujadidi.
Around 2015, armed groups made at least $12m from Lapis Lazuli. The Taliban increased their strength so they were making about $4m.
It is said that around 2016 the Taliban were making 50% of the revenue from the mines.
Greed for the mines has directly fueled a series of violent incidents in Badakhshan. It has put an entire district out of government control for more than two years. Abuses around the mines, especially the lack of benefit for local people, created a significant backing for Maleks takeover of the Lapis Lazuli mines.
The same happens with the Taliban. People support them for revenge to the government. The Taliban have infiltrated Badakhshan to a far greater extent than they could at the height of their power in the 1990´s. There are also credible indications the mines are a strategic priority for the Islamic State in Badakhshan.
The Ministry of Mines itself could not provide full revenue and production data for Lapis Lazuli. Zulmai Mujadidi and Commander Malek have links to higher level political networks.
All of these key players deny involvement with Lapis Lazuli mining.
The Afghan government is making promises to reverse this situation on the mines but they still have to put in place a number of basic protections, like to publish mining data, reinforce oversight capacity, and support community monitoring of mining.
Unfortunately Afghanistan has been in a turmoil for centuries. It seems everyone wants a piece of this beautiful land so for the time being, the Lapis Lazuli which supplies much of the world market is a CONFLICT MINERAL.