They also gained the ability to control access to huge deposits of minerals that are crucial to the global clean energy economy, Quartz analysed.
In 2010, an internal US Department of Defense memo called Afghanistan «the Saudi Arabia of lithium», after American geologists discovered the vast extent of the country’s mineral wealth, valued at at least $1 trillion.
The silvery metal is essential for electric vehicles and renewable energy batteries.
Rod Schoonover, head of the ecological security program at the Center for Strategic Risks, a Washington think tank, said:
- The Taliban is now sitting on some of the most important strategic minerals in the world
- Whether they can/will utilize them will be an important question going forward
Global demand for lithium is projected to skyrocket 40-fold above 2020 levels by 2040, according to the IEA, along with rare earth elements, copper, cobalt, and other minerals in which Afghanistan is naturally rich.
These minerals are concentrated in a small number of pockets around the globe, so the clean energy transition has the potential to yield a substantial payday for Afghanistan.
In the past, Afghan government officials have dangled the prospect of lucrative mining contracts in front of their US counterparts as an enticement to prolong the American military presence in the country.
With the Taliban in charge, that option is likely off the table.
But Ashraf Ghani, the World Bank economist-turned-Afghan president, who fled the country the day of the Taliban takeover, saw the minerals as a potential «curse».
For one, most economists agree that mineral riches breed corruption and violence, particularly in developing countries, and that they often fail to yield many benefits for average citizens.
What happens now that the Taliban is in control
The Taliban can’t simply flick a switch and dive into the global lithium trade, Schoonover said.
Years of conflict have left the country’s physical infrastructure in tatters.
And at the moment Taliban militants are reportedly struggling even to maintain the provision of basic public services and utilities in the cities they have captured, let alone carry out economic policies that can attract international investors.
Nick Crawford, a development economics researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank. said:
- Competing factions within the Taliban would make it very difficult for any company to negotiate mining deals, and China is unlikely to extend to the group the scale of infrastructure loans that would be required to bring any sizable mining operations online
- As long as there are safer and more reliable sources elsewhere, full utilization of Afghan minerals is likely to remain slow