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Watchdog: Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli is a ‘conflict mineral’

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2022)

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(AP): Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is helping fuel the war that has long ravaged the country, with armed anti-government groups — including the Taliban — earning up to $20 million a year from illegal mining of lapis lazuli, a London-based corruption watchdog said on Monday.

The group, Global Witness, appealed in its new report to have lapis lazuli, a blue stone almost unique to Afghanistan, classified as a “conflict mineral.”

The lapis lazuli mines are mostly concentrated in northern Badakhshan province where the stone has been mined for centuries for use in jewelry and ornaments, prized for its bright blue hues. The province has been “deeply destabilized” by violent competition for control of the mines between local strongmen, law makers and the Taliban, Global Witness said.

Badakhshan is also a microcosm of what is happening across the country, as mining has become the Taliban’s second biggest source of income, after drugs. The Taliban, who have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul administration for 15 years, control the production of opium poppies, mostly in the southern province of Helmand, the raw material for most of the world’s heroin. The drugs trade is worth up to $3 billion a year, experts have said.

Afghanistan’s mineral and petrochemical assets are believed to be worth billions of dollars, but the government does not have the money or expertise to develop them, and international firms are deterred by the deteriorating security situation.

Global Witness said that if properly developed, these assets could earn the government $2 billion in annual revenue. The report says the government lost at least $17.5 million in revenue from lapis lazuli alone in 2014, and $10 million in 2015.

The total earned by armed groups in 2014 was $19.9 million, the group added, noting that a local strongman identified as Abdul Malek had paid $750,000 in protection money to the Taliban out of proceeds from the illegal lapis lazuli mining. Last year, Malek paid the Taliban $4 million, the report says.

Without government regulation or control, mining assets have slipped out of Kabul’s control. Global Witness said the Badakhshan lapis lazuli mines have also become a “strategic priority” for Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate, which emerged over the past year mostly in the country’s east, along the border with Pakistan.

“Unless the Afghan government acts rapidly to regain control, the battle for the lapis mines is set to intensify and further destabilize the country, as well as fund extremism,” Global Witness said.

The government banned lapis lazuli mining in early 2015 as the mines could not be secured, Afghan officials have told The Associated Press. But the mining continued with impunity, with local police and politicians reportedly benefiting from the illegal extraction and export of the stone.

Much of the illegal lapis lazuli exports go to China, “where it is prized as jewelry,” Global Witness says. “The fact that Chinese lapis sales are funding the Taliban comes in contrast to the Chinese government’s official position as peace-broker on Afghanistan in regional security talks.”

Beijing is part of four-country consultations with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, aimed at bringing the Taliban into a peace dialogue to end the war.

The Taliban are expected to step up violence this year as their new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, moves to consolidate his position after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan last month.

If Kabul cannot secure the nation’s vast mineral assets — which also include coal, iron ore, copper, gold, chromite, lithium, onyx, marble, rubies and emeralds — there are fears they will further slip out of state control and into the hands of armed groups with cross-border connections to ensure enormous profits.

In a report last year, the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said Afghanistan’s minerals and hydrocarbons sector had the potential to “provide the Afghan government with billions in much needed funds in the coming decades.”

But SIGAR also questioned Kabul’s ability to develop the sector in a sustainable and coordinated way, noting that the $488 million that the U.S. government has invested to help develop Afghanistan’s extractive industries “could be wasted.”

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Attempt to smuggle weapons from Afghanistan foiled

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(Last Updated On: December 8, 2022)

Customs authorities at Torkham border foiled an attempt to smuggle arms and ammunition from Afghanistan into Pakistan, officials said on Wednesday.

An official who displayed the weapons said that action was taken after they received a tip-off and stopped a loaded truck with registration No. E-3657 as it crossed the border. He said the truck was loaded with pomegranates being exported from Afghanistan.

The customs chief said the collector appraisement official for Peshawar, Amjadur Rehman and his team searched the truck and recovered 16 US-made automatic firearms and ammunition. The arms were concealed in hidden cavities in the truck.

Muhammad Salim said that the driver of the truck fled from the scene. However, they launched an investigation. He said the seized arms are banned in Pakistan and could be used in terrorism related incidents.

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Nearly 900,000 children in Afghanistan suffer from excessive weight loss

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(Last Updated On: December 7, 2022)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has announced that it urgently needs help to treat children and deal with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, UNICEF announced that about 875,000 children in Afghanistan suffer from excessive weight loss. The children’s charity says it needs help to treat children and prevent further malnutrition in 2023.

On the other hand, UNICEF announced on Tuesday through a humanitarian appeal that children are facing a historic confluence of crises around the world.

The agency has requested $10.3 billion for 2023 to address the plight of 110 million children worldwide.

Recently, the United Nations announced that 97 percent of the Afghan population lives below the poverty line.

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IEA defense minister meets Dubai ruler, US envoy

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(Last Updated On: December 7, 2022)

Acting Defense Minister of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Mawlavi Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai on Tuesday.

Mujahid also met with Afghan businessmen based in the UAE, the ministry said in a statement.

In his meeting with the Dubai ruler, both sides discussed the strengthening of ties between Afghanistan and the UAE and the facilitation of business services for businessmen and other important issues, said the statement.

In addition, Mujahid met with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tomas West in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

According to a statement, both sides discussed the current situation in Afghanistan.

Mujahid assured the US Special Representative that all the borders are secure in Afghanistan, saying that there is no threat from Afghan territory to the countries of the region and the world.

Afghan soil has never been used against any other country and never will be used, said Mujahid

He also told West that the world should respect the territorial integrity of Afghanistan.

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