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Taliban Profiting From 'Closed' Mines In Bamiyan And Wardak

A security guard keeps watch at a mine in Wardak Province.
A security guard keeps watch at a mine in Wardak Province.

Mohammad has barely left the limestone mine of the Jalgah district in Wardak when he is stopped at the customary Taliban toll, where the driver will make the first of five payments at different checkpoints en route to the stucco factory in Kabul, his destination a few dozen miles away.

The mine is still in site by the time he has paid a series of informal charges to a web of stakeholders: 5,130 Afghani ($85) for the Taliban, who produce an 'official' invoice, 8,000 Afghani ($130) for the truck loaders – who in turn pay their own commission to insurgents – then 3,000 ($50) Afghani to the owner who has leased the mine. The driver will need to make a further two payments, under the pretext of municipality fees and road taxes, at government checkpoints in Chak in Wardak and in Argahndi in Kabul before he can deliver his load.

Goldmine For The Insurgency

Up to 30 vehicles loaded with limestone leave the Jalgah mine for Kabul every day, depositing 90 percent of the revenue in the pockets of anti-government forces and powerful local individuals, according to a prominent politician in the region.

"The yields from the Jalgah limestone mine is divided into many shares," said Waheed Akbarzoi, a member of the Provincial Council in Wardak. "The big chunk of it goes to the Taliban, a share of it goes to the pockets of individuals and unofficial people, and a small share goes to the government treasury."

A resident of Jalgah who preferred to remain anonymous explained the hybrid leasing and taxation system: "Those people who have leased the mine from the government have a receipt which they provide upon receiving the money from the truckers. That money goes to the coffers of the government. The Taliban also have a receipt which they give the truck drivers once they have received the money, and that money goes to the coffers of the Taliban."

The Jalgah mine is symptomatic of the Afghan government’s inability to administer the country's natural resources in many provinces. The country’s newly appointed mines and petroleum minister gave a damning speech to parliament only last month, warning of impending disaster if state capacity is not strengthened in the sector.

"Today, the mining sector of Afghanistan is going in a disastrous direction, instead of being used for the welfare of the people. I am not ashamed to say this, and I will defend my statement. There is an overall lack of capacity, vague policies, and an lack of strategy when it comes to the mining sector. Seeing the capacity at the Mines Ministry gave me goosebumps; the way we are managing Afghanistan's resources will without a doubt lead us to a crisis unless we change it," Minister Daud Shah Saba told the Wolesi Jirga.

Calling for increased regulation, Saba acknowledged that many mines were being looted by the Taliban and warned that the Islamic State (IS) may look to fund its campaigns in Syria and Iraq through revenue obtained from illegal mining in Afghanistan.

The Resourceful Taliban

The Kahmard coal deposit in Bamyan Province faces a quagmire similar to the limestone quarry in Wardak, according to a high-ranking former police chief in the province. The site, which until 2013 provided coal to power the marquee Chinese-run Aynak mine in neighboring Logar Province, has officially been closed for two years. General Khudayar Qudsi, former police commander of Bamyan Province, says however that a Taliban deputy mayor in the district has been illegally mining there since then, pulling in more than $3,000 per day.

A security official from the Aynak mine in Logar, Afghanistan’s largest natural resource extraction concession, confirmed the Taliban is mining the Kahmard site.

"Qari Mayraj, the shadow mayor of the Taliban in the Tala Wa Barfak area of Baghlan Province, is involved in the illegal extraction and smuggling of coal,” the source said. “The government also charges a tax of 1,500 Afghani ($25) per ton for this coal."

Officials deny any wrongdoing. Mohammad Asif Mobalegh, the deputy governor of Bamyan Province, says illegal extraction was halted two years ago and the only illegal mining is small-scale by local residents who need propane for everyday use. The Taliban extracting thousands of dollars worth of coal a day is "totally fabricated and false," Mobalegh said. Yet an official for the state-owned Northern Coal Enterprise confirmed that some illegal extraction was taking place in Kahmard.

Attullah Khogiani, spokesman for the governor of Wardak Province, says only the part of the mine that lies in bordering Ghazni Province is officially closed. “Extraction is halted in the Polad Baala area, but in the Polad Payan area the government has officially leased out the mine to three people, and the revenue also goes to the government,” said Khogiani, without elaborating.

A government official told Afghanistan Today on the condition of anonymity that the biggest chunk of the revenue at the Jalgah mine goes to the Taliban. The senior official says the government cannot do anything about the money levied at roadblocks en route to the factory because there is no specific locations where the money is obtained and drivers employ different routes to avoid been tracked.

From Miner To Militant

The closure of the mines in Bamiyan has cost up to 4,000 people their livelihoods, according to provincial government statistics. Rauf, a Kahmard resident, says many young men have joined the ranks of insurgents since all the mines in the province ceased to be operated by the government two years ago. According to a key labor association in Bamiyan, more than a third of the adult population is unemployed.

“Based on the figures we have gathered, more than 150,000 people are jobless in Bamyan, close to 50,000 have drug problems and there is the possibility that some may join anti-government elements," says Ramazan Omaid, head of the Bamiyan Labor Association.

The spokesman for the Bamiyan governor says, "There are efforts to reopen the mines," and so far they have received no reports of former miners joining the ranks of the insurgency.