Deep within the rocky landscape of Afghanistan lies an estimated $1 trillion in mineral wealth -- including rubies, emeralds and rare earth minerals -- that is enough to fund the nation's budget at current levels for the next 150 years. But the return of the Taliban is blocking the war-torn nation from tapping the vast resources that could pay for its future.
Kabul planned on earning $1.5 billion from its mineral sector, but with the Taliban resurgent, that number has been scaled way back to just $30 million, Afghanistan's Mines and Petroleum Minister Daud Shah Saba told Bloomberg News.
"Unfortunately we have failed to well manage and well control our mining sector," Saba told the news outlet last week. "With the current fragile and messy situation, it’s really hard to say when Afghanistan should expect any profits from it."
"Until you have peace, the mining sector of Afghanistan is going to be held hostage by the combatants."
Though it is one of the poorest countries in the world and roughly the size of Texas, Afghanistan is stocked with precious minerals deposited by the violent collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia, according to scientists. It was not until the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan that the scope and value of its mineral resources were discovered by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Unearthing Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth requires major transportation infrastructure and the resources to move rock. Efforts by foreign countries -- like China -- to establish the means to mine in Afghanistan have been prevented largely by the Taliban, according to Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis for Stratfor, the Texas-based global intelligence company.
"Until you have peace, the mining sector of Afghanistan is going to be held hostage by the combatants," Stewart said of the Taliban. "They need ways to finance their war efforts and so they’re going to use whatever they can."
"Wherever you have insurgency and mineral wealth, you’re going to have this issue," Stewart told FoxNews.com. Stewart cited Colombia, where there are valuable minerals -- such as nickel and gold -- and where mining infrastructure is a common target of FARC and ELN guerrillas. Stewart also referenced the "blood diamonds" of Africa and oil controlled by the Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq.
"While the Taliban have cooperated with criminal networks in Afghanistan since the 1990s, their involvement in criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking, illicit mining, collusion with 'transport mafias' and kidnapping for ransom, appears to be increasing," a United Nations Security Council committee wrote in a report last February.