Current Weather
The Spy FM

For Afghanistan, Wealth Is Just Below The Surface

Filed by KOSU News in World News.
June 5, 2011

There’s close to a $1 trillion waiting to be unearthed beneath the rocky soil of Afghanistan. The massive deposits of iron, copper, gold and lithium could potentially turn the troubled nation’s economy around.

“Afghanistan, with certainty I can say, in 20 years is going to be a mining country,” Paul Brinkley, head of a Pentagon group called the Task Force for Business Stability Operations, tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “That is going to happen.”

He sees these untapped natural resources as a means for Afghanistan to build a stronger economy.

Brinkley, who has been doing this kind of work since 2006, is stepping down from his post later this month. But he’s adamant this project is only starting to scratch the surface.

“This is a resource the Afghans are beginning to understand offers them a future,” he says.

Business In A War Zone

To Brinkley, Afghanistan’s mineral deposits are the country’s chance at having a core indigenous source of wealth. But he knows it’s not as simple as just getting those minerals out of the ground.

Brinkley says that in order to properly develop the mining industry, “creation has to take place of business practices.”

In the past, Afghanistan has seen lots money come into the country through illicit industries like opium production. He notes minerals can’t be smuggled in the same way drugs can, so Afghans will need to engage in legal business transactions and build working relationships to make this work.

As part of his efforts, Brinkley brings in corporate executives on trips to Afghanistan to try to get them to invest. An array of executives, including from Citibank, IBM and even Kate Spade, have accompanied Brinkley on these types of trips. When he’s making his pitch, he wants to make it clear this is not a charity opportunity. It’s strictly business.

“I want them to come in and see that they can make actually make money, that there’s a market,” Brinkley says, “that there’s talent that can be brought to bare for their particular business interests.”

High-Risk Investments

But these possible business opportunities are still located in a volatile, dangerous environment. With the task force moving to the civilian-run U.S. State Department, the risk is greater.

State Department personnel are “not trained to be in combat zones,” notes Nathan Hodge, author of Armed Humanitarians, “they’re not trained to be in combat zones, and very often you’re talking about doing this kind of armed development work while being shot at.”

Those are the same concerns some lawmakers have on Capitol Hill, saying Brinkley’s task force blurs the line between military and civilian missions. They think taking CEOs around Afghanistan is not something the Pentagon should be doing.

Brinkley has had his own close calls. In January 2010, a bomb went off in a Baghdad hotel where he was holding a meeting. Even after that close shave, Brinkley and his team only had one thought.

“Our immediate reaction was we’re going right back in,” he recalls.

Having A Stake

Once the minerals are extracted from the ground, Brinkley is faced with the reality of possible corruption — his greatest concern. He doesn’t want minerals to become the blood diamonds of Afghanistan. To combat this worry, the task force makes sure Afghans have access to mining industry experts.

The overall key, according to Brinkley, is engagement. By staying involved, he says, the U.S. has the ability to better shape the outcome. He also notes, the U.S. does have a strategic interest in seeing Afghanistan develop.

It’s not just the U.S. Brinkley thinks if Afghanistan can provide these highly sought out minerals, Afghanistan will be a critical source for other countries’ economies.

But with Brinkley leaving the task force and most of his main sponsors in the Pentagon, like Gen. David Petraeus, also in transition, he says the project is at a point of inflection.

“There’s a long way to go between, where we are today and where that future can be,” he says. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center