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Afghanistan's unsung riches

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Afghanistan is a land of spectacular scenery enveloping stark and dynamic geology. The frequent earthquakes and floods, dust storms and avalanches, are merely surface indicators of long eons of intense mineral-resource generation below. To see this land as a geologist is to know that beleaguered, backward Afghanistan does not have to remain war torn and economically devastated for long; instead, the rich resource base there would contribute to rapid rebuilding and economic growth given sincere Soviet concern for the welfare of Afghanistan and not just for Moscow's own access to resources.

Several Western observers have claimed that Afghanistan is poor in resources; this is obviously incorrect. The dearth of prior mining, however, was only partly the fault of poor transport and the inept Afghan government; instead the many Russian diplomatic and political maneuvers to control resource development prior to their invasion must also be recognized. Now the military occupation is partially subsidized with Afghan resources.

The realization that Afghanistan actually has good resources is an idea long in coming. It began in the early 19th century with Britain's resource exploration and invasion in its contest of territorial acquisition with the Russians. Upon the conclusion of the third Anglo-Afghan war (1919), the Afghans won back diplomatic independence, and the first Soviet mission arrived in Kabul. Eight years later, the first Russian publication on ''Mineral Riches of Afghanistan'' appeared in a geological literature previously dominated by the English. Because the Afghans were long the victims of this Anglo-Russian competition, and in spite of many diplomatic rebuffs from Washington, they chose American Inland Oil to develop their resources in the 1930s. Although important resources were quickly confirmed, the company abruptly terminated its exclusive 25-year concessions because of transport problems and the imminence of World War II. The ill will generated by this was offset by secret American aid during wartime, and by subsequent substantial development efforts.

In the late 1950s the Afghans asked France to support further petroleum development. The Soviets forced out this NATO member and a neutral Swedish group , and took over the nascent Afghan hydrocarbon industry for themselves by offering the first major foreign-aid package to another country by the communist bloc. Also, at this time American and Russian aerial photography made possible topographic mapping and further exploration by German and French geologists.

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