NATO’s hopes for stability in Afghanistan – and a lasting legacy from its 11 year combat mission there – will be deeply undermined without action to address the growing threat of conflict and corruption from natural resources, a broad coalition of thirty-six Afghan and international civil society organisations has told the organisation as it prepares for its upcoming conference.
In a letter to NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen, the NGOs warn that natural resources are already funding armed groups, and widespread illegal extraction is depriving the Afghan treasury of desperately needed income.
“Minerals have played a big role in bankrolling decades of conflict in Afghanistan,” said Jodi Vittori, Afghanistan Policy Adviser at Global Witness, one of the organisations which signed the letter. “Without effective natural resource governance and transparency, there is a strong threat that natural resources could help tip the country back into full scale conflict rather than providing the revenues and jobs Afghanistan needs for stability, security, and development.”
On September 4-5, NATO foreign ministers will meet in Wales, UK, where they will prepare for ‘Resolute Support, the organisation’s new mission to train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces. NATO says it will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) provided that Afghan authorities live up to their commitments to tackle corruption and contribute more to paying for their own forces.
Experts estimate there is nearly a trillion dollars in minerals alone in Afghanistan, plus substantial oil and natural gas. Afghans and the international community are counting on the royalties and taxes to help pay for its government, economic development, and security forces, while providing thousands of jobs to Afghanistan’s youth. At the same time, the United Nations reports that illegal marble mining is the second major revenue source for the Taliban in Helmand Province after opium, and the Afghan government estimates there are 1400 illegal mines in the country.
Mining currently contributes only around 3 percent of Afghanistan’s domestic revenue, according to an estimate from Global Witness. “Afghanistan’s budget is currently shrinking, and the government will not be able to fund essential development and other expenditures if it doesn’t strengthen natural resource governance,” said Vittori.
The 36 civil society organisations called for NATO to take five key actions in response to the threat of abuses linked to natural resources:
- First and foremost, NATO must develop a coherent strategy to integrate measures against weak governance, corruption, and abuses linked to natural resources into its larger transition strategy in Afghanistan.
- NATO should press for and support implementation of the Afghan government’s existing natural resource commitments, including its commitment to develop an Extractive Industry Development Framework that “builds on and surpasses” international best practices.
- NATO should work with the Afghan government to establish and enforce a clear prohibition on persons linked to armed groups having mining licenses or otherwise being involved in natural resource extraction. NATO must especially ensure its members cease their own support for armed groups involved in illegal exploitation and human rights abuses.
- As part of its “train and assist” mission, NATO should work with the Afghan government to use specially trained, vetted, and accountable units of the Afghan National Police to provide security to extractive operations according to recognised international best practices.
- NATO’s Building Integrity Programme for Afghanistan should include natural resource governance.
“We have seen encouraging signs from recent NATO transition planning of an increasing will to reduce aid-associated corruption and ‘follow the money,’ including calls to strengthen oversight of foreign and military aid flows into Afghanistan.” Vittori said. “But there is still a blind spot on a major threat to NATO’s mission. Without recognizing the role natural resources can play in fragile states, and above all, a comprehensive strategy to deal with it, NATO will find that creating a stable and secure Afghanistan will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.”
- USA: Jodi Vittori, Afghanistan Policy Adviser, Global Witness
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Note for editors:
For further background on natural resources and governance in Afghanistan, see www.globalwitness.org/afghanistan. A factsheet on the security and corruption issues around natural resources is available at http://bit.ly/1qM9f0V