afghan inside mine


Corruption has been a major driver of both conflict and poverty in Afghanistan. Countering this threat is critical not just for development and economic growth, but for the future of the whole country

Corruption is a poisonous force in Afghanistan, enhancing the power of militias, undermining the effectiveness of international aid, and weakening both the legitimacy of the government and its capacity to act. This is not just a development issue, it is a security issue and a fundamental threat to the country’s stability and progress. But it has never been treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Nowhere is this truer than in Afghanistan’s resource sector, upon which the hopes of a nation are pinned. Many in the country believe that hundreds of billions of dollars of untapped oil, gas, and mineral reserves will drive development in the country and fund the government’s security forces. But with pervasive corruption and the widespread involvement of illegal armed groups, there is a huge risk that these riches will have precisely the opposite effect – fuelling conflict and abuses, while generating little or no revenue for a country that badly needs it.

Global Witness is campaigning to break the link between Afghanistan’s natural resources and the conflict, so that these resources can be developed in a way which actually benefits ordinary Afghans. We are also fighting to end the broader stain of corruption in Afghanistan. We are doing this in three ways: by investigating and exposing the scale and nature of the problem, by researching possible policy solutions, and by working with the Afghan government and donors to put them into practice. 

In 2018 we documented the links between the Taliban and the international talc trade from eastern Afghanistan, as well as the interest that the Islamic State has taken in exploiting the minerals. Our report ‘At any price we will take the mines’ estimated that around 80% of that talc goes to the US and EU, directly implicating consumers in those countries in the funding of the insurgency. We also showed how corrupt power-brokers and officials facilitate the talc trade and ensure very little benefit reaches the Afghan budget.  

In 2016, our report 'War in the treasury of the people: Afghanistan, Lapis Lazuli and the battle for mineral wealth' set out the results of a two year investigation into Afghanistan's famous lapis mines. We found that the Taliban and other armed groups were earning tens of millions of dollars from the mines, the world’s main source of the brilliant blue lapis lazuli stone, which is used in jewellery around the world.

We’ve also highlighted serious concerns around two major new contracts for gold and copper, and fought for stronger accountability under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Our extensive work on the Afghan mining law has resulted in some significant and welcome reforms, especially around transparency, and we are pressing both the Afghan government and its foreign partners on further regulation. But promises are not enough: even the best law means little without the political will and international support to enforce it. If Afghanistan’s huge riches are to benefit the people rather than fuel conflict and corruption, we need a political commitment that matches the scale of the threat.