Make Afghan Lapis Lazuli a ‘conflict’ mineral: watchdog

Violent competition between local strongmen for control over 6,500-year-old lapis mines

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Afghan lapis lazuli must be classified as a “conflict mineral”, an international watchdog says, warning the Taliban and other insurgents are earning some $20 million a year illegally mining the semi-precious stone.

Violent competition between local strongmen for control over 6,500-year-old lapis mines in the far northeastern province of Badakhshan is a key driver of conflict in the country, London-based Global Witness said in a report Monday.


“With the Taliban on the outskirts of the mines themselves, as well as controlling key roads into the mining areas, there is now a real risk that the mines could fall into their hands,” it said.

The report warned that due to similar situations nationwide, mining was already “the Taliban’s second biggest source of income”.

“Unless the Afghan government acts rapidly to regain control, the battle for the lapis mines is set to intensify and further destabilize the country, as well as fund extremism.”

The mines could also be a “strategic priority” for the ISIS group, which is making inroads in Afghanistan, winning over sympathizers and recruiting followers mostly in the country’s east, according to the report.

“The Afghan lapis lazuli stone should now be classified as a conflict mineral,” it said.

Calling it a conflict mineral will compel Afghanistan to regulate its mines, many of which are located in troubled insurgency-prone areas.

The deep-blue stone is frequently used for jewellery and ornaments, with the bulk of Afghanistan’s mined lapis exported to China, according to the report.

Afghanistan’s vast untapped natural resources, valued at more than $1 trillion, are seen as the war-battered country’s ticket to a self-reliant future, a possible trump card that could jumpstart the lagging economy as foreign aid ebbs.

But the lucrative sector -- already plagued by rampant corruption, insurgent violence and a lack of regulation which are all deterring international miners -- also threatens to fuel conflict and push Afghanistan deeper into turmoil.

Insurgents, warlords and militias have also made murderous incursions into most other areas rich in deposits of iron, gold, copper and precious stones, including the eastern provinces of Logar and Ghazni.

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