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Militant Groups in Afghanistan Make Money Smuggling Minerals

An Afghan journalist walks by an exhibit of minerals on the way to a news conference by the Afghan Minister of Mines in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 17, 2010
An Afghan journalist walks by an exhibit of minerals on the way to a news conference by the Afghan Minister of Mines in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 17, 2010
Militant Groups in Afghanistan Make Money Smuggling Minerals
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The smuggling of minerals continues to supply millions of dollars to armed groups in Afghanistan, said an anti-corruption group this week.

The Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Network said in a report that militant groups received at least $46 million by illegally exporting minerals and precious stones to Pakistan.

The report said up to 750,000 tons of marble and talc were smuggled from various parts of Nangarhar province. Some areas of this province have active Taliban and Islamic State fighters.

Marble is a kind of stone that is often polished and used in buildings and statues. Talc is used in the manufacturing of products, including plastics, paints and cosmetics.

Zaman Khan Amarkhail is the President of the Anti-Corruption Network. He told Radio Liberty's Afghanistan service that every day, 500 trucks carrying stones pass through government-controlled roads and arrive in Pakistan. Each truck, he added, carries about 45 tons of stone.

From there, he says, the stones are sent to European countries.

The Afghan mines ministry says the government has banned mineral exports to Pakistan. It says it has also encouraged local businesses to invest in the sector and legally export processed material to foreign countries.

Smugglers thrive

Pakistan is not the only destination for smuggled minerals.

The anti-corruption network says precious stones are being illegally mined from at least 2,000 mines in Afghanistan's northeast. These stones travel across Afghanistan's border with China.

Zabiullah Wardak, a member of the anti-corruption group, said that

"Last year, $300 million worth of precious stones were smuggled from the province [Badakhshan] to China."

The Afghan government says fighting between Afghan forces and militant groups has led to an increase in illegal mining. Experts say the mineral smuggling occurs through a strong network of militants, criminal groups, and some civil servants and military officials.

Haroon Rashid Sherzad is a civil society activist and former deputy minister of anti-narcotics. He told VOA that mineral smuggling is "a huge business for the involved parties who are thriving under weak government surveillance."

Conflict and development

Afghanistan has a long history of smuggling. In the early 1970s, as much as 20 to 25 percent of Afghanistan's foreign trade came from smuggling. This information comes from a paper written by Jagdish Bhagwati and Bent Hansen in 1971.

A report from West Point's counterterrorism center says small-scale mining and drug-smuggling played an important role in financing conflicts throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Despite Afghanistan's wealth in minerals, the country has had a difficult time developing significant industries in some parts of the country. A 2010 report in the New York Times says Afghanistan may have over $1 trillion dollars' worth of mineral reserves.

"The ongoing insurgency and instability in the province [Nangarhar] has not allowed businesses to establish factories," an official at the ministry of mines told VOA. The official did not want to be identified.

Experts say that continued smuggling and border corruption are not only fueling conflict, but costing Afghanistan millions of dollars.

Customs revenue collections have increased in the past year, says the country's finance ministry. However, the country still loses large amounts of tax revenues due to smuggling.

"Surveillance is weak at the borders. An individual with a license to export 100 tons of stones would be able to export 1,000 tons instead," Sherzad, the civil society activist, said. "Corrupt officials turn a blind eye to illegal exports and, in return, they too benefit from it."

I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English based on reporting by VOA's Noor Zahid. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

smuggle – v. to move (someone or something) from one country into another illegally and secretly

precious – adj. rare and worth a lot of money

cosmetic – n. a substance (such as a cream, lotion, or powder) that you put on your face or body to improve your appearance

thrive – v. to flourish or succeed