Mohammad has barely left the limestone mine in Jalgah district in Wardak when he is stopped at the customary Taliban toll, where the driver will make the first of five payments at different checkpoints en route to the stucco factory in Kabul, his destination a few dozen miles away. The mine is still in site by the time he has paid a series of informal charges to a web of stakeholders: 5,130 afghani for the Taliban, who produce an ‘official’ invoice, 8000 afghani for the truck loaders – who in turn pay their own commission to insurgents – then 3000 afghani to the owner who has leased the mind. The driver will need to make a further two payments, under the pretext of municipality fees and road taxes, at government checkpoints in Chak in Wardak and in Argahndi in Kabul before he can deliver his load.
Goldmine for the insurgency
Up to 30 vehicles loaded with limestone leave the Jalgah mine for Kabul everyday, depositing 90 per cent of the revenue in the pockets of anti-government forces and powerful local individuals, according to a prominent politician in the region. “The yields from the Jalgah limestone mine is divided into many shares,” Waheed Akbarzoi, a member of the Provincial Council in Wardak, told Afghanistan Today. “The big chunk of it goes to the Taliban, a share of it goes to the pockets of individuals and unofficial people and a small share goes to the government treasury.”
A resident in Jalgah, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained the hybrid leasing and taxation system: “Those people who have leased the mine from the government have a receipt which they provide upon receiving the money from the truckers. That money goes to the coffers of the government. The Taliban also have a receipt which they give the truck drivers once the have received the money and that money goes to the coffers of the Taliban.”
The Jalgah mine is symptomatic of the Afghan government’s inability to administer the country’s natural resources in many provinces. The country’s newly appointed Minister for Mines and Petroleum gave a damning speech to Parliament only last month, warning of impending disaster if state capacity is not strengthened in the sector. “Today the mining sector of Afghanistan instead of being used for the welfare of the people is going in a disastrous direction. I am not ashamed of saying this and I will defend my statement. There is an overall lack of capacity, vague policies and absence of strategies when it comes to the mining sector. With the capacity that I saw at the Ministry of Mines, I had goose bumps; the way we are managing the resources of Afghanistan, it without a doubt will lead us to a crisis, unless we change this,” Minister Daud Shah Saba told the Wolesi Jirga in June 2015.
Calling for increased regulation, Saba acknowledged that many mines were being looted by the Taliban and warned that ISIS may look to fund its campaigns in Syria and Iraq through revenue obtained from illegal mining in Afghanistan.
The Kahmard coal deposit in Bamyan province is another example of a mine in a similar quagmire as the limestone quarry in Wardak, according to a high-ranking former police chief in the province. The site, which before 2013 provided coal to power the marquee Chinese-run Aynak mine in neighbouring Logar province, has officially been closed for two years. General Khudayar Qudsi, former police commander of Bamyan province, claims however that a Taliban deputy mayor in the district has been illegally mining since it officially closed, making more than 3000 USD per pay.
A security official from the Aynak mine in Logar, Afghanistan’s largest natural resource extraction concession, confirmed that the Taliban are mining the Kahmard site. “Qari Mayraj shadow mayor of the Taliban in Tala Wa Barfak area of Baghlan province is involved in the illegal extraction and smuggling of coal,” the source told Afghanistan Today. “The government also charges 1,500 afghani tax per ton of this coal.”
Officials deny any wrongdoing. Mohammad Asif Mobalegh the deputy governor of Bamyan province, says that illegal extraction of was halted since two years ago and that the only illegal mining is small-scale by local residents who need propane to meet their daily needs. The Taliban extracting thousands of dollars worth of coal everyday is “totally fabricated and false,” Mobalegh told Afghanistan Today. Yet an official for the state-owned Northern Coal Enterprise confirmed that some illegal extraction was taking place in Kahmard.
Attullah Khogiani, spokesperson of the governor of Wardak province, says only the part of the mine that lies in bordering Ghazni province is officially closed. “Extraction is halted in the Polad Baala area, but in the Polad Payan area the government has officially leased out the mine to three people and the revenue also goes to the government,” said Khogiani, without expanding, yet acknowledging that some of the revenue could be going to anti-government forces.
A government official told AT on the condition of anonymity that the biggest chunk of the revenue at the Jalgah mine goes to the Taliban. The senior official says the government cannot do anything about the money levied at roadblocks en route to the factory because there is no specific locations where the money is obtained and drivers employ different routes to avoid been tracked.
From miner to militant
The closure of mines in Bamiyan has left up to 4000 people unemployed, according to provincial government statistics. Rauf, a Kahmard resident, says many young men have joined the ranks of insurgents since all the mines in the province ceased to be operated by the government two years ago. According to a key labour association in Bamiyan, more than a 3rd of the adult population in the province is unemployed. “Based on the figures that we have gathered, more than 150,000 people are jobless in Bamyan, close to 50,000 have drugs addiction and there are possibilities that some may join the antigovernment elements,” says Ramazan Omaid, head of the Bamiyan Labour Association.
As spokesman for the Bamiyan governor says “there are efforts to reopen the mines” and that so far they have received no reports of former miners joining the ranks of the insurgency.