When we talk about Afghanistan, the first picture we get is Taliban and Osama bin Laden. But Afghanistan has a different face too. It is one of the richest nations as far as minerals are concerned.
And, the country is gearing up to award contracts to mine one of the world's largest iron ore deposits buried in the war-torn nation that has at least $3 trillion in untapped minerals.
It will open the country's reserves next week in London. Around 200 global investors have been invited to offer suggestions to develop the estimated 2 billion tonnes of iron ore deposits in Bamian province.
Moreover, a United States geological survey said Afghanistan had huge reserves of lithium, iron, copper, gold, mercury, cobalt and other minerals.
Many experts feel that China will bid aggressively on Afghanistan's newly-discovered deposits even as many Western firms sit it out.
A few high-risk investors are sufficiently intrigued by the country's potential to take an early look. JP Morgan, for instance, has just sent a team of mining experts to Afghanistan to examine possible projects to develop.
It has long been known that Afghanistan had significant deposits of gemstones, copper and other minerals, but United States officials say they have discovered and documented major, previously unknown deposits, including copper, iron, gold and industrial metals like lithium.
A Pentagon team, working with geologists and other experts, has shared its data with the Afghan government, and is working with the Afghan ministry of mines to prepare information for potential investors in hopes of placing some mineral exploration rights up for auction within the next six months.
Afghan officials have interpreted their mining regulations in such a way that if a company is awarded a concession to explore and then discovers valuable minerals, the government can tender the concession back and rebid it, undermining any incentive for a foreign firm to actually find large deposits.
Several mining executives and other experts said that the multibillion-dollar investment required to build a large copper mine, for example, meant that the industry would focus on other deposits in less risky countries before they turned to Afghanistan.