- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

To the casual observer, Afghanistan has little more than rugged mountains and arid plains, dissipating into a dust-filled horizon. But geologists see a wealth of resources that years of war haven't ravaged because they are underground.
Afghanistan has the largest copper deposits in the world, the third-largest iron deposits, oil and gas in the north and probably in the south and a richness of minerals, said geologist and geographer Jack Shroder, who headed a team that created an atlas of Afghanistan in cooperation with the U.S. government, following the 1978 Soviet coup. "Afghanistan is sitting on resources that could be used to bootstrap the economy," said Mr. Schroder.
Some far-sighted U.S. officials would like to help Afghanistan do just that, and have floated a proposal, yet to be approved or made public, to develop a digital and analog interactive map that delineates Afghanistan's sub-terrain, surface and topography. This map would identify the location, distribution, quantity and quality of the country's natural resources, including water, and also indicate the zones of earthquake hazard. The creation of this map, and some training expenses, would probably cost about $65 million, the U.S. officials said. "Our goal is to get the data to the point where it's useful and can be handled by the [Afghans] on their own," said one government official. Once the map is completed, the private sector could come in and develop the resources, he added.
Surely, the creation of this map, not to mention the private sector's ability to use it for development, will be tricky. Geologists will have to conduct field work and observe Afghanistan from the air, which will be risky. But geologists could also draw on data compiled over the years by the Soviet regime, Afghan government, local agencies (such as the Red Crescent) and the U.S. government. Also, the proposal dovetails with America's shifting strategy for Afghanistan, which entails reconstruction and plans to make a concerted push to train its military and police corps. These Afghan forces could play a crucial role in providing cover to geologists and private-sector workers.
America has a clear stake in fostering stability and prosperity in Afghanistan. So, serious U.S. deliberations on Afghanistan's hidden treasures certainly are in order.


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