Mining operations in Afghanistan could be an important generator of economic growth for the country, but they also spark conflicts over environmental effects and perceptions that the economic benefits have been distributed unfairly. Local communities, the government, and mining companies would all benefit from mechanisms that focus on transparency and mediate grievances around these industries.

Summary

  • While Afghanistan’s economy has experienced strong growth in the past decade, declining levels of overseas development assistance beginning in 2014 are expected to substantially reduce the country’s economic growth rate, with attendant political implications.
  • Commercially exploitable mineral deposits in Afghanistan could generate billions of dollars in income and be an engine of growth of the future economy.
  • Extractive industries in fragile countries often undermine statebuilding by either sparking, sustaining, or contributing to a relapse of violent conflict. In Afghanistan, while mineral extraction has not contributed significantly to the formal economy, minerals have historically been linked to various forms of conflict.
  • A weak and deteriorating formal governance environment in Afghanistan—with weak regulation capacity, poor compliance monitoring, and pervasive corruption—may mean that local communities are more susceptible to the negative social and environmental effects of mining operations, as well as to real or perceived perceptions of injustices in the distribution of benefits.
  • The issues associated with the extractive industry in Afghanistan may be addressed through social accountability mechanisms, whereby people can hold the government accountable for its promises and actions, and the government can respond in a fair and appropriate manner to the needs and concerns of the population. Social accountability mechanisms— usually facilitated through organized civil society—involve empowering local communities with information and creating effective spaces for dialogue, consultation, and the management of expectations.
  • Mining companies can benefit from social accountability mechanisms, which can be used to address unmanaged expectations and tensions that may compromise security and operations. In addition, social accountability mechanisms that focus on transparency and mediating grievances before they become acute and turn violent can also help manage tensions that arise between social groups and that can lead to sectarian conflict.
  • Social accountability in the mining sector in Afghanistan can also help restore citizens’ trust in the government and thus contribute to the country’s broader governance and peacebuilding goals.

About the Report

Recent estimates of deposits in Afghanistan indicate that mineral extraction could contribute to the economic growth the country needs to sustain its efforts in peacebuilding and development after 2014. This report argues that integrating social accountability measures into governance of the extractive industry can help alleviate violent conflict by ensuring a more equitable distribution of the benefits as well as facilitate greater confidence in the state and a molding of the social contract. The U.S. Institute of Peace is working with Integrity Watch Afghanistan in testing some of the concepts in this report through a project to help support social accountability in Afghanistan’s mining sector.

About the Author

Sadaf Lakhani is a social development professional with expertise in governance and private sector development in fragile situations and conflict-affected states. She has worked with The World Bank Group, United Nations Development Programme, and the European Commission in policy and program roles. She currently advises USIP on extractive industries and conflict prevention and is on the advisory board of invest2innovate. The author would like to thank Scott Smith and William Byrd for their comments on this report.

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