Amid security and corruption criticisms, Afghan officials have signed contracts for two major mining projects in northern Afghanistan, pushing ahead with plans to develop the country’s mineral reserves.

The deals were signed in Washington with mining and investment group Centar and its operating company Afghan Gold and Minerals Co to develop two sites in Badakhshan and Sar-e Pul provinces with potentially major gold and copper deposits.

The deals are believed to potentially revive projects that have been stalled for years, and serve as a precursor to developing Afghanistan’s mineral resources which are estimated to be worth about US$1 trillion and seen as vital to building a functioning economy in Afghanistan after four decades of war.

To date, poor security, rampant corruption and a lack of roads, power and other infrastructure, have hampered development of Afghanistan’s mining sector. Those few major deals that have been signed earlier, such as the vast Mes Aynak copper project signed with China’s state-run China Metallurgical Group Corp, have to date remained largely inactive.

The signing of the latest contracts has been met with criticism by campaigners, including Integrity Watch Afghanistan, due to the involvement of Sayed Sadat Mansoor Naderi, who served as urban development minister until June this year. Integrity Watch Afghanistan has been cited as saying this was a “clear breach” of rules barring former ministers from holding concessions after leaving office.

Under Afghan law, ministers may not hold mining contracts for five years after leaving office.

According to Centar, the copper project in Balkhab district in Sar-e Pul is an early stage exploration project covering 500 sq km, with development due to begin in early 2019.

Local media has sited the ministry of mining in Kabul as saying that the contract would run for 30 years and involve US$56 million investment.

The second project, a gold mining operation in Badakhshan in north-eastern Afghanistan, will explore and develop an area with known gold deposits that have long been exploited by artisanal miners. Exploration is due to begin next year.

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