Great article here about a huge ancient site from when Afghanistan was the centre of the world. The ancient city came about because it was atop perhaps the worlds biggest copper deposit. It is now being excavated double quick time so that the Chinese can come in and get mining. The implications for Afghanistan's economy and security are breathtaking, even if it means destroying a site of such importance:
In September 2012, the Chinese security chief, Zhou Yongkang, visited Kabul and announced a turnaround in Chinese policy. As well as signing contracts for more mining and oil exploration, the Chinese announced plans for road- and rail-building projects linking north-east Afghanistan with western China through the Wakhan Corridor. A railway is now being planned from Kashgar to Iran via Herat; another will run from Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif. China has also made a start on security co-operation with Karzai's regime, and is currently training a first batch of 300 Afghan policemen. The politics of this are delicate, but, potentially, extremely important. China is possibly the only country to which the Pakistani security establishment defers. If China continues to invest in Afghan mineral resources, and the roads and railways with which it can extract them, it will expect Pakistan to protect its interests and not allow the Taliban to disrupt these operations in Afghanistan. This could hold out the best hope for future peace in Afghanistan.
Things aren't quite going to plan so far, though:
Geologists estimate that Afghanistan holds vast hydrocarbon and mineral deposits that could be worth $1tn – including oil, gas, copper, iron, gold and lithium that China will need in the decades ahead if its economy is to expand. Yet Mes Aynak shows the scale of the problems that will have to be overcome. Most of the mineral deposits in Afghanistan are in the south-east of the country, where the Islamist insurgency is strongest. Despite massive investment in the fortified camp at Mes Aynak, and enormous security, there have been several Taliban attacks on the Chinese mining camp and most of the 150 Chinese staff in residence recently fled back home. One British observer who worked with the Chinese at Mes Aynak remains sceptical about their resolution: "They are scared, confused, and have little understanding of Afghanistan," he told me. "They may well be regretting ever having got involved in Mes Aynak. Their workmen are attacked – there was another bomb last week, and they have no Dari or Pashto speakers. Rather than ruthlessly efficient, I have found them sweet and a bit hopeless." Certainly, their camp is currently empty except for security and caretakers.