Monday, 16 August 2010

First the good news

It is reported that an oil field with up to 1.8 billion barrels of oil may have been found in the north of Afghanistan. The country may have up to 1 trillion dollars worth of mineral resources. As an indication of the potential for rebuilding a nation wracked by decades of war, it should be good news.

But will these natural resources remain as national assets to be exploited for the benefit of all? With vast armies from oil-hungry nations already dug in for a long war, the chances can't be very high.

Many of us believed that the invasion of Iraq had more than a little to do with the enormous oil reserves in the hands of state-owned Iraqi companies. Tony Blair, while compiling evidence of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, tried to reassure a sceptical public. Back in 2003, he said, "Oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people". It wasn't believeable then, and it isn't believable now. Just a few years later, draft legislation on the Iraqi oil industry sought to pave the way for privatisation, opening the door for American and British oil companies to move in.

If the USA is looking for a way out of the mess it has made of Afghanistan, let's hope the smell of oil won't persuade it that it needs to stay that bit longer. The discovery of extensive natural wealth in Afghanistan should be a blessing not a curse for its long suffering population.