MES AYNAK: Carved from a vast summit near Kabul, an ancient Buddhist city is swallowed by a Chinese consortium that utilizes one of the world’s largest copper deposits and is in danger of disappearing forever. Located at the confluence of Hellenistic and Indian culture, Mes Aynak, believed to have a history of 1,000 to 2,000 years, was once a vast city organized around copper mining and trading.

Archaeologists have discovered Buddhist monasteries, stupas, fortresses, administration buildings and dwellings, as well as hundreds of statues, frescoes, pottery, coins and manuscripts. Despite being plundered at the beginning of the century, Mes Inak is an archaeologist at Iconem, a French company working on the digitization of the city and its heritage, as “one of the most beautiful archaeological sites” in the world. Bastien Varoutsikos says. However, as the Taliban, which returned to power last August, need to find new sources of income after the international aid freezes, project mining could be prioritized and further archaeological work could be put to an end. I have.

Mining Consortium

The objects found are mainly dating from the 2nd to 9th centuries AD, but it is believed that early occupation is possible, and pottery dating back to the Bronze Age, long before the birth of Buddhism, has also been discovered. Forgotten for centuries before being rediscovered by French geologists in the early 1960s, Mes Aynak in Logar has been compared to Pompeii and Machu Picchu in size and importance.

The 1,000-hectare site rises high above a huge mountaintop with brown sides that betray the presence of copper. But in 2007, China’s mining giant Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) led a state-owned consortium, later named MJAM, and signed a $ 3 billion contract to mine ore for over 30 years. Fifteen years later, the mine does not yet exist-anxiety and disagreement between Beijing and Kabul regarding the financial terms of the contract caused a delay. However, the project is once again a priority for both parties and discussions continue on how to proceed.

Obligation to preserve

There is growing concern that what was once considered one of the most prosperous trading centers on the Silk Road could disappear without oversight. In the early 2010s, Varoutsikos told AFP that it was “one of the largest archaeological projects in the world.” MJAM initially shut down operations for three years to allow archaeologists to focus on areas directly threatened by mines.

The period was inadvertently extended as security conditions prevented the Chinese from building the planned infrastructure. As a result, thousands of objects have been excavated. Some were brought to the Kabul Museum, while others were kept nearby. When it finally came to power, the Taliban shocked the world by destroying a giant Buddha statue in Bamiyan in March 2001, but today they save their discovery of Mesuinak. Say you are determined.

“It is the duty of the Ministry of Information and Culture to protect them,” Esmatullah Burhan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, told AFP. However, while rhetoric looks honest, many of the wreckage appear to be destined to disappear, simply because they are bulky or fragile and cannot be moved. Chinese prefer open pit mining to underground mining. As this progresses, it will open a pile of copper and fill all the fragments of the past.

Environmental impact

Afghanistan sits on a huge mineral resource of copper, iron, bauxite, lithium, and rare earths estimated to be worth more than $ 1 trillion. The Taliban wants to earn more than $ 300 million a year from Mes Aynak (about 60% of the total state budget in 2022) and now wants to speed up the process. “This project needs to start and shouldn’t be delayed any further,” Burhan told MJAM repeatedly in the last few weeks. The spokesman says the discussion is about “80% complete”, but only the technical points have not been resolved and need to be completed immediately.

The Taliban requires respect for contracts, including the construction of power plants to supply mines and Kabul and railroads to Pakistan. They also claim that copper is processed locally by the Afghan labor force. China, whose economy is in desperate need of copper, is reluctant to meet these demands. MJAM, which did not support AFP, continues to demand a reduction in royalties. This project is also linked to concerns about environmental impact. Copper mining is polluted, requires large amounts of water, and Rogar is already an arid area.

According to Barhan, the Taliban are paying “strict attention” to these issues and will ensure that the consortium fulfills its obligations in this regard. For now, delays are some relief for archaeologists. Currently no work is being done on site, but Varoutsikos wants to resume excavation before starting the mining work. However, he points out that it still relies on international cooperation and funding. -AFP

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