Mes Aynak, the Copper, the Chinese and the Chicanery

50 km out of Kabul, the French are hurrying to complete the excavation of an archaeological site at Mes Aynak, claimed to be bigger and more important than Pompeii. Four different Buddhist Monasteries, hundreds of statues, and ruins going back to the 3rd Century BC. More riches have already been extracted from Mes Aynak than were previously housed in Afghanistan’s National Museum. The more the excavation goes on, the more extraordinary historical wealth they find.

Meanwhile, the Taliban, who are not noted for their preservation of cultural heritage, are firing rockets at Mes Aynak; presumably aimed at the 2,000 police that guard the 550 workers and the 50 Archaeologists at the site. The up side to this is that the Taliban are as noteworthy for the accuracy of their aim as for their preservation of heritage. Including Taliban Heritage; Mes Aynak was also briefly the site of an Al Qaeda training camp in the late 1990s.

Why the hurry? The Afghan government has signed a deal with a Chinese mining group which will involve the whole site soon being dug up and destroyed. This is the latest in a line of mining ventures that started 5,000 years ago and last ended with the Russian Occupation of the 1980s. The copper here is what drew civilisations to Mes Aynak. It would take decades, according to reports, to properly excavate this vast site, but construction of the Chinese mine is slated to commence in only two months.

Imagine the international outrage that would occur if an Italian mining minister made a corrupt deal with Chinese miners to destroy Pompeii? Gossip, never confirmed, was that the deal for the proposed Aynak mine involved a huge bribe to the mining minister. Not a surprising claim in a country at the almost at the bottom of the list of the most corrupt and poorly governed countries. The new Mining Minister has since published 200 mining contracts, but not this one.

A documentary is currently being made about the saga of Mes Aynak, the Copper, the Chinese and the Chicanery. No doubt it will be stranger than fiction.

Thanks to the Khaleej Times for the inspiration for this post.

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