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Aim is to Rely Solely on Our Own Resources

UAE, June 06 (Business 24/7): Afghanistan has started to tap its natural resources with multi-billion-dollar investments, which until now had been impossible, says ambassador to the UAE Abdul Farid Zikria.

Ambassador Zikria invited UAE and other GCC investors to take part in exploration projects, which are being launched after the government adopted foreign investment-friendly policies.

"The aim of the government is to rely solely on its own resources,

including natural resources, for the future development of the country," he told Emirates Business. "Such a strategy will make it possible for us to be self-reliant, confront future challenges and realize the sustainable and comprehensive development of our country," he said.

Ambassador Zikria said the government was undertaking a comprehensive geological survey and had drawn up a plan for the exploration of the country's mineral resources.

The strategy included the exploitation of copper, gold, silver, iron ore, coal, oil and gas, gems such as emeralds, lapis lazuli and rubies, and other minerals.

Another strategic program, the ambassador said, set out plans to develop the country's power production and oil and gas industries. Afghanistan has the potential to produce 24,000MW of electricity from its hydro, gas and coal resources. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, one of the largest projects of its kind, will add to the country's revenues.

"We are very rich in natural resources," added Zikria.

"Unfortunately, because of more than 30 years of wars we have not been

able to use these resources properly. Now, with peace returning and the economy growing fast, we are seeking international support and foreign investment to help us.

"With this support we will become fully self-reliant,” he said, adding that the government has adopted a transparent policy to facilitate all kinds of foreign investment.

The Ministry of Mines and Industries signed a deal with China

Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), which will lead a consortium including China's Jiangxi Copper Company to mine the Aynak copper deposit in Logar province and build infrastructure. The project includes the construction of a coal-fuelled 400MW power plant and a rail-road network connecting the north of Afghanistan to the southeast.

Ambassador Zikria explained, "The entire project is estimated to cost up to $10 billion (Dh36.7bn) and will be completed in phases. The copper mining deal is for 30 years with an annual extraction of 200,000 tons. Aynak contains sufficient ore to produce 11 million metric tons of copper.

"This and all the other exploration projects, including oil and gas

schemes, offer great potential to the UAE and GCC investors. The Aynak rail-road network will link Central Asia to Pakistan, India and the Arabian Sea."

Ambassador Zikria said a major survey of Afghanistan's natural resources was being carried out by the US Geological Survey and local engineers.

"The initial results revealed that Afghanistan had 10 times more gas and 15 times more oil reserves than was previously thought. “There are

Significant oil deposits in the south of the country, including ones at Katawaz and in Helmand province. The government will soon announce an oil and gas exploration project in the northern province of Jozjan and will invite foreign investors and exploration firms to become involved.

Ambassador Zikria said the government plans to sign a deal for iron ore exploration in the center of the country. Ore will be mined at the 32 kilometer-long Hajigak deposit.

"We are looking for investors to back the project. The deposit is estimated to contain 1,700 million tons of iron ore and offers great potential for investment."

A contract for a gold mining project in Takar province has been signed and work is expected to start soon. Extraction capacity is expected to range between 1,700kg and 3,000kg per year.

"Another promising area of foreign investment is the country's agriculture sector. We have rich fertile land with rivers and underground water reserves. With the world facing food shortages the government has developed a strategy for the development of the sector that is open to investment.

"Again the GCC has the opportunity to benefit from the agriculture policy to guarantee their future food supplies," Zikria said.