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Tuesday, June 15

Just call them cockeyed optimists. And a few words about the work ethic

Here are some words of encouragement in response to Sunday's news that Afghanistan is sitting on a trillion dollars in natural resources:

The Economist: "Oh great, another Congo"

The New Yorker: "Curse of Kabul"

AP: "Huge obstacles seen in exploiting Afghan minerals"

Luke Popovich, U.S. National Mining Assn: "Sudan will host the Winter Olympics before these guys get a trillion dollars out of the ground."

Granted it's not going to be a walk in the park to transform Afghanistan's natural resources into a trillion dollars. But where there's a will and Chinese businessmen there's a way. If you had described today's Pearl River Delta to people in 1975 who didn't know the Han Chinese character, they would have called you crazy.

Of course, Chinese are a very different people than the Afghans, but the solution is for the Afghans to become a little more like the Han Chinese.

One of the comments I came across about Afghanistan's untapped wealth is that the most the country could hope for was to become like Saudi Arabia. If that happens Afghans will never be at peace, no matter how rich they become, because the building up of their country will have been done for them by foreign contractors.

But China and other East Asian societies that venerate hard work are a long way from the land ruled by the Saudi family, whereas China borders Afghanistan. So Afghans have a fighting chance to learn a work ethic that creates tremendous self confidence and an unshakable sense of accomplishment.

I recount with laughter that I nearly killed myself demonstrating to Japanese co-workers that an American could work harder than any Japanese. I saw it as defending America's honor.

That was at a time when the American answer to the challenge from Japan's industry was to pile Japanese electronic equipment on the floor of the U.S. Senate (or maybe it was the House; I no longer remember) while members of Congress took turns smashing the equipment with sledgehammers and hatchets.

At our parting the Japanese co-workers gave me a traditional token gift and a card that read, "To hardest working person in entire Pacific Rim."

I saved the card for decades, until I faced the fact that mainstream society in America no longer placed a high value on hard work. Rights came to hold the highest value; it happened with the rise of the huge political campaign industry.

No politician has ever gotten elected in America by telling voters their rights needed to take a back seat to hard work; instead, politicians must keep finding more and more rights to be defended.

The Chinese thought they knew what to expect when they accumulated enough money to fund development projects in countries that were much worse off than theirs; that's because enough Chinese had worked for international development banks to know the drill backwards and forwards in the 'third world.' But when they actually began doing the projects themselves in such countries they couldn't take the crummy work ethic they often encountered.

If the Chinese can't get their idea of a decent day's work out of the locals in a foreign country, they'll do it themselves. That's caused them a lot of problems in those countries. It angers the locals when they're deprived of work at Chinese projects. It angers them even more when they hear the Chinese call them lazy.

In one way the predicament for the Chinese is funny because they're are always trying to put on a big show of solidarity with the world's poorest. They draw the line at laziness, and they don't want to hear excuses like 'It's hard to put in a good day's work when you're starving.'

Even the Indians have come in for criticism. "Fifteen minutes work then tea break," snapped one Chinese about Indian co-workers.

Actually, the poorest Indians work as hard as any Chinese. But the higher up the totem pole you go in Indian society, the more you can still run into the pasha mentality, particularly in the vast bureaucracies and state-supported enterprises. It's even worse in Pakistan. Drives the Chinese nuts.

Afghans, at least the Pashtun males in the tribal areas, are reportedly also big tea drinkers. But I'm told the women are very hard workers. So we'll see. If the Chinese want to pay enough baksheesh to the males they might be able to put the women to work.

The women would have to work harder for the Chinese than sled dogs running the Iditarod; however, they'd be exposed to the concept that there are societies where hard work is highly prized, and they could pass along this concept to their children.

The harder you work in a society that admires the pasha mindset, the more contempt is heaped on you -- for only slaves, servants, and pack animals work hard. Yet meritocracy is a society's rainy-day money; the kind of thinking and work ethic a meritocracy engenders can weather any storm.

According to The New York Times, the bidding for rights to explore Afghanistan's mineral reserves could begin in as little as six months. We'll learn more about the bidding when Afghanistan's Mines Ministry holds a press conference, which reportedly will be this Thursday.

James Risen wrote up a report summarizing the history and intrigue surrounding the discovery of Afghanistan's incredible storehouse of natural wealth, which I find interesting enough to feature here. From today's Sydney Morning Herald:
Soviet charts held clues to hidden wealth

Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan's mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004 American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learnt that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey's library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

''There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,'' said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the US Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan's mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 per cent of the country.

The data was so promising that the geologists returned in 2007 for an even more sophisticated aerial study, using instruments that offer a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the surface. It was the most comprehensive geological survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009 a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information, and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey's findings, and then briefed US and Afghan leaders.

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Comments:
Pundita:

FYI: The original surveys were actually a joint project by the Russians, Indians and a US mining/oil company.

The Najibullah government wanted to do the survey to encourage the then Muj to "share in the national wealth". They first had to convince the Muj there was any wealth! Hence the survey.

The survey was done by air, with Russian geologists, but for reasons I'm not sure of, used Indian Air Force Canberras. The equipment on the Canberras came from, or s I've heard, an American mining company.

Of course the Muj, fronting for the pakistanis weren't interested in sharing anything in those days anymore than thier decendents, the Taliban who are apparently another front for the Pakistanis, are today.

It's funny how things go around and around in pointless circles.

I doubt this news is going to be of any use to Karzai then it was to Najibullah.
 
Kyle, Thank you for that history.
 
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