There are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of marble in the Panjshir province, and some Afghan entrepreneurs are working with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir to develop the industry.
According to Curtis Rose, USAID field development officer with PRT Panjshir, marble is currently being mined in the Anaba, Rokha, Dara and Khenj Districts of the province, but the profits are a small fraction of their potential.
“There are some issues right now with being able to mine,” said Rose. “First, there are some problems with the land rights. Who owns the land? How can you lease the land? Also, you have to be a registered company. Finally, the Ministry of Mines, which only allows a three-year lease for a mine, charges high export taxes.”
Rose said the only way to meet the requirements of becoming a legitimate mine is to have outside investment. And outside investment requires complying with all standards a difficult task for mine owners.
“The mining is primitive now,” said Rose. “The miners really need a new skill set, but every time someone gets trained, they go to another country for more money.
“There are three entrepreneurs who run the Panjshir Marble mine, and they want to train and keep miners,” he said. “They understand mining techniques and mining safety, but they can’t get investment without a business plan and without complying with all standards.”
Rose said business plans are a new idea in the Panjshir province, and USAID is getting involved by bringing in experts who can teach international business methods.
Shiekh Ahmad, one of the entrepenuers said the Panjshir Marble mine is pushing out about 30,000 meters of marble per year.
“We get 3,000 to 5,000 afghani per meter, depending on the type of marble,” said Ahmad. “We are the only mine company in Panjshir. We have more than 10 mines we operate.”
Currently, the miners cut the marble here by primitive means and take it to Kabul to sell, said Rose. They have contracts with businesses in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Italy, the United States and Russia.
“This has the potential to create a lot of jobs here,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, PRT Panjshir commander. “If the people here are able to cut, design and polish the marble, there is opportunity for increased profits. The only industry in Panjshir right now is agriculture, and this could open a whole new industry.”
The first step to opening the industry is transportation, said Rose. The main road through the valley, a USAID and PRT project, is the only way the mine owners can get their goods to Kabul.
“None of this would be possible without the road that USAID and the PRT have built and are continuing to build in the north,” said Rose. “The road was the first step to getting to all of the resources here. In addition to marble, there are gems, iron and granite that can be mined.”
As the mining business expands, USAID and the PRT want to make sure it’s done in the right ecological way, said Velasquez.
“It’s going to take education, safety and mindfulness,” said Velasquez. “The Panjshir River provides water to 14 million people. We need to teach proper mining with the watershed plan in the forefront to protect the water source.”
There are 16 different colors of marble mined in Panjshir. Ultimately, Rose said he would like to see the local mine owners have the people and equipment to properly mine and polish the marble.
Story by 2nd Lt. Jason Smith