Stakes are high in Afghanistan as officials audit the presidential runoff election to determine who will lead the country during its pivotal “transformational decade.” The economic linchpin of this ambition to transform war-torn, aid-dependent Afghanistan will be the ability of the new leadership to tap an estimated trillion-dollar mineral potential. However, as a televised debate produced by Open Jirga—a BBC Media Action project—illustrates, the Afghan public expects more from the new administration than just headlines of record-breaking deals involving the country’s natural resources.
Translated into English for the first time since its live broadcast in October 2013, the debate highlights a slew of governance and policy concerns that the audience—selected for its expertise, gender, age and regional representation—put to a panel of government and private sector actors. Notably, citizens grilled then Afghan Minister of Mines H.E. Wahidullah Shahrani on the social, economic and environmental impact of mining, as well as on the need for transparency and accountability for alleged corruption, mismanagement and illegal exploitation of the country’s mineral wealth. “According to the constitution, mines belong to the people and are the property of the state,” the minister said in agreement. “The government has the responsibility to use these resources in the interest of the people.”
This demonstration of the public’s increasingly sophisticated understanding of the impact of the extractive industries on national development should alert the incoming administration of its priority tasks in the sector. Moreover, it could signal to the world that, despite its challenges and tragedies, the Afghan experiment in democracy has activated citizen engagement in public policy and raised unprecedented demand for better governance in the sector and beyond.
Katarina Kuai leads NRGI’s work on Afghanistan.