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Afghanistan oil 'can turn wheels'

Human rights watchdog Global Witness is calling for transparency in the award by Afghanistan of natural resource concessions in the run-up to transition in 2014.

According to the US Geological Survey, the strife-torn country could be sitting on up to 36 trillion cubic feet of gas, 3.6 billion barrels of oil and 1.3 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

However, internecine fighting involving the Taliban and other groups have crippled development of the impoverished country’s oil and gas sector and corruption is rife in the corridors of power.

Afghanistan was ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world in a Transparency International index last year, despite an earlier pledge by President Hamid Karzai’s pledge to stamp out graft in the government.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the allied invasion of the country, Global Witness warns the future benefits of oil and gas development must not go the way of aid that has been siphoned off by corruption over the last decade.

It said the country’s natural resources could be a source of enormous wealth that could be used to build a sustainable economy and lift a generation of Afghans out of poverty.

However, it warns systems of transparency and fairness must be in place if revenues generated from the award of resource rights are to benefit the wider economy.

“The government of Afghanistan and its allies have a narrow window of opportunity to become a world leader in resource transparency and embed good governance as rights to these resources are being sold over the next three years,” said campaigner Juman Kubba.

“The stakes could not be higher - get it right and minerals could be the catalyst for peace and prosperity; get it wrong and there’s a massive risk they will be lost to corruption, or form a new axis of instability and conflict.”

Kabul’s Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani has already pledged his support for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which the watchdog says is a “very positive sign of a commitment to greater accountability”.

However, it is also calling for oil companies operating in the country to disclose their revenues as well as for a sound legal, regulatory and contractual regime to be set up prior to awards. In addition, it wants to see future concession contracts being made public.