- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
One important point is that there is new work being done beyond what the USGS did back in 2007. That earlier project was "survey work" intended to "help build a database of where to look," according to Paul Brinkley, the director of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. Since last summer, the TFBSO team has been conducting more detailed "field work" to assess which of 24 potential sites are economically viable.
As for the mysterious $1 trillion figure, its still somewhat mysterious, but we know now that it’s based on December 2009 market data, and it’s actually $908 billion. I’m still not totally clear on how notional the mineral figures are, but Brinkley said "a lot of people think that’s a conservative number," though he added "we don’t really dwell a lot on that number other than to note, boy, that’s a really big number."
(Some folks, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, are dwelling on it. In a comment nobody caught at the time, he told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace last month that the figure could be as high as $3 trillion. And now, Afghans are said to be over the moon about the findings.)
So, am I still skeptical? You bet I am. We are taking years, if not decades before Afghanistan will be able to take advantage of these resources. This is a country that can’t even pay its police … let alone build roads. The mining ministry is among the most corrupt government agencies in one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
"Considerably more work needs to be carried out before it can be properly called an economic deposit that can be extracted at a profit," Stan Coats, a top geologist formerly with the British Geographical Survey, told The Independent. "Much more ground exploration, including drilling, needs to be carried out to prove that these are viable deposits which can be worked."
Afghan officials seem to understand this. “Mining needs studies, infrastructure and security in order to attract the investments,” the mining ministry spokesman told reporters today.
One point I would make, though, is that we shouldn’t worry if Chinese companies are the ones that bid on Afghanistan’s mineral rights. Western firms aren’t likely to take on the huge risks involved, and in any case it’s probably a good thing if China has more of a stake in Afghanistan’s security. This isn’t a redux of the "great game" or some nonsense like that.