TOKYO (AP) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday he welcomes investments from Japan to tap his nation’s plentiful mineral wealth, using an official visit to woo financial and political support from a major donor.
“The prospects for Afghanistan are massively great and good. It’s a country that will not only be rich but will be very rich,” Karzai said at a Tokyo hotel. “It will be the industrial hub of mineral resources.”
Afghanistan, a violent, landlocked country with virtually no exports, is preparing to award contracts to mine one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits in a peaceful province.
Geologists have known for decades about Afghanistan’s vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt and gold. The U.S. Department of Defense this week put a nearly $1 trillion price tag on the reserves. But Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani called that a conservative estimate. He said he’s seen geological assessments and industry reports estimating the nation’s mineral wealth at $3 trillion or more.
Karzai said he planned to visit Mitsubishi Corp., a Japanese trading company that invests in mining projects around the world, later in the day.
“Afghanistan should give access as a priority to those countries that have helped Afghanistan massively in the past, through years,” Karzai told reporters.
In talks with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday, Karzai promised to use Japanese aid to restore peace and stability, seeking to allay Tokyo’s concerns that aid may be wasted on a corrupt and faltering government.
Over the past nine years, billions in aid and the presence of international forces have failed to turn the tide of the war. Corruption in Karzai’s administration is suspected of fueling Afghanistan’s insurgency.
Tokyo announced in November a five-year pledge of $5 billion to help Afghanistan strengthen its policing as well as support agriculture and infrastructure. Japan is Afghanistan’s second-largest donor after the U.S. During his visit, Karzai met with Emperor Akihito. He is set to go to Hiroshima’s peace park and the ancient capital of Nara before leaving Sunday.