Mining of lapis lazuli is funding extremists in Afghanistan, a rights group said Monday, suggesting that the deep blue semi-precious stone be classified a "conflict mineral."
“Taliban and other armed groups are earning up to 20 million dollars per year from Afghanistan’s lapis mines,” especially in the embattled northern Badakhshan province, the Global Witness report said.
The classification would put the stone in the "conflict" category of mineral resources that fund wars around the world, including the blood diamonds of Angola, the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone.
Afghanistan is the world's main source for the blue stone.
"These lapis mines are one of the richest assets of the Afghan people and should be driving development and prosperity," said Stephen Carter, Afghanistan campaign leader at Global Witness.
Instead, they are "driving the insurgency and undermining hope for stability in Afghanistan," he said.
“Violent competition for control of the lucrative mines and their revenue, between local strongmen, local MPs and the Taliban has deeply destabilized the province and made it one of the hotbeds of the insurgency,” the report said.
In the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, the lapis mines are controlled by Haji Malik, a local strongman who is also the commander of the district's Afghan Local Police force, according to a local official.
“Malik shares the profits 50/50 with the Taliban for safe transport of the stones," provincial council member Ahmad Javid Mujaddadi told dpa by phone.
Kabul has banned the unauthorised extraction and transport of the stone, but Malik uses his connections with the insurgents to get the lapis into the Pakistani district of Chatral, which borders Kuran Wa Munjan.
As he shares the profits with the Taliban, the trade is "feeding the insurgency within Badakhshan and Afghanistan," Mujaddadi said.
Afghanistan is sitting on at least 1 trillion dollars of untapped mineral wealth, Carter said. “Unless the Afghan government acts quickly, these mines represent not just a lost opportunity but a threat to the future of the whole country."
If Kabul and the international community fail to step in soon, the diverted wealth from the mines could destabilise the region, Global Witness warned.