US President Donald Trump is eyeing Afghanistan's mineral wealth to help pay for a 16-year war and reconstruction efforts that have already cost $117 billion. Investors who have studied the country, one of the world's most dangerous, say that is a pipe dream.
Ever since a United States Geological Survey study a decade ago identified deposits later estimated to have a potential value of as much as $1 trillion, both Afghan and foreign officials have trumpeted the reserves as a likely key to economic independence for Afghanistan.
As well as deposits of gold, silver and platinum, Afghanistan has significant quantities of iron ore, uranium, zinc, tantalum, bauxite, coal, natural gas and significant copper – a particular draw given the dearth of rich new copper mines globally.
Afghanistan, some reports say, even has the potential to become "the Saudi Arabia of lithium", thanks to deposits of the raw material used in phone and electric car batteries.
But a lack of basic logistics – paved roads and rail links needed to export copper concentrate or iron ore – pervasive corruption, a messy bureaucracy and a growing insurgency that has left much of the country beyond the writ of the Kabul government have stifled attempts to a build a legitimate mining sector.
Much of the basic data dates back to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. And the cost of having foreign geologists and engineers visit remote sites to carry out new surveys is prohibitive when nothing is yet being produced to pay for it.
"There is no low-hanging fruit that could trigger rapid growth and foster self-sustaining development," said the government's own National Peace and Development Framework document, presented at last year's donor conference in Brussels.
Major projects such as the Mes Aynak copper mine, being developed by a Chinese consortium, remain at a standstill.