Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have arrested five men, including two Chinese nationals, for allegedly trying to smuggle an estimated 1,000 metric tons of lithium-bearing rocks out of the country.
The arrests and the seizure of the rocks were made in the eastern Afghan border city of Jalalabad.
The Chinese nationals and their Afghan collaborators were planning to illegally transport the “precious stones” to China via Pakistan, said Taliban intelligence officials in comments aired Sunday by Afghan television channels.
Mohammad Rasool Aqab, a senior official at the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, estimated the rocks “contained up to 30% of lithium.” They were “secretly” extracted from Nuristan and Kunar, two of the several Afghan provinces along the border with Pakistan, he added.
The Islamist rulers have banned extraction and sale of lithium since reclaiming power in Afghanistan in August 2021 after all U.S. and NATO troops withdrew from the country.
Afghanistan reportedly sits on an estimated $1 trillion worth of rare earth minerals, including huge deposits of lithium, but decades of war have prevented the development of Afghan mining.
Lithium is a key component in rechargeable batteries and it is used in clean technologies to tackle climate change, pushing global demand for the metal to soaring levels.
The Taliban government has not yet been formally recognized by the world over human rights concerns, particularly its restrictions on women’s access to work and education.
The United States and the Western nations at large imposed economic sanctions on Afghanistan immediately after the Taliban took control.
The Islamist group has increased coal exports to Pakistan in recent months, helping them generate much-needed revenues to fund Afghan budgetary needs and pay public sector employee salaries.