Mes Aynak represents the first large-scale mining project in Afghanistan and is significant to both the economic growth and sustainability of the country, but it is also the location of major 5-7th century Buddhist monastery, temple and mining settlement along the Silk Road.
The agreement is designed to insure that mining operations, under the supervision of the MCC [M Jiangxi Copper Consortium] will not damage historical and cultural artifacts at the copper deposit. It also provides for all antiquities and artifacts to be safely removed, preserved and stored, regardless of size, for the first time in recent history. Of prime importance was the agreement by all parties to the goal of a 39-month timeline, starting in March 2011, for the archeological excavation of sites that house both copper deposits and antiquities.
The agreement is a statement of the dual track of focus by the government of Afghanistan: the economic future and the cultural heritage of the people of Afghanistan. “It is essential that Afghanistan’s heritage be properly preserved and studied . . . and I am delighted that our two ministries have agreed on a partnership for this important purpose,” said Dr. Sayeed Makdoom Raheem, Minister of Information, Culture and Youth.
“We have the same vision”, Deputy Minister Sultan told Minister Shahrani. “I am very happy you took this initiative to save these important cultural artifacts.”
At a meeting of interested parties held at the Ministry of Mines, Mr Zou Jianhui, Chairman/President of the MCC, who had traveled from China, assured his colleagues and partners of his company’s support for both of the Afghan goals.
Minister Shahrani reminded the international representatives gathered that only by working in concert, “will this cultural heritage . . . that truly belongs to the people of the world . . . be protected, secured and preserved properly, professionally and for all to benefit.” Under a plan devised by the French Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan (DAFA), it is hoped that up to one hundred Afghan, French and other international archaeologists and culture preservation experts can be recruited, and that the work can be completed over about 39 months starting in March 2011, with the help of hundreds of local workers from Logar province.
As the newly signed document states, the Memorandum of Understanding “will be in force until till all the artifacts have been safely removed from Aynak and preserved properly and those which could not be moved have been protected in situ.”
Representatives of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. forces also attended and pledged their support, including a plan to build nearby a special facility for the storage and preservation of artifacts. Also present were representatives of the French archaeological team DAFA, the Chinese Embassy, UNESCO, and the World Bank.
Geological studies conducted in Logar province have indicated that the Aynak deposit is one of the largest unexploited copper deposits in the world. The reserves at Aynak are estimated to be 250m tons of 2.5% copper which is the equivalent of 6.25m tons of copper ore. Probable aggregate value of the copper in this area is in the range of US$43bn based on current world prices. It is anticipated that Mes Aynak will provide US$300m in annual revenues to Afghanistan and potentially contribute US $1.2bn over the life of the project.