[Buddha-l] Mes Aynak

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 24 00:54:19 MDT 2013

Some may remember a few years ago the alerts and discussions posted here 
about a Chinese mining company poised to decimate a huge, irreplaceable 
Afghani excavation site on which a Buddhist monastic complex going back 
nearly 2000 years had been newly discovered, but barely explored. The 
Chinese company, under international protest, agreed to a temporary 
suspension of their strip mining for copper. That temporary period is about 
to come to end, less than 10% of the area has been excavated, and most of 
what has been found so far is too fragile to move. The mining will destroy 
everything. Already spectacular finds have been made, and the archeologists 
say the best remains undiscovered. An "op-doc" in the nyt (copied below) 
reviews the status. Included on the nyt web site with the piece is a 
poignant video, a bit over 7.5 minutes, showing some of the finds, 
interviews, etc.



April 23, 2013
'A Chinese Threat to Afghan Buddhas'
When I first traveled to Afghanistan in 2004, I immediately fell in love 
with the country and its people, and I was optimistic that the young people 
in Kabul would soon have better lives. Yet my hopes dimmed as I learned 
about a revolving door of exploitation at the hands of the Russians, 
Americans and now the Chinese - who have begun mining Afghanistan's 
plentiful natural resources and threatening priceless national heritage 

In 2007, the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation 
(M.C.C.) won the rights to mine copper at a site called Mes Aynak. Situated 
in volatile Logar Province, Mes Aynak is home to one of the world's largest 
untapped copper deposits - worth more than $100 billion. Yet, as this Op-Doc 
video shows, the site also houses the astonishing remains of an ancient 
Buddhist city, which archaeologists are now racing to save. An international 
team has only until June to finish the excavations, which began in 2009. So 
far they have uncovered golden Buddhist statues, dozens of buildings and 
fragile Buddhist manuscripts buried within temples. Yet perhaps 90 percent 
of the site remains underground and unseen. To finish the job could take 
decades. In all likelihood, the destruction of the Buddhist sites will begin 
later this year. The Afghan government is letting this happen - it's a 
tragedy that echoes the notorious destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan in 

Yet, even after four trips to Afghanistan to report this story, it's 
difficult for me to know for sure what will become of Mes Aynak. Recent 
repeated attempts to contact the M.C.C. to confirm the mining timeline for 
this story have gone unanswered. There is widespread corruption and 
virtually no government transparency in Afghanistan, and the M.C.C. contract 
has never been made public.

I have heard arguments in favor of the mining. The copper deal is the 
largest foreign investment and private business venture in Afghanistan's 
history. There is hope among some Afghans that this Chinese deal will bring 
real and positive change to Afghanistan - jobs, infrastructure and money to 
help fuel economic growth. Some of the Buddhist artifacts are being rescued, 
and it's possible that not all of the ancient sites will be destroyed by the 

But I worry that nothing positive will come from this mining project. I fear 
the mineral resource is being undervalued, that money will be lost to 
corruption in the Afghan ministries and that jobs at the mine will go to 
Chinese immigrants. Geologists tell me that, as a result of the open-pit 
style of mining, the site will most likely become so toxic that nothing can 
ever live there again. Money can come and go, but these precious historical 
artifacts will be gone forever.

Brent E. Huffman is a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor at the 
Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He is expanding the 
material in this Op-Doc into a feature-length documentary.

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