Karzai urges Japanese firms to explore the lithium

Karzai said his country will be ”an industrial hub of mineral resources” and Japan is ”welcome to participate in lithium exploration in Afghanistan” as Japanese companies have been developing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

”Morally, Afghanistan should give access as a priority to those countries that have helped Afghanistan massively in the past few years,” Karzai told a meeting at a Tokyo hotel organized by the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

Kabul should reciprocate Tokyo’s past assistance ”by giving Japan a priority to come, explore and extract” mineral resources in Afghanistan, Karzai said. The president added he is set to talk with officials of Mitsubishi Corp., a major Japanese trading house with metal business operations, about the matter on Friday afternoon.

Japan has been Afghanistan’s second-largest donor, after the United States, with $2.35 billion given between September 2001 and April 2010 for projects such as infrastructure construction, efforts to disarm and reintegrate former Taliban fighters, and education and health services.

Last November, Japan unveiled a fresh five-year aid package, which includes assistance for the Afghan government to pay about half the wages for all of the country’s 80,000 police officers as well as for vocational training for former insurgents, and agricultural and rural development.

Karzai said Afghanistan should properly manage competition for interests in mineral resources by introducing mechanisms to prevent corruption and establishing an adequate system for resource management and distribution.

The president also said environmentally friendly mining technologies should be employed. ”We should be patient. Rather than doing it quickly, we should do it properly with adequate safeguards,” he said.

Karzai said he hopes Japan will host a major international conference to advance the Afghan peace process, which would follow up on a meeting scheduled for July 20 in Kabul to discuss the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

Referring to a Japanese freelance journalist who went missing in northern Afghanistan in late March, Karzai expressed hope that he will be released as soon as possible.

He said the disappearance of Kosuke Tsuneoka is a ”big concern” to the Afghan government, which he said has been following the case closely.

”You may have good news to hear tomorrow. It will be good news, hopefully. But we just don’t talk about it to the media because bad people, if they hear, would try to turn the issue around,” Karzai said.

Negotiations are under way between the Taliban and the Afghan government on the payment of several hundred thousand dollars in return for the release of the 40-year-old journalist, according to Afghan security officials.

In a related development, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rasool and requested that Kabul present concrete plans for the country’s reconstruction in the run-up to the July 20 meeting in the Afghan capital, Okada said.

Rasool offered to study ways to provide easy-to-understand explanations to the general public in Japan on the use of Japanese aid in Afghanistan and said he hopes to frequently communicate with Okada, the minister said at a press conference.