Afghanistan’s transition out of war is not shaping up to be very peaceful. Every day seems to bring another militant attack and more civilian lives lost as Afghan forces struggle to take over security ahead of the pullout of most foreign troops next year. Powerful women are being targeted with violence and kidnapping in parts of the country that are slipping back under Taliban control, and the no one is quite sure what will happen come elections next spring, when long-time leader President Hamid Karzai has said he will step down from power.
Whether Afghanistan can find more stable ground depends in no small part on the government’s ability to wean itself off outside aid. Many think the country’s rich natural resources are destined to be part of that. Oil and gas exploitation are in their nascent stages, and the U.S. government has estimated that the nation’s mineral wealth could be worth as much as $1 trillion. Over several decades, geologist have identified rich deposits of copper, gold, iron ore, lithium and rare earths around the country. The challenge is getting people to show up and put some money into digging them up. Though artisanal mining for stones like emeralds and lapis lazuli has been done here for centuries, large investment in the potentially lucrative industrial mining sector has a long way to go. Part of the problem is safety, part of the problem is that not enough exploration has been done to attract even risk-prone investors, and part of the problem is concern over what will happen to the money once it does start to come.
“There is potential in the country, but it’s how you manage it,” says Atiq Sediqi, an adviser to the Ministry of Mines. “If it goes into pockets, like it has in Congo or Nigeria, then we’re doomed.”
Krista Mahr is TIME’s South Asia Bureau Chief and correspondent in New Delhi, India.