In Box

Epiphanies: Ashraf Ghani

Afghanistan's first postwar finance minister has now set his sights on reforming the country from the ground up, calling out his former boss, President Hamid Karzai, for corruption and failure. Here, the poetry-loving Pashtun speaks with FP about his troubled homeland's past and future.

I remember touring Afghanistan with my wife back in 1975, '76, and '77 -- there was this immense hospitality about the Afghan people. It was an Islamic culture, but they practiced an incredibly tolerant version of Islam. It was nothing like what exists in parts of Afghanistan today.

The nouveaux riches, as I call them -- the warlords who currently rule Afghanistan -- are a relatively new phenomenon. They rose to power essentially because of the CIA. And they brought with them a totally different way of ruling Afghanistan, which really obscured many of the best qualities of Afghanistan.

Dean Acheson is a figure that I admire greatly, even though I think he's sometimes forgotten in America. He was integral to building the Marshall Plan, even though George Marshall gets much of the credit. Deng Xiaoping in China is also very important. People talk of Mao Zedong, who attempted these Great Leaps Forward -- but whenever he attempted one, tens of millions would die or be impoverished. Deng really took China in a totally different direction, with profound consequences.

Pashtuns are fiercely individualistic, and they are very proud. No Pashtun will ever admit that another Pashtun is his natural superior. So what you always have is competition for leadership, and in these competitions someone must win. It could be a young man, or it could be an old greybeard -- but the key notion is that, once the competition is over, both the winners and the losers should be deserving of respect.

Illustration for FP by JOSEPH CIARDIELLO

In Box

The New Blood Diamonds

Diamonds from African countries have been funding guerrilla wars for decades. But they're not the only precious gems with blood on their hands. Here are four more prized resources that are fraught with conflict.


Location: Burma

Product: Burmese rubies are famous for their distinctive dark "pigeon's blood" color. Both the United States and the European Union ban Burmese gems, but outside groups estimate the junta still reaped almost $300 million from rubies in the 2006 fiscal year.

Casualties: The brutal Burmese junta, which earns much of its hard currency from the sale of gems, holds direct stakes in many of the mines and conducts official auctions to augment the profits made from illegal smuggling. At the mines themselves, child labor and diseases such as HIV/AIDS are common.


Location: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Product: Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore that contains elements used in cell phones, is mined in the DRC's war-ravaged Kivu region. The U.N. estimates the DRC made $750 million worth of profits from coltan between 2000 and 2004.

Casualties: The 13-year-old civil conflict, which has so far claimed 5 million lives and pulled in armies from Rwanda and Uganda, is essentially a resource war over the DRC's minerals: vast reserves of diamonds, gold, tungsten, tin, and coltan. There have also been 200,000 recorded cases of sexual violence against women and girls, not to mention the destruction of one of the world's most endangered rain forests.


Location: Guinea

Product: The West African republic of Guinea is the world's primary supplier of bauxite ore, used to make the aluminum that goes in everything from soda cans to airplanes. Twenty percent of Guinea's GDP, or $857 million a year, comes from its bauxite-dominated mining industry. A Chinese firm recently agreed to invest $7 billion in Guinean infrastructure in return for mining rights.

Casualties: The bauxite bounty has not trickled down to the 70 percent of Guineans living in poverty, though mining companies are technically supposed to pay development taxes to their local communities. Meanwhile, bauxite revenues have enabled the military junta to consolidate power and ignore international sanctions.


Location: Colombia

Product: Colombia is the world's leading exporter of emeralds, accounting for half of the $280 million a year global trade.

Casualties: Emerald mafias fought a bloody "green war" in the 1980s to keep drug cartels out of the business. Violence from the rural Boyacá area extended to Bogotá, killing more than 3,500 people. Victor Carranza, the country's shady emerald czar, is accused of funding paramilitary groups, and he served jail time between 1998 and 2002 for organizing death squads. As for the mines, they rely on the children and wives of men killed in the region's ongoing violence.