Extensive surveys have revealed the existence of a number of minerals of economic importance. The most important discovery has been that of natural gas, with large reserves near Sheberghan in Jowzjan province, near the Turkmen border, about 75 miles west of Mazar-e Sharif. The Khvajeh Gugerdak and Yatim Taq fields are major producers, with storage and refining facilities. Pipelines deliver natural gas to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and to a thermal power plant and chemical fertilizer plant in Mazar-e Sharif.
Petroleum resources have proved to be insignificant. Many coal deposits have been found in the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush. Major coal fields are at Karkar and Eshposhteh, in Baghlan province, and Fort Sarkari, in Balkh province.
High-grade iron ore, with an iron content of 62-63 percent, has been discovered at Hajigak, 60 miles northwest of Kabul. Copper is mined at 'Aynak, near Kabul, and uranium is extracted in the mountains near Khvajeh Rawash, east of Kabul. There are also deposits of copper, lead, and zinc near Konduz; beryllium in Khas Konar; chrome ore in the Lowgar valley near Herat; and the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli in Badakhshan. Afghanistan also has deposits of rock salt, beryl, barite, fluorspar, bauxite, lithium, tantalum, gold, silver, asbestos, mica, and sulfur.
Afghanistan is essentially a pastoral country. Only 12 percent of the total land area is arable, and only about half of the arable acreage is cultivated annually. Much of the arable area consists of fallow cultivable land or steppes and mountains that serve as pastureland. In addition, a large area is desert.
Forests cover about 3 percent of the total land area; they are found mainly in the eastern part of the country and on the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush. Those in the east consist mainly of conifers, providing timber for the building industry as well as some wild nuts for export. Other trees, especially oaks, are used as fuel. North of the Hindu Kush are pistachio trees, the nuts of which are exported.
Afghanistan is potentially rich in hydroelectric resources. However, the seasonal flow of the country's many streams and waterfalls--torrential in spring, when the snow melts in the mountains, but negligible in summer--necessitates the costly construction of dams and reservoirs in remote areas. The nation's negligible demand for electricity renders such projects unprofitable except near large cities or industrial canters. The potential of hydroelectricity has been tapped substantially only in the Kabul-Jalalabad region.