Lithium Dynamics: China’s Strategic Moves in Afghanistan’s EV Landscape

The global race for lithium, a crucial component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, has shifted attention to Afghanistan, hailed as the "Saudi Arabia of lithium."

The global race for lithium, a crucial component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries, has shifted attention to Afghanistan, hailed as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” As China dominates the EV market, Afghanistan’s vast lithium deposits have become a geopolitical focal point. Following the U.S. withdrawal, China has swiftly stepped in, exploring economic advantages amidst Western sanctions on the Taliban-led Afghan government. The strategic significance of lithium has intensified the competition, turning the region into a battleground for economic and geopolitical maneuvers. The intricate interplay between geopolitics, clean energy transition, and the critical role of lithium in shaping the future of transportation unfolds in this high-stakes narrative.

Afghanistan: Unveiling the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”

 China which commands a substantial 56.3% share of the global EV market. Afghanistan, often referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” by American geologists, has emerged as a potential linchpin in this shift towards clean energy. The expansive lithium deposits discovered in the mountains of Afghanistan, notably in the Ghazni province during a 2010 survey in the presence of American forces, signify an invaluable resource. Lithium-made batteries, heralded for their enhanced efficiency and compact design, have become the cornerstone of EV technology. For nations aspiring to lead in the burgeoning realm of EV production, securing an uninterrupted lithium supply chain is not merely a strategic choice but a fundamental necessity. The analogy to a potential business Cold War underscores the geopolitical intricacies entwined with lithium resources. China’s dominant position in the EV market places it in a pivotal role, prompting a nuanced understanding of global lithium sources. Against this backdrop, Afghanistan’s lithium deposits acquire heightened geopolitical importance, as nations jostle to secure their positions in the evolving landscape of clean energy. The narrative of Afghanistan as a potential epicenter for lithium extraction introduces a new dimension to the international race for sustainable resources, emphasizing the intricate interplay between geopolitics, energy transition, and the critical role of lithium in shaping the future of transportation. The American belief was that the Afghan government preceding the Taliban could attain self-sufficiency through the sale of lithium, a valuable resource, thereby establishing a self-sustainable economic model.

Taliban-China Nexus: Filling the Void Left by Western Powers

 U.S.A imposing economic sanctions on the Taliban-led Afghan government and restricting American companies from investing, the field has been left open for increased Chinese intervention. For the Chinese, the current scenario resembles a modern-day gold rush. Over the past year, Chinese businessmen and government officials have been consistently visiting Afghanistan to explore and potentially secure lithium deals. This heightened interest has led to reported instances of lithium smuggling by Chinese entities. The shared border between China and Afghanistan (Wakhan Border) facilitates a land route for the Chinese, making it more accessible to transport lithium resources from the region.

While the Taliban asserts a lack of urgency in signing a deal with the Chinese, the reality suggests a different narrative. In the current landscape, China aligns favorably with the Taliban’s interests. With the political and economic withdrawal of the Americans and Europeans from Afghanistan, limited to humanitarian aid, the Chinese have stepped into a vacuum, positioning themselves as a significant player. The evolving geopolitical dynamics make a partnership with China appealing to the Taliban, as it allows them to fill the void left by the departure of Western powers, creating a strategic and economic partnership in the post-U.S. and European era in Afghanistan. Earlier, there was a single incident where the Taliban and Chinese authorities signed an agreement related to oil extraction. As per the terms, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation is set to conduct oil drilling operations in the northern Afghan provinces of Faryab, Jowzjan, and Sar-e Pol. This singular event marks a noteworthy development in the economic collaboration between the Taliban-led Afghan government and China, emphasizing their mutual interest in energy exploration and resource utilization within the region. Indeed, the security considerations in Chinese intervention in Afghanistan are closely tied to addressing the threat posed by extremist organizations, notably the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. The northern region of Afghanistan, with its high unemployment rates, becomes a vulnerable ground for recruitment by such groups.

 On the economic front, investment in projects that generate employment opportunities serves to counter the economic grievances that drive recruitment for extremist organizations. By providing alternative livelihoods, China aims to reduce the appeal of joining these groups, particularly among the youth. Simultaneously, Chinese involvement in security cooperation with the Taliban security services aims to create a more controlled and stable environment in the region. By working closely with local authorities, China seeks to counteract the security threats posed by extremist elements.


Afghanistan’s lithium reserves have emerged as a focal point in the global race for clean energy, with China’s dominance in the EV market intensifying geopolitical competition. The Taliban-China nexus underscores the evolving dynamics, emphasizing the critical interplay between energy transition, geopolitics, and the strategic significance of lithium resources in shaping regional stability and security.

Taha Ali
Taha Ali
Mohammad Taha Ali, currently immersed in the pursuit of a Master's degree in Conflict Analysis and Peacebuilding at the Nelson Mandela Center for Peace Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. My academic journey began with a Bachelor's degree in History Honours from the University of Delhi, where my passion for unraveling the intricacies of human history ignited. In addition to my academic pursuits, I harbor a deep interest in history, drawn to the stories of the past and the lessons they hold for the present and future. My scholarly interests extend to peace-making, conflict resolution, and the multifaceted realms of geo-economics, geopolitics, and domestic issues.