The Great Game Changer


Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, 2006

The “Great Game” a term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim, to characterize the intense rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over dominance in Afghanistan and Central Asia,  seems particularly appropriate now that it has been revealed by the Pentagon that a trillion dollars worth of rare and valuable minerals deposits are in Afghanistan. But, this has not been a secret to many.  


Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan

Miners search for emeralds Hindu Kush Mountains, Afghanistan, 1992

In January 1984 a report was published by the chief engineer of the Afghan Geological Survey Department about Soviet uranium mining in Afghanistan. It revealed that uranium production had begun after the discovery of deposits in 1983.

Soviet engineers were also said to be mining uranium  between Herat and Shindand, and also in  Kandahar province. The uranium projects were restricted to Soviet personnel in order to maintain secrecy and security. It is believed that all production was sent to the Soviet Union.

By 1985 Soviet surveys had also revealed potentially useful deposits of asbestos, nickel, mercury, lead, zinc, bauxite, lithium, and rubies. The Afghan government in the mid-1980’s was preparing to develop a number of these resources on a large scale with Soviet technical assistance. These efforts were directed primarily at the country’s large iron and copper reserves.

The iron ore deposits contained an estimated 1.7 billion tons of mixed hematite and magnetite, averaging 62 percent iron. These reserves, among the world’s largest, are located almost 4,000 meters up in the Hindu Kush,  in Bamiyan Province.

Source:  Illinois Institute of Technology

Charikar, Afghanistan, 2002, NYC65502, MCS2002002 K296final print_milan

Charikar, Afghaistan, 2002


Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

A 2007  report by the USGS said most of the data on Afghanistan’s mineral resources was produced between the early 1950’s and 1985. The timing of the Pentagon’s announcement is interesting because  the findings on which the story was based are online and have been since 2007.



Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines has information on this website about mineral deposits in the country  .


Coal Miner, Pul-i-Kumri, Afghanistan, 2002

Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002

There is little doubt that the new version of the Great Game will include all the players during Kipling’s time, plus the U.S., China, India, and any other country who seeks an advantage in obtaining a slice of the Afghan pie.  There will be “invaders” waiting to pounce on any opportunity that presents itself.

We can only hope that the Afghan people who have suffered for decades, will get the benefits they so richly deserve.


Steve  McCurry with Coal Miners, Pul I Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002Pul i Khumri, Afghanistan, 2002


54 Responses to “The Great Game Changer”

  1. Great, wonderful picture, as usual

  2. Reblogged this on Edoardo Gobattoni photographer and commented:
    Great, congrats !!!

  3. […] …as seen through the artistic lens of Steve McCurry. […]

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  5. It’s beautiful photograph. Nice post. I will definitely share with this story … thanks for the post. i am very impressed with your lovely post.. i am so glad to left comment on this..Man I’m impressed with this informative blog, and in fact you have a genius mind. keep up the good work.when is the next post coming?

  6. Is the shot from Charikar a young boy or a man? his face strikes me as old but his body still seems to be that of a child. i’ve noticed this in other shots you’ve taken of young boys fighting in wars. its sad to see what hardship does to the face of a child

  7. K. Agung Patriadi S.E Says:

    Beautiful & Great Stories & Great Photos, you are the Great Photographer and i must learn photography from you, teach me and other young photographers in the world. please!

  8. Respected Steve,

    Your images are allows fantastic ! Nice story telling as usual. Great !

  9. Barry Thomas Says:

    Dear Steve, I agree with all these positive replies to you. I have read your reportings in “Magnum Photographers in Afghanistan”. They are very, very good.

    Your strong black and white photos are as good as anyone’s, better. I wish so much that you would do an Afhgan book with text about what you know, think, and feel. Your friend, Barry Thomas

  10. Y. R. Palia Says:

    I now understand why everyone wishes to have a piece of the Afghan Pie. That includes, Pakistan, Al Kaida, Taliban and the rest.
    I wish the people of Afghanistan all the best. May they succeed in taking their own course successfully. May they be successful in getting all outsiders out soon.
    Hope the politicians in US for once stay till they succeed in getting the Afghan government to handle things by themselves without the interference by outsiders.

  11. Add to what I said in my other coment about the Unicoal pipe line project, the precious minerals, and the recent gas deposites found under the Afghan soil, there we probably have the real reasons not to leave Afghanistan.

  12. Great article and photographs. Public awareness must be raised around this and many other similar cases. We in Romania have been going through this and I fell for Afgan people.

  13. Arsalan Isa Khoso Says:

    Bear with me please.

    This is the sort of reporting that changes worlds.

    Rather than just manipulating these gritty images for aesthetic purposes, you have told a story, rich and informative.

    Recently, I traveled to the Dghari territory in northern Baluchistan (near Quetta) to the coal mines, to capture the visceral reality of coal mining. Because of load-shedding (power shortage) the mine was without electricity, but miners were still coming up from the pit, which I was told was approximately 3000 mtrs deep. The conductor advised me not to go into the pit, but I still made the journey to its entrance, 500 mtrs inside. I am sure, as you must have experienced, the safety is non-existent, but the hunger to take a good photograph is overwhelming.

    Come back to Pakistan!

  14. Steve, your striking and beautifull pictures are effective visual marks of actuality and history.

  15. […] The Great Game Changer « Steve McCurry's Blog […]

  16. Dear Steve,

    compelling images and a great question mark at the end of your story. Mostly the people who lives near those natural resources never had the benefit from that. You can see that everywhere. I do not want to be pessimist about that but as long people are greedy things never change.


    Jos Runarka

  17. You are a great Phtographer

  18. Dear Steve,
    I find your blog to be not just a source of beautiful and compelling images, but an eye-opening force of humanitarianism. You and our camera’s eye distill both portrait and landscape into elements that make it clear we, people, are all connected. There is no difference between the miners, farmers, or poor of any nation, and we all need to be reminded that we are closer in our experiences than we think.

    Thank you for your clarity. It is a form of genius to render the complex simply and when you execute that visually it is so powerful. Please never stop.

  19. The photos are a wonderful realism.

  20. […] is allegedly minerals rich. Go here to read a post about […]

  21. wow,great picture!

  22. Stunning photographs dude….love the whole feel of the blog, n nice write up as well

  23. […] Bamiyan province, Afghanistan, 2006 The "Great Game" a term popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim, to characterize the intense rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over dominance in Afghanistan and Central Asia,  seems particularly appropriate now that it has been revealed by the Pentagon that a trillion dollars worth of rare and valuable minerals deposits are in Afghanistan. But, this has not been a secret to many … Read More […]

  24. brilliant post guys !!

  25. Jose G. Guzman Says:


  26. I wonder how old the boy in the third photograph is. Quite a powerful expression on his face.

  27. Great post! Touching photos!

  28. The instability of Afghanistan unfortunately will make it nearly impossible for the Afghans to benefit off of their own land. They do not have the resources to excavate the materials and the foreigners are not likely to use it to the Afghan’s advantage. It is unclear why the Pentagon only recently announced it, which suggests that they are trying to add fuel to a dying “support the war” fire.

  29. Great pics. A montage mixing miners and soldiers would tell a powerful story.

  30. Wow, you sure can make a fantastic portrait.

    NPR in US is talking about this too.

    I guess there is no hurry to leave, is there ( rolls eyes )

  31. great post with valid points. nice images are accompanying the story.

  32. Image No. 2 down from the top inside the cave is like wow. The contrast between the lights, colors and the subjects are amazing. Awesome stuff!

  33. Seems, the more minerals we consume the more imperialistic (war like) we become.

    Congratulations, great insight.

  34. Thanks for this eye-opening post. I guess imperialism continues to this day. I suppose wars for control of natural resources will continue as long as human greed exists. Wait until the wars over scarce water resources begin. Or have they already started?

  35. Great pics and a very good article, Steve.

  36. compliments for your courageous work. i feel deep respect for that. I could not do this and relavate what horror you must have seen. Bravo; best regards Claudine , Florence, Italy.

  37. subversivechurch Says:

    When your images are coupled with those from Foreign Policy’s slideshow, The Coal Miner’s Burden, the commonality of workers across the globe becomes obvious. The workers are always going to be caught in the middle of this “game.” Unfortunately, it is rare for them to reap any substantial financial benefits from their labor.

    I’m glad your post made the Freshly Pressed front page of WordPress. Here’s hoping for a little economic justice.


  38. dptrombly Says:

    Some beautiful photos. I’d read a lot about the undeveloped resources in Afghanistan before the recent Times piece, but I’d never seen images of Afghan mining. Thank you for giving this story a human face.

  39. I heard of the 1 trillion dollars of lithium from my dad yesterday who is a follower of the right-wing radio heads (i.e Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck et al). The way he said it I thought was indicative of how those who are in “The Game” must feel as they salivate and wring their hands together at the prospect of untold riches in Afghanistan.

    Amazing images, Steve. Amazing.

  40. This is intense. The photos really add to it. Great post.

  41. Must say, Steve, they are great images. The capturing of these mine workers’ portraits are indeed stunning. Thanks for these marvellous shots and putting them here at your blog.

    Nayyar Hashmey

  42. Sharanya Says:

    This is a very, very touching post, Steve. Thank you. Your photographs have a story to tell even without your speaking about them. I hope you continue to post such inspiring and necessary stories.

  43. I love the picture of the boy miner, holding the mallet (I presume). There is such an indomitable spirit in his facial expression. Such toughness. It’s no wonder no country succeeds in subjugating the Afghans.

  44. I had the same thought when I heard the news report on the mineral deposits – that the people of Afghanistan are going to be subject to a tug-of-war between world powers for these resources. So sad. I find the portrait of the young miner near the end especially poignant. I find myself wondering, will he survive into old age like the other miners? What will his future be?

  45. Hey Steve, a fantastic post.. And always great photos.

    Also, have posted images from the India Kumbh Mela trip in March.

    Hope you’re well.


  46. Hi Steve,

    Again a nice collection. I like second photograph most, 2 different types of lights and 2 different jobs.

    Best wishes

  47. albert erickson Says:

    Steve, you are one of my favorite photographers. I admire your work and your outlook on life in Afghanistan and India. I have several of your books on my shelf. Keep up the good work. Eric

  48. These are hands down some of my favorite Steve McCurry images.

    I just received my official copy of “The Unguarded Moment” a few weeks back and night hasn’t gone by without me looking through it.

  49. Célia Campos Says:

    The photos are a wonderful realism.
    Congratulations and thank you.
    You are very good !

  50. Tracey Bryan Says:

    I greatly admire your ability to find a beautiful photograph, Steve. The first image, in particular, is wonderful; I’m sure I would have just seen a dusty featureless road (much like a lot of the terrain in outback Australia, only Australia is flatter!). But you found the beautiful photograph! Thanks for sharing.:)

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