Swat valley is not just famous for her dazzling beauty, its emeralds rank amongst the best in the world. With a pure verdant hue and a high degree of transparency, their colour is comparable high-quality Muzo or Columbian emeralds.
Discovered in 1958 when the valley was ruled by the Wali-i-Swat, emerald mines in Mingora, are a source of livelihood for thousands of people. “I would see people on the banks of Swat River and other streams searching for emeralds from the mines, said Rahim Dad Khan. I began to buy leftovers from trucks coming from the mines to search for emeralds. I got lucky very often.”
A business in emeralds is very profitable. “I have been dealing in emeralds for 25 years and we have customers from around the world,” said Amanullah Khan, an emerald merchant in Mingora.
The business of gemstones depends upon luck. “Sometimes we earn millions in a day and sometimes we get nothing for weeks, but overall it is a profitable and clean business,” he added.
Due to the absence of modern equipment for cutting and polishing gemstones, the majority are sent to India for value addition, where the process is cheaper than in other countries.
If we had cutting machines, we would save time and money, Amanullah said. “We appeal to the government to install modern machinery and training schools in Swat,” he added.
During the mayhem in Swat, Taliban carried out large-scale excavation of emeralds with unskilled methods.
“They not only plundered the precious stones but also the iron bars used to fence the mine. They collected a colossal amount from emeralds but harmed the mine,” said an official of the mineral department requesting anonymity.
The mine has been leased to a contractor in an open bid for Rs100 million for ten years but local dealers seemed unhappy with the decision and say that gemstones should be auctioned locally.
“As the mines belong to Swat, the jewels should be auctioned in the valley because thousands of people are connected with this business. The present contractor auctions only low-quality emeralds and the best quality is auctioned in international markets. If auctions are held here, it will bring in foreign exchange and boost the local business,” said Noor Nawab, an emerald dealer in Mingora.
However, according to the mineral department, the contractor is not bound to hold local auctions. “There is no law to compel contractors to auction the gemstones locally but I am in favour of local auctions,” said Nadir Khan, Assistant Director Mines.
He said no one was ready to apply for a lease after the militancy. “We advertised three times for a bid but no contractor was ready to come forward. He agreed that a training institute should be set up so that locals can learn the skill and gemstones are processed in the valley.
Just five per cent of the revenue goes to the local government for social uplift but the mineral department is unaware of the amount of royalty. Most dealers are of the opinion that Rs100 million is too little for a 10-year contract as the emeralds are highly prized in international markets.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.