(Clockwise from above) Raw stones from Mingora emerald mine. Workers inside the mine. A man polishes a stone. — Dawn
(Clockwise from above) Raw stones from Mingora emerald mine. Workers inside the mine. A man polishes a stone. — Dawn

SWAT valley is producing one of the best qualities of emeralds in the world but it is not famous for the precious green stone in the international market and its main reason is lack of cutting and polishing facilities in the country.

Ironically, the emeralds of Swat are mostly sold in the international market by Indian traders as a product from Jaipur.

According to experts, the Swati emerald is exported in a rough form to Dubai, Thailand and other gemstones markets from where Indian traders purchased it and sold it in the international market after cutting and polishing.

“Jaipur in India is famous for its industry of cutting, polishing and trading of emerald in the world. The Swati emerald is one of the best qualities and is mostly used in Swiss watches,” said Mohammad Ayaz, an emerald dealer in Mingora.

Swat district, a former princely state, has two emerald mines. One is in Fizagat area of Mingora which is the largest one and the other is in Shamozo that has been closed since long.

Experts ask govt to set up a cutting and polishing industry to benefit local traders and attract foreign investment

The Mingora emerald mine was discovered during the former Swat state in 1958. The mine remained closed from December 1998 till December 2010. However, from 2007 to 2009 when the government lost writ of the district, Taliban took control of the mine and started illegal mining for emerald.

After the restoration of peace in Swat valley, in December 2010 the 182-acre Mingora emerald mine was given on lease at Rs102.4 million for 10 years.

“There was no infrastructure when I got the mine on lease. Today we have more than 30 tunnels. We have developed a network of facilities for digging,” Khalid Khan, the owner of the leasing company, told this scribe.

He said that presently about 400 workers were working in the mine in different sectors.

The mine workers, who use drills operated by compressors, said that only experienced workers could find the emerald-bearing quartz veins.

“Inexperienced workers find emeralds after great labour while those, who have experience, can find it easily. I have been working in this mine for the last eight years. Daily work from8am till 4pm,” said Ihasanullah a mine worker.

He said that he did not know the value of emerald as he was not concerned about its value but only with the daily wages he got from the mine.

According to the emerald experts and dealers, more than 1,000 dealers were connected with the business in Swat. Recently, a new market was established in Mingora for emerald dealing where Chinese also set up offices.

“Initially, we purchase emeralds in the auctions, which are regularly held in the mine. Then dealers and business parties from other parts of the country come to our market in Mingora to buy emerald. They take them to Bangkok, Singapore, Dubai and other international markets,” said Zeebullah, a dealer, who has been associated with the business since 1987.

He said that international dealers also purchased Swati emerald but they did not come to Swat. “We take emerald to Islamabad where they purchase the rough emerald from us to take them to international market where they sell them at higher prices,” he said. He added that the government should facilitate the local dealers to export the precious stones without hindrance.

The dealers in Mingora said that provision of cutting and polishing facilities and setting up a market of international standard in Swat would benefit them.

“If the government set up cutting and polishing industry here, it will bear two-fold advantages. On the one hand the country will get huge foreign exchange and on the other the emerald will be known as Swati or Pakistani emerald instead of Indian emerald,” said Aminul Haq, another dealer in Mingora.

He said that there was a big difference between the value of rough and polished stone. “Suppose we sell a rough stone at Rs30,000, the price of the same stone after it is finely cut and polished reaches Rs100,000. It means the local dealers earn little benefit while the international dealers earn much more by selling the same stone,” he added.

The dealers said that after establishing cutting and polishing industry in Swat, the international brands using emeralds in their products including luxury watches would also turn their focus to Pakistan.

They said that emerald mines were in Pakistan but the real beneficiaries were other countries owing to non-existence of professional and scientific cutting and polishing industry.

The experts and dealers said that there was dire need for establishing an institute where the youth could learn the skills of cutting and polishing of the precious stones.

“To attract international gemstone businessmen and companies, the government must establish cutting and polishing industry as well as its institutes where our youth can learn professional skills. Our youth will get professional education related to precious stones in the institute and they will get jobs not only here but also in foreign countries,” said Arsalan, a young man, who recently started emerald business.

The emerald mine has also provided opportunities to hundreds of unemployed people in the district to earn livelihood as they seek pieces of emerald in the debris of mine on the bank of Swat River.

The jobless people purchase the leftover debris from the mine and take it to the bank of the river to find out emerald pieces.

“When I don’t have any work, I go to the mine to purchase the leftover debris and take it to the Swat River in a hope to find out emerald pieces. I find small pieces of emerald which make me Rs1,000 to Rs2,000 daily,” said Iqbal Khan, a mason by profession, who was sitting along the riverbank and sieving debris for emeralds.

He said that although it was the business of hope and luck, yet the emerald mine was a blessing for the poor people.

Those, who search emeralds in the debris, said that they purchased a bag of emerald debris at Rs50.

“Sometimes, we find a big piece of emerald in the debris which earn us big amount. Last month I found a piece of emerald which I sold to a dealer at Rs20,000,” said Zahir Shah, another emerald seeker along the Swat River.

The experts said that government must focus attention on emeralds and establish a cutting and polishing industry as well as an institute where youth could learn the relevant skills for the greater benefits of the local people and attract foreign investment.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2020