PESHAWAR: The vibrant gemstone industry of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is losing its gleam because of government inattention to help arrange stones and minerals trade shows, open display centers for traders, check irrational taxes and allow opening of PayPal account in Pakistan for transaction with foreign clients, traders and merchants say.
“Semi-precious stones and gemstones such as the emerald of Swat, a tourist spot in northwestern Pakistan, have great demand abroad but we don’t have technological know-how to promote our stones in the global market. The government is not doing its job to facilitate us otherwise we could fetch huge remittances to national exchequer,” said, Ali Akbar, a gemstone traders at Namak Mandi, Peshawar’s historic locality known for semi-precious stones.
Muntazir Khan, director general mines and mineral directorate, said that the government would extend all out support to the gem stone businessmen, which would leave far-reaching positive impact on the country’s economy in the long-run.
“We are taking several measures to facilitate the traders doing the gemstone business. We will remove all their reservations at the earliest,” he added.
Akbar said that nature has gifted our country with a vast potential of mineral ores including a good range of precious and glittering gemstones and the government can open new opportunities in this industry by giving proper incentives to investors.
“The government should extend help to arrange seminars to project our stones, which will woo international investors and buyers,” he suggested.
He said that different varieties of minerals like Peridot, Aquamarine, Topaz in different colours of violet, pink, golden and champagne, besides many types of Quartz make Pakistan prominent in the mineral world.
According to traders, the emeralds of Swat is the best in South Asia and are some of the best emeralds of the world, with estimate that Swat mine has some 70 million carats of emeralds.
It is said that there are Emerald of Swat, Rubies of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Hunza-Ishkoman, Gilgit, Pink-Topaz of Katlang-Mardan, Aquamarine and Tourmaline of Gilgit and Chitral, Peridot of Kohistan and Pargasite of Hunza.
They said \these gems have beautiful attractive colours, excellent crystal clarity and a range of size as well as weight, meeting any international standard.
Shakirullah Safi, another businessman of semi-precious stone, said that their business has no security amid lack of market linkages with global businesses.
He said that the government’s apathy towards developing the sector, and the mismanagement of funds within formal bodies, have not helped matters.
“In addition, there are taxes innumerable taxes, which put far-reaching negative impact on the business,” Safi added.
It is widely believed that the gemstone business was established in 1980s by Afghan refugees in Peshawar.
It is said that precious and semi-precious stones have been exporting from Afghanistan to Peshawar, establishing the Namak Mandi gemstone market, which is continued flourishing.
The increase in demand for gems resulted in mining in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
A number of experts say Pakistan’s gemstone industry has huge potential, which could contribute to national exchequer.
Lapis was found in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province in large quantities and was transported to Peshawar for export. The Namak Mandi market is full of tourmaline, peridot, emerald, topaz, ruby, and apatite.
These days, lapis is mostly used for decoration and tiles instead of jewellery. The Katlang area of Mardan district is known for its pink topaz, but this stone changes its colour and has little value in the market.
Experts say Pakistan’s gemstone industry has great potential but is unable to tap into it, due to the lack of resources and skilled expertise: the country lacks modern mining techniques and training in cutting and polishing. Most of the gemstones are purchased in their raw form, fetching far lower prices than cut and polished pieces.
Experts say that Swat is known for its high-quality emerald, but its size is small, which are widely used in making wrist watches in Swiss.
Those Swiss watches have thousands of dollars in international market but in Peshawar, emerald stones are available for Rs. 3,000 per carat because the traders face lack of polishing, cutting and faceting skills.
It is ironic that most of the mining is being carried out illegally which received great setback for the gemstone businesses. Additionally, the gemstone businesses’ dependency on Afghanistan translates into an atmosphere of uncertainty for the businessmen at Namak Mandi.
In 2002, the Gems and Gemological Institute of Pakistan (GGIP) was established with the aim to support the gemstone industry as a joint venture between the government and private sector but it didn’t produce the desired results.
All Pakistan Commercial Exporters Association (APCEA) had held a show once back in Peshawar in 2017. The traders and businessmen of gemstones complain of lack of shows, which are of paramount importance to improve business of the vibrant sector.