Page last updated at 15:46 GMT, Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Taleban tap into Swat's emeralds

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Mingora, Swat

Emerald mine in Swat
The government has not stopped the Taleban from mining

The Taleban in Pakistan's strife-torn district of Swat have taken over operations in its emerald mines.

The mines, which produce emeralds of international quality, were previously controlled by the Pakistani government.

They were taken over by the Taleban four months ago following a ceasefire between militants and the government.

Until then, Swat was the scene of 18 months of conflict between the security forces and Taleban militants fighting to implement Islamic Sharia law.

The mines, along with the Panjshir mines in Afghanistan, hold the largest known deposits of emeralds in South Asia.

Taleban sympathies

"It is for the benefit of the public that we have reopened the mines," a senior Taleban commander told the BBC during a visit to the operations.


"They are open to anybody who wishes to mine them as long as they follow our rules."

Swat's emerald mines are located in the mountains that ring the district's main town of Mingora.

The mines cover an area of nearly 8km (5 miles).

When fully operational, they yielded a quarter of a million carats of emeralds between 1978 and 1988, according to official statistics.

The last official estimate put the projected yield at about 13.2m carats.

Gemstone dealers say that most emeralds range from just under one carat to just over five.

Prices range from $1,000 to more than $100,000 for a cut stone, depending on the quality.

However, workers at the site told the BBC their average daily wage was only about 400 rupees ($5) per person, after money deducted for paying off the Taleban had been calculated.

"It's still a good deal as previously all this was going to waste," one worker said.

Taleban members in Swat
The Taleban say the mines provide a "great opportunity"

Taleban commanders too are positive about its benefits.

"It is a great opportunity for the people, as there is so much poverty and unemployment here," the Taleban commander said.

According to the terms of the deal, the Taleban take one-third of the yield of each set of miners.

The costs are shared equally by the Taleban and the miners.

The Taleban say they are not directly involved in the operations themselves.

But the rules, which include amputation for theft and strict adherence to Sharia rules, mean only those with strong Taleban sympathies are allowed to operate.

No photos of the workers or the operations were allowed.

But the Taleban did show us their yield for the day, a small packet of clear, dark green gems.

So far the government has made no move to contest the Taleban's control of the mines.

This is despite the fact that the funds from the emerald operations are likely to be a huge boost to Taleban coffers.

Exactly how those funds will be spent - by militants who believe that international jihad is the only real way of life - does not take a lot of working out.

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