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Insecurity threatens Pakistani gemstone business

Located in the heart of the Indian subcontinent, between the Himalayas and the Arabian Sea, Pakistan has been known for centuries for the immeasurable wealth of its mountains in minerals and precious gemstones such as emerald, ruby, aquamarine and topaz. The city of Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, is a main hub for the gemstone market where jewellers and dealers of gemstones contribute to a prosperous economy (1.3 billion dollars in 2013).

Pakistani cutters in PeshawarYet, in the last year, the export of precious stones has fallen at an alarming rate due to ongoing political instability, security crisis and energy problems. Foreign costumers are more wary about coming to Peshawar because they fear Taliban’s terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, this violence is sustained by the incapacity of the Pakistani authorities to control some border areas where most gemstone mining activities occur.

Some exporters try selling their products abroad or on the Internet but only a handful of them succeed. The majority of them lack the education and the computer equipment needed to interact internationally. Especially since the local market cannot absorb the production, which is 95% export oriented.

A t the same time , t he situation is aggravated by a huge electricity shortage that leads to daily widespread blackouts. Therefore, the work of cutting and polishing precious stones and all computer activities are halved. Exporters cannot fully meet the need, resulting in heavy economic losses.

According to some traders, the best option would be to enhance their visibility by organising trade shows in more stable regions where foreign customers would be less scared to go. For others, the ideal solution would be to improve rudimentary mining methods and develop cutting and polishing techniques.

In spite of a climate of permanent insecurity, a number of young Pakistanis choose to learn the jewellery business, hoping an improvement of the current situation. Even if many gem mines located in the tribal areas remain unexploited -representing a real economic shortfall- the government is well aware of the gemstone sector’s potential and expects an export turnover of 1.5 billion dollars in 2017.