ISLAMABAD: Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are blessed with a diverse variety of gems and stones, many of which are described as unique in the world. However, this important mining sector is yet to be exploited and facilitated by the government.
A three-day gems and stones exhibition opened here at a local hotel to not only put on display a part of the mineral wealth Pakistan is gifted with but also to draw the government’s attention towards this hitherto almost neglected sector, which can fetch billions of dollars in foreign exchange if properly developed and facilitated. The event has been organised under the aegis of Pakistan Gems and Jewellery Development Company (PGJDA) of Ministry of Production.
On the first day, people from different shades of life visited the show, including foreigners and they evinced great interest in the gifts of nature put on display. As many as 80 stalls are part of the show.
Precious minerals in Pakistan include anatase, brookite, jade, aquamarine, tourmaline, topaz, quartz, epidote, periodote, morganite, fluorite and apatite.
Pakistan Gems and Minerals Association (PGMA) Chairman Shafiee Muhammad, present on the occasion, told ‘The News’ minerals fetched US dollar 34 million in 2010-11, which was far less than the potential, this sector had.
He pointed out only Jaipur city of Rajasthan state had been recording billions of dollar exports in gems and jewellery, as it imported minerals in raw shape, mostly from Afghanistan, and then refined and exported to other countries. Locals in Jaipur, he noted, had been encouraged to be a part of the thriving sector.
He regretted that locals in Gilgit-Baltistan and elsewhere even in the modern technological era, relied even on conservative techniques to mine minerals by dynamiting mountains that harmed the resources in a big way.
“If there is a better and supportive environment and locals are trained and then financed to buy at least facetor machines. They cannot only earn for themselves but also contribute to boosting the sector,” he maintained. A machine costs Rs0.2 million, which an ordinary man just can’t afford.
He noted great export potential of gems and stones was yet to be properly harnessed in parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral and Balochistan, particularly in its Kharan district. He added the rare pink topas in Katlang area of Mardan was also to be explored and mined, as villagers resisted any such move but they can be sensitised and motivated to allow mining.
“Several stall holders here are from Gilgit-Baltistan, who mine gems and stones themselves in a very conservative way. They lack resources and know-how about properly tapping these precious resources,” he observed.
About the role of PGJDA, he said the company had established Gems and Gemological Institute in Peshawar and Gems and Jewellery Training and Manufacturing Centre (JTMC). However, he added still a lot needed to be done in this mining sector. JTMC offers free training in five related courses, including manual jewellery designing, gem stone carving and gem stone identification.
This correspondent interviewed some stall holders, who include miners, exporters and importers: they said around 70 per cent minerals were mined from Gilgit-Baltistan alone, but 50-60 per cent of these were wasted due to non-availability of the required technological equipment and skills.
“We have no access to local as well as world market. We have to visit Peshawar for cutting, processing and polishing of stones. Construction of labs in Gilgit-Baltistan and elsewhere can address this pressing problem,” said Abid Hussain, who mines stones from his own property in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Asked had there been any change after the region was given a special status and Chief Minister Mehdi Shah-led government was installed, he replied in negative and claimed, the situation was same, as it was before the new arrangement made.
Muhammad Afzal and his five brothers are in this business for over two decades and have complaints about seething negligence meted out by the government functionaries to Gilgit-Baltistan’s mining sector.The News