An investigation by TOLOnews reveals that lapis lazuli prices have reduced unprecedently times due to illegal mining in one of the main deposits of the mineral resource in the northeastern province of Badakhshan.
Local businessmen said the average price of one kilogram of lapis lazuli is $20 in local markets while it was $500 a decade ago.
“Our business was good in the past but has declined to 10 percent in the past five years,” said Mohammad Ibrahim, head of Kabul Jewelers Union.
Main deposits of lapis lazuli are located in Keran Wa Manjan district in Badakhshan which fallen to the Taliban on July 24, according to local officials.
The Afghan government had full control over the deposits for only two years in the past decade while it has had partial control over the district during this period.
The study has found that assessments have identified four small portions of lapis lazuli in Keran Wa Manjan with an estimated 3,500 tons of the mineral.
Experts said Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli has a unique quality in compared with the lapis lazuli in other countries, including Chile and Holland.
“Thousands of tons [of Lapis lazuli] were sent out of Afghanistan illegally over the past three years,” member of the Natural Resources Monitoring Network, Ibrahim Jaffari, said. “But now, Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli even cannot afford the expenses of the warehouses in China.”
Government’s Measures Against Illegal Mining
Global Witness, an international monitoring organization, in a report 2016 accused many individuals in Afghanistan, including tribal elders and political figures, of involvement in illegal extraction of lapis lazuli.
But the report was not taken seriously by the government.
Some of the officials whose names were mentioned in the report were appointed to several government posts in Badakhshan.
“We were somewhat surprised after our report was released. Since our reporter released, commander Malik was made a local police commander in the mining area, although he is not in that position anymore,” the head of Global Witness office in Afghanistan, Stephen Carter, told TOLOnews this week.
According to the Global Witness report, Mr. Malik, an infamous local commander in Keran Wa Manjan, had a major role in illegal mining in the district.
TOLOnews reporter Tamim Hamid tried to contact Mr. Malik, but he could not be reached due to lack of coverage of telecommunication services in the area.
Badakhshan governor Zakaria Sawda is another official whose name was mentioned in the report.
Mr. Sawda rejected his involvement in illegal extraction of lapis lazuli in the province.
“Regarding the lapis lazuli deposits, I want to say that I was involved in legal or illegal extractions,” said Zakaria Sawda, Badakhshan governor. “I don’t have any armed men here and people in Badakhshan are fully aware of it. The residents of Badakhshan know who are involved in the extraction of lapis lazuli. This is a false allegation and I hope that they stop character assassination.”
Statistics by Global Witness show that only in 2014, over 20 tons of lapis lazuli was extracted from Keran Wa Manjan deposits each day.
And during this period, over 7,500 tons of lapis lazuli worth $125 million was exported illegally outside Afghanistan.
The figures also show that from the amount, $20 million went to the account of illegal armed groups.
But now the Afghan government is apparently prepared to finalize the legal extraction of at least 43 small and big deposits which need $200 million to 300 million investment.
Recently, a $15 million contract was signed for the extraction of talc in Shirzad district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, however, the contract later sparked some controversies.
“If you want to say there should be 100-percent security, you will not find it anywhere in the world. But this investment can happen in a way that we want. This will create jobs for the local people and it will lead to stability in the region,” said Abdul Qadir Mutfi, a spokesman of Ministry of Mines.
Last year, the Afghan government formed a committee comprising representatives of the ministries of Mines and Defense, the National Directorate of Security and the National Security Council to address the issue of illegal.
Monitoring organizations say the committee has not been able to implement its decisions.
“They [the committee] announced to have prevented illegal extraction in at least 570 mineral deposits… Four months have passed since we have asked for a list of the mineral deposits, but we have not received it. Our assessment is that there is the possibility that such a list does not exist,” said Naser Taimori, a researcher at Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a Kabul-based monitoring organization.
The government says that it has sufficient evidence about those involved in the smuggling of precious stones.
“The Ministry of Mines has sufficient evidence and information about those involved in illegal mining. Of course, there are people who have been identified and those involved in such activities will be treated legally,” President Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.