Afghanistan is a well-known gem producing country accommodating some of the oldest mines in the world. The four main gemstone-producing areas are Badakhshan, Jagdalek, Nuristan, and the Panjshir Valley. Afghanistan is known to have exploited its precious and semi-precious gemstone deposits. These deposits include aquamarine, emerald and other varieties of beryl, fluorite, garnet, kunzite, ruby, sapphire, lapis lazuli, topaz, tourmaline, amethyst and varieties of quartz. Corundum deposits (sapphire and ruby) in the country are largely exhausted, and very little gem quality material is found.
There are six lapis mines in Afghanistan, the largest being located in Badakhshan province. Its lapis lazuli mines at Sar-e-Sang are known to have produced gemstones for the Egyptians and are still producing today.
Emeralds from the Panjshir valley were also probably known at the time of Alexander as the “Bactrian emeralds” reported around 320BC. Nevertheless, it is during the 1970’s that Afghanistan has emerged as an important source for many gemstones. During the last 30 years the country was a major source for lapis lazuli (Sar-e-Sang) and a noticeable supplier of rubies (Jagdalek), emeralds (Panjshir valley), tourmaline, kunzite, beryl and aquamarine (Nuristan).
Currently, emeralds are mined in Panjshir valley in 3 main areas: The Bismal-Riwat area, the Ringe and the Mukeni-Zara Kel areas.
Gem mining is not really legal in Afghanistan these days. The World Bank estimates that 90 to 99 percent of all gemstones mined in Afghanistan are smuggled out of the country. The Afghan Ministry of Mines issued a lofty gemstone policy a few years ago, promising the development of mining, as well as cutting and polishing, although, it doesn’t seem to have been implemented. The market has been forced underground due to an array of legal and bureaucratic issues, such as prohibitively complicated export procedures and high royalties and taxes. The Afghan government is currently keeping the Jagdalek area for potential investors as the local people were not very eager to pay the 10% tax they were supposed to pay.
Another reason explaining why the mines are closed is possible mining right problem between the people from the Jagdalek village and the people from the Sapara village for the control of the mines. Also, there is decrease in the number of miners as the work is very hard and most of the successful miners after getting some money have settled in Kabul and are doing now another business less dangerous and less hard.
The miners drill holes with a diesel powered hand drill in order to place some explosives and blast the rocks in the deep of the mine. The stones are then rapidly studied outside the mine to collect the desirable gemstone.
Afghan emeralds are considered among the finest in the world, though the price of a single gemstone fluctuates widely, depending on its color, clarity and size. While the country has potential to grow within the colored gemstone market, it’s tough to mine and process the stones given the precarious political situation in this still war-torn country.
Afghanistan has been blessed with a great variety of precious and semi-precious stones with 73 records of mines, deposits, occurrences and showings. In fact, some of the earliest records of mining anywhere in the world are from Afghanistan, dating back over 6000 years. Most operations today are small-scale, but the potential undoubtedly exists for the development of a significant precious stone mining industry in Afghanistan