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  Afghanistan's Jegdalek ruby deposits reportedly being plundered by Taliban-led miners

June 11, 2012

For more than 700 years, Afghanistan's Jegdalek mines have been prolific producers of high quality colored gemstones. Located in the Surobi district in Kabul Province, between the Tora Bora mountains and Pakistan's Parachinar valley, about 85 of the mines' output is made up of pink to violet-pink and blue sapphire, and 15 percent by rubies .

For a destitute country plagued by conflict, Jegdalek should be a valuable source of foreign currency. But according to a BBC report, the mines are being plundered by thieves, corrupt officials and the Taliban. The illegal trade in rubies has become particularly rife, and government officials say it is costing the country million of dollars in lost income.

The situation is so severe, that it has caught the attention of Afghani President Hamid Karzai. "He is aware that we can easily become [like certain] African countries, where mineral worth is a curse, not a blessing, and could be used to further destabilize the country," an official said to the BBC.

To prevent the loss of revenue, the Afghani government placed an embargo on ruby mining, but the ban is flagrantly ignored, with local traders in the Jegdalek bazaar openly selling newly-mined gems. Furthermore, unconfirmed reports spoke of the Taliban smuggling a ruby out of the area that sold for $600,000 in Dubai.

Officials blame the Taliban which, in addition to collecting proceeds from opium farming use the mines as a source of ongoing revenue. Reportedly, the militant group encourages unskilled miners to work the area and then taxes them on income.

"The Taliban tell the locals to work here," said Mohammed Talib, a police officer who was interviewed by the BBC. "They tell them, 'We will give you 25 percent of the profit on the rubies you bring. The best rubies are on Taliban's side of the mountain.'"

According to Talib, it is the Taliban that organizes the gemstone bazaar near Jegdalek, in the small village of Soar Naw.

The damage to the Afghani economy may be long term as well. The unskilled miners are said to be digging deep holes, which they then fill with explosives in order to free the gemstone rich ore. These uncontrolled blasts, witnesses say, are damaging the mines below.

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