Former Afghan soldiers turning to gem mining to survive

In remote Nuristan province, some who lost their jobs after the Taliban takeover are now working in artisanal mines to support their families amid a struggling economy.

By Kern Hendricks
Published On 18 Aug 2023

Nuristan, Afghanistan – Like a crack of thunder, a deep blast echoes down a tree-lined valley a few kilometres from Parun, the capital of the northeastern Afghan province of Nuristan. At the base of a rocky hillside, smoke and chunks of rock spew from the mouth of a low tunnel. Some of the debris reaches the edge of a glassy river which runs through a small valley, causing ripples on the water’s surface.

Sheltering to one side of the tunnel entrance is Abdul Qader Abid. As the final pieces of shrapnel clatter to a standstill, he squints into the darkness of the tunnel. Rising, he wraps a green shawl around his mouth and nose, and heads into the billowing dust. There’s a payday glimmering in the rubble, and he’s eager to find it.

Gem miners take a lunch break outside their mine in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province [Kern Hendricks/Al Jazeera]

Abid, a stalky man in his mid-thirties with a neatly-trimmed beard and striking green eyes, walks gingerly, small stones crunching underfoot. After less than 30 metres (98 feet), the tunnel opens into a large chamber nearly double his height.

In early 2022, Abid and his fellow miners leased a plot of land to mine and have been working there for nearly six months. Tunnelling into the hillside has been slow work and the shaft is still shallow.

Inside the cavern, there is enough room for half a dozen miners to work at one time, and, only a few minutes after the dust from the blast has settled, the space becomes a flurry of activity. Some men wield pickaxes to loosen the rock, others toss shovelfuls of mud into wheelbarrows, while others squat amid piles of grey rubble, picking up stones and holding them up to the thin beams of sunlight that peek through the holes in the roof.

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Travel thru Tajikistan, with Gary Bowersox, the Gem Hunter

My first lecture after my one month of travel, a 2,000 mile Explorers Club Flag Expedition trip thru Tajikistan to study the gems and minerals will be at held at the Brazosport Museum of Natural Science, Center for Arts & Science, Clute, Texas, on September 24th. (South of Houston)

In the photo below, Bowersox is pointing to the ancient (101BC) famous spinel mine on the Afghanistan/Tajikistan border in which the Panj River is the border.

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