Peshawar’s Namak Mandi hard hit by border blockade
PESHAWAR (Pajhwok): The Peshawar Namak Mandi famous for its traditional lamb Karai also holds the province's biggest market for precious and semi-precious stones extracted from both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
For decades, it has been a centre for traders from all over the world but like most of the other businesses which have been affected by the law and order situation of the country, the market is also passing through crucial time.
Many traders associated with the business for years have wrapped up their businesses and many have shrunk their volume owing to their declining clients’ number. For foreigners it is nearly impossible to get to Peshawar as the federal government does not give them permission to travel to the city, say the traders in the market.
Afghanistan’s Tourmaline, Kunzite, Emerald, Lapis, Hydrogrossular, Ruby, Spinel, Nephrite and Aquamarine have been smuggled to Pakistan for years. These stones were available round the year in the market as compared to the Pakistani gems in which majority are extracted from the areas of Gilgit and the mine-diggers can only work for three months due to weather barriers.
The recent tension between the Pakistan and Afghanistan has further deteriorated the already declining business as the market has remained mainly dependent on rough gem-stones trade in via the Torkham border.
Resultantly, skilled workers are losing jobs as the market can’t feed them and traders from Afghanistan are wrapping up their businesses.
Akbar Khan, 27, a trader in the market had 9 workers at his workplace for shaping and polishing rough gems until 2016. Now, he has only one skilled worker and another trainee at his workplace.
“A single worker has Rs20,000 monthly salary. I can’t afford to keep more than one worker now,” he said adding that they used to make Rs 50,000 a day from the work they receive from other gems dealers in the market and now they don’t have enough work.
“From 2012 till 2015, the market was active because of Chinese clients but for the past couple of years the business with Chinese has also dropped down,” he explained that the Chinese purchased gemstones from the market at good rates and stocked them in these three years then suddenly they stopped buying more gems.
“The traders purchased the rough gems at high rates thinking that they would sell it to their Chinese clients but that did not happen and it badly affected the market,” Akbar explained.
Abdur Rehman, another trader has 9 workers at his workplace. Although he has not fired his workers but he has made a contract under which the workers would be paid according to his monthly profit. “The market is not receiving new stock for the past two years and every trader has old stock in which buyers are not interested,” he said referring to the increase in security and checking at the Pakistan side of the Torkham border.
“Afghanistan gems are better than Pakistani. Except for the Aquamarine of Pakistan all the gem-stones of Afghanistan are better than Pakistani stone,” Rehman said adding the Pakistani gems quantity has also decreased because of decline in mining.
“You can’t get dynamite easily in Pakistan now. Moreover, the factories have tremendously increased its price and poor mines-diggers can’t afford to buy dynamite.” He added that a carton of dynamite which was once at Rs5000 is now sold at Rs250,000 which is beyond the reach of a poor mine-digger.
Commenting on the cross border crisis and its impact on the market a member of the All Pakistan Commercial Exporters Association (APCEA)—the association of gems dealers –on the condition of anonymity told that the investors from Afghanistan have stopped buying new products and they are trying to sell what they have already stocked because of the on-going uncertainty between the two neighboring countries.
"The Afghan traders who have been active in the business for decades are grappled by uncertainty regarding their future in Pakistan. They have invested millions in the business but now they are trying to convert their investments in cash or gold so that they can easily take along if they have to leave the country.”
Haji Abdullah,60, hailing from Kunar province of Afghanistan has been working in the market for 40 years. Abdullah and his other Afghan co-traders in the market are keeping their profiles low to avoid any annoyance at the hands of police and law enforcers.
“Our 90% business has been affected by the cross border tension and since the day the gates have been closed the business has dropped to zero,” he said adding that they have been bringing smuggled gems to Namak Mandi for decades.
According to him, traders in Afghanistan are now looking towards other markets particularly India due to which Namak Mandi market is losing its importance for Afghan traders. “Last week (2nd week of March) an auction took place in Nangarhar and a person purchased that sock (containing rough Kunzite and Tourmaline) at Rs19 millions. That person took the gems to India and he made Rs8.2 million profit. We were expecting over Rs9 million loss in that stock but the person took the stock to India and earned profit,” Abdullah informed adding that if few more such deals took place in Afghanistan then people would stop look towards Namak Mandi.
He informed that the association is desperately trying to revamp and trigger the Pakistani-gems industry owing to the decline in gems’ influx from Afghanistan. “We are trying to recognize and market our own gems now,” he said referring to the K-P government and APCEA gems and minerals show held in Peshawar in March.
Stanikzai, another merchant of precious and semi-precious stones who in the past delivered stones to Peshawar’s Namak Mandi said: “From the past one month I brought precious stones to newly established factories in Kabul’s Shahr-i-Naw market.”
He said he has decided to supply precious stones to factories within the country due to the frequent blockade of crossing points on the Duran line.
Supply to local factories would help generate more jobs for the people and bring fame to the country, he believed.
Iqbal Sapand, owner of Afghan Gem Stones and Jewelry, said after the closure of Torkham and Chaman crossings some gems were being smuggled through Nuristan.
He said the gem they used to buy from the suppliers for $2,500 was now available for $300.
Farooq Zaman, a senior member of the APCEA refuted any decline in their due to Afghan-Pakistan border tension. "Pakistan gems industry has huge potentials and we are working with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to extract Pakistani gems on scientific methods and making efforts to market our own gems and minerals industry," he said adding that well be holding roads shows to attract foreign and more local traders to their gems industry. "We don't have any concerns with the border," Zaman said.
The Afghanistan trade commissioner for Pakistan in Peshawar Mirwais Yousafzai, however, admitted that the gems industry has been affected by the cross border tension. "Like every trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan the gems industry has also been affected by the closure of the gates," Mirwais said referring to the cross border tension and the Pakistan decision to close the gates of the Torkham border
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