JALALABAD (Pajhwok): The recent spike of insecurity has resulted in increased illegal mining in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, residents and officials confirmed.
They fear if the tide of insecurity is not reversed, the time is not far when all mines in Nangarhar will be plundered.
A tribal elder in the Sherzad district, Haji Mir Mohammad, told Pajhwok Afghan News that Taliban insurgents held away in most parts of the town, where residents dug up mines without government’s permission.
He said the government had awarded contracts to some businessmen in Jalalabad for extraction of gemstones in the Sherzad district, but those illegally extracting the stones far exceeded the number of contractors.
“Everyone digs the minerals for himself. These illegal miners sell the riches across the border via smuggling routes,” the elder said.
Another tribal elder in Mamakhel area of Kama district, Malak Ahmadzai, said he had observed large-scale illegal digging of semi-precious stone in Goshta district.
He took a sample of the stone to Pakistan, but failed to sell it because he was told the stone had been unprofessionally extracted and had no value.
“When you visit the mountains there, you will find huge piles of semi-precious stones because there is no security and the government cannot intervene.”
Ahmadzai said the government could gain control over mines and pave the way for professional digging if it strengthened security.
Local officials in Ghosta confirmed illegal digging of Shah Maqsood stone deposits in the district.
Nawab Khan, a resident of the Sararud district, who works in an open-pit mine, told Pajhwok Afghan News said they extracted construction materials on their own free will.
He said they sold a metre long dimension stone for 500 afghanis and the stones were sold for 600 afs each in cities. “Taliban exist here, but sometimes they come and demand money.”
Khan said the area had been secure few years ago, when police would visit mines and would prevent illegal digging.
“But now police and other security forces do not come to the area and illegal mining has increased.”
Nangarhar Mines Director Farooq acknowledged illegal mining had increased due to growing insecurity in the province.
He said though most of the mines were located in remote and insecure areas, yet they had awarded contracts for the riches.
He said if the level of insecurity was brought down, mines officials would visit the deposits in remote areas to closely monitor them.
“We make our last ditch-effort to award contracts for the mines and we are successful in this effort,” he said.
Farooq said insecurity had negatively impacted mining across Afghanistan and if the issue of insecurity was resolved, the mining process would automatically improve.
He said about 25,000 people worked in the mining sector of Nangarhar and their number could increase four times if the insecurity issue was addressed.
The governor’s spokesman, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, also admitted illegal mining took place in most insecure areas of the province.
He said besides other mines, the largest gemstone mine existed in the Sherzad district and the stones were currently being legally mined.
In response to mines’ officials concerns, he said a recent major offensive had resulted in driving insurgents from the Sherzad district.
“There had been some problems, which have reduced after the operation,” he said, adding the provincial government was serious about illegal mining and smuggling.
“It is obvious insecurity leads to illegal mining and smuggling of the riches, but the provincial government is trying to prevent these activities.”
An expert on security affairs, Mohammad Anwar Sultani, said some big businessmen were involved in fueling insecurity in order to extract more minerals than the amount agreed in the contract.
“This way they increase their income,” he said, linking every progress in the mining sector to improvement in security.