Monday, 1 February 2016

Ruby mines of Jegdalek

Only a few hours' drive from the Afghan capital Kabul is an area renowned for some of the world's most valuable rubies.

The last mining boom in Afghanistan was over 2,000 years ago in the era of Alexander the Great, when gold, silver and precious stones were routinely mined. Geologists have known of the extent of the mineral wealth for over a century, as a result of surveys done by the British and Russians.
Jegdalek mines have been worked for more than 700 years and are known for their high-grade blood-red rubies. The corundum deposit is hosted in calcite-dolomite marble and is up to 2,000m thick. The deposit is worked by about 20 mines and more than 2,000 open pits and trenches. The ore field also includes skarns and muscovite-bearing pegmatites. It is located in the western part of the Surkh-Rod pegmatite field.
The mines rarely produce the red rubies they were once famous for - more often than not semi-transparent pink sapphires are the only gems found, even at depths of 150m.

Every Friday the Taliban organizes a ruby bazaar near Jegdalek in the small village of Soar Naw - a remote and mountainous area covered with deeply forested valleys. Here they sell rubies which are then smuggled to Dubai, Pakistan and Thailand.
About 75% of the production at the Jegdalek mines is in the form of pink to violet-pink sapphire, with rubies accounting for 15%, and the balance being blue sapphire.

The Taliban reportedly smuggled a ruby out of the area which sold for $600,000 in Dubai. The government admits that it is only in control of a few of the mines. "The income from rubies is used to buy weapons and pay fighters. If we can somehow plug this source, it will be a big blow to Taliban finances," an intelligence officer said. Mining official Tamim Asey admits that the government is losing millions of dollars every year as powerful warlords, tribal chieftains and corrupt officials collude to rob the nation of its natural resources.