by Misbah Saba Malik
Pakistan enjoys an abundance of precious and semi-precious gemstones, thanks to its geographical location -- at the junction of three highest mountain ranges including Hindukush, Himalaya, and Karakorum.
The country hosts a spectrum of colorful stones, including the world-recognized most expensive ruby, emerald, sapphire among other dozens of gemstones. The northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, Gilgit-Baltistan area and southwest Balochistan are the richest resources of precious stones, according to the Gemstone and Jewelry Resources of Pakistan released by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources in 2017.
Shomaila Zobair, a gemologist working with state-owned Pakistan Gem and Jewelry Development Company, told Xinhua that emerald from Swat area in KP is acknowledged as one of the best in the world because of its unique color and quality. However, it could not get the desired fame despite acknowledgement by top gemstone institutes of the world due to poor flow in international markets.
Local reports claimed that Pakistan has the fifth largest reservoirs of gemstones in the world. However, despite huge potential and abundance of raw materials, the country failed to establish its fame like Sri Lanka or Tanzania in the international markets, and it could not even find a place in the top 10 gem exporters in Asia.
Local businessmen believed that primitive methods and archaic tools during exploring the gemstones are the major reasons of Pakistan's failure in the industry and it is also a basic evidence of negligence of the sector.
Abdul Ghaffar, a Pershawa-based businessman, has the license to extract gemstones from mines in KP and he also buys raw gemstones from others. "All of us extract gemstones by blasting inside the mines then we collect the pieces of broken rock, wash them to strain gemstones and take them to market."
"In blasting technique we do not know what quality of stone we will get, sometimes the whole stone gets broken from inside and when it is later cut, there is nothing but broken pieces," Ghaffar, whose family has been associated with the business for three decades, told Xinhua.
Over 50 percent of the precious stones gets wasted as miners neither have modern equipment nor related knowhow. According to the Pakistani State Bank, capital investment in gem and jewelry sector is very low as compared to the business revenues it can generate.
Chairman of Gems and Jewelry Center of Quetta Bashir Agha explained that some of the hills from where these stones are found are on a very high altitude, and mining is not easy there.
"Some of the hills are owned by tribal elders and feudal lords, they also show no interest in mining. Furthermore, poor law and order situation in the gemstone-rich KP and some tribal areas has lasted for more than 15 years," said Agha. "It was also a reason of slowdown of the gem-economy in the country."
The annual gemstones and jewelry export from Pakistan reaches 3.7 billion U.S. dollars, statistics from the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan recently revealed. However, local gemologists believe that the revenue generated from the sector are just peanuts compared to its huge potential, as more than 80 percent of the revenue came from unprocessed, raw gemstones.
Shakirullah Khan, a researcher at the National Center of Excellence in Geology in the University of Peshawar, said the end product of gems available in Pakistan is valuable in the country, but it cannot compete in the international market.
"Peshawar is the only main market of gemstone trade in the country. There are a lot of stone cutters and polishers in the city. They do the stone faceting manually on archaic machines, and the whole process has little chance to bring inherent luster and desired symmetry of stones which international markets demand," Khan said.
When traders failed to sell their gems in the international markets, they prefer to export raw material to other countries that understand Pakistan's potential and sell the gemstones with their own brands and country names, Khan said.
Another factor of the crippled development of the industry, according to people related to the sector, is that Pakistan lacks branding and marketing of its gems. Annually one or two exhibitions in the country can not attract enough international buyers and locals have less purchasing power to buy the expensive jewels.
However, with the implementation of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan's gem and jewelry sector is going to embrace more opportunities in terms of technology transfer.
After initial assessment of potential industries in KP's Rashakai Economic Zone and Balochistan's Bostan Economic Zone, Muhammad Muzammil Zia, a research fellow at the Islamabad-based Center of Excellence for CPEC, said they have got applications and letter of intentions from different investors to set up gemstone and jewelry industry in the two SEZs as both of the provinces have rich potential for it.
Senior Vice President of Pak-China Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry Moazzam Ghurki said Chinese professionals should be invited to train Pakistani labor forces and mining engineers for cutting, manufacturing and designing the state-of-the-art jewelry as China has proved its excellence over the years to become the largest jewelry exporter in the world.
A group of Chinese jewelry experts from Guangzhou Panyu Polytechnic University recently visited the Infinity School Lahore to help the country in skill development by providing free-of-cost training to aspirants in the gem and jewelry industry.
"We signed an MOU with the university under the supervision of the government of Sindh last year during a national exhibition in provincial capital of Karachi. Under the MOU, the Chinese university will provide technical training to people in different sectors," Farhan, marketing and job placement officer in the Infinity School Lahore, told Xinhua.
"This time around, we are providing jewelry designing course till Nov. 30 in the first phase, while in the second phase the candidates will fly to China where they will be provided free-of-cost training, accommodation and food by the Chinese institute."
Local experts believe Pakistan can greatly benefit from the Chinese technology in the sector as China is the world's largest exporter of jewelry and numerous of people in China are associated with gem lapidary. With the Chinese help, Pakistan can also tap the potential of its semi-precious gems by making decorative and carved items.