Afghanistan VIII

Rocks From A Hard Place, February 2011

Claims that Afghanistan is sitting on $1trillion of mineral wealth made headlines last year. But the real story is the daily grind of impoverished miners taking huge risks to dig out precious stones that are then sold on the black market. Afghan officials fear the proceeds are being used to fund the insurgency.

The World Bank is working with the government to legitimise the trade, but faces huge challenges at a time when the Taliban looks stronger that at any time since 2001.

The story of the emerald miners in the Panshir Valley outside Kabul is both a tale of man’s struggle against the mountain, and the human face of a geo-political business story that could influence the balance of power in South Asia for decades to come.

  • Azrat Mohammed looks passed a colleague while in a tunnel. Kate Holt.
  • An elderly man who lost his leg in a landmine incident sits next to his shoe cleaning stall with his grandson. Kate Holt.
  • Azrat Mohammed looks passed a colleague while in a tunnel in which they mine emeralds in Khenj. Kate Holt.
  • Azrat Mohammed holds out some findings of a recent excavation in his hand. Kate Holt.
  • Miners walk along a damp tunnel with a kerosene lamp in an Emerald mine in Khenj. Kate Holt.
  • An Emerald dealer, who buys his stones directly from the miners, examines stones he has just bought. Kate Holt.
  • A blacksmitth uses an old bicycle to power his anvil to make a tool that is used by miners looking for emeralds. Kate Holt.
  • A rusting Russian tank sits ominously under a cloudy sky along the road up the Panjshir Valley. Kate Holt.
  • Rough shelters made of local stone perch high up on the side of a mountain. Kate Holt.
  • A group of miners enjoy a meal of beans and bread after hours spent deep inside the tunnels of the emerald mines. Kate Holt.
  • Detail of a bowl of food as a group of miners enjoy a meal of beans and bread. Kate Holt.
  • An emerald miner searches for surface emeralds outside of a tunnel. Kate Holt.
  • Two emerald miners sit in the entrance to a mining tunnel. Kate Holt.
  • Javed Noora, an Afghan jeweller who specialises in making jewellery from precious and semi precious stones. Kate Holt.
  • Workers make jewellery in the workshop of Javed Noori in Kabul. Kate Holt.