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Farah selenite mine: Illegal extraction continues unabated

FARAH MINESFARAH CITY: Selenite, a newly discovered mine in western Farah province, is being illegally extracted by powerful individuals and the stone smuggled to Herat and Iran.

The mine is located in a mountain between Awar and Anginaran villages, around 25 kilometres northwest of the Pushtkoh district centre.

A number of residents say the mine was discovered three months back by local people and its illegal extraction was ongoing.

However, some people say the unlawful mining has been stopped after locals and powerful figures developed differences over shares in and the area is currently under Taliban control.

Type of the stone

Local people call the rock glassy stone, but Farah Mines and Petroleum Director Jumma Khan Joyan, who obtained a sample of the stone, said initial tests showed it was selenite.

He said more research would prove which grade and quality the stone had. A sample of the stone would be sent soon to the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum for research.

Eng. Mohammad Anwar Salehi, an expert, said: “Selenite is a semi-precious stone of Afghanistan that has many buyers outside the country.”

Mohammad Khan, a resident of Anginaran area, said: “Rocks of this mine area clear like glass.” Herat traders purchased a ton of this stone for six million Iranian rials (more than 100,000 afghanis), he said.

Illegal and unprofessional mining

Mohammad Halim, a resident of Dazbad village, said a man from Herat started the illegal extraction for the first time about three months ago, using crowbar, hoe and other tools.

He said later powerful individuals also started extracting the mine. But people of different tribes, such as Zori and Tajik, engaged in verbal disputes as everyone wanted their shares.

“These two tribes have strong influence in the area. Most of those who want to extract are gunmen, each trying to extract as much selenite as possible,” Halim continued.

“The armed men also threaten each other. The extraction has stopped after mediation from some local elders. However, certain people are still extracting the stone at night,” he explained.

According to the resident, the man from Herat planned to restart extraction of selenite. Halim did not provide details about the identity of the man but said he had strong links with the Taliban.

The area where the mine existed is controlled by the Taliban. After area people engaged in disputes, the rebel group took no action to stop the extraction.

Mohammad Khan, hailing from Anginaran area, claimed people started extraction immediately after the mine was discovered. But the process was recently halted due to disputes among the people and Taliban’s influence in the locality.

Pajhwok tried to ascertain Taliban’s view on the issue, but failed.

Selenite smuggling

According to Mohammad Halim, five trucks of the semi-precious stone were illegally extracted by the Herati man who smuggled it to the Ghorian district of Herat, bordering Iran.

Ghorian is 400 metres from the mine, but the driving time may differ depending on modes of transport. Halim did not know whether the stone was trafficked to Iran or used in Ghorian.

But Mohammad Khan said most of the stone was trafficked to Ghorian and one truck of it smuggled to Iran through Pushtokoh border area.

Ghorian police chief, Ghulam Sakhi Hussaini, said he had received no report about the stone’s smuggling from Farah to the district. But he said the issue would be tracked and they would stop the practice.

Mohammad Halim said some local people kept the stone inside their houses after extracting it. They shared a sample of the stone with traders in Farah Vity and Herat to find market for it.

However, another resident who wished to go unnamed, said: “Armed men of Zori and Tajik tribes have links with the Taliban who are given share in the booty. The share ends up pockets of the Taliban controlling the mine site and the the group leadership is unaware of it.”

Weak government control

Abdul Hakim, administrative chief of Pushtkoh district, confirmed the government had no writ in Anginaran and Awar areas, where the Taliban and local people extracted the selenite mine.

In response to the question why the government did not take action to stop the illegal mining, he replied people had stopped extraction due to the low value of the stone.

However, the Farah governor’s spokesman, Naser Mahri, expressed concern over the illicit extraction of selenite. The practice had come to a halt for unknown reasons, he added.

“We have heard from locals that the stone is extracted unlawfully. But we haven’t gone to see whether or not the stone is available there,” he said, adding a plan was being devised to deploy security forces to the area, A technical team will visit the mine site.

According to a Pajhwok report, Farah has copper, iron, plumbum, salt, silver, molbedium, tourmaline, stanium, uranium, granite, cement, coal, chromites, feldspar and silicon reserves.

In 2013, the Farah Mines and Petroleum Department had said many natural resources existed in the province.

According to the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, the US Geological Survey has found natural resources worth three trillion dollars in 30 percent of Afghanistan.

Currently, only some of the coalmines and marbles are extracted. Illegal and unprofessional mining goes on in many areas of the country, including Farah.

The Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA), in a report in 2014, had confirmed illegal mining by powerful individuals and illegal gunmen, supported by local government officials, in 3,000 locations of Afghanistan. -By Benyamin Bariz, Pajhwok

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