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April 11, 2009 / jeni

The Nexus in Shangla

emerald1A few recent items point to the crime-conflict nexus in Shangla District, in the North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan.

First up: conflict emeralds. From Pakistan’s Daily Times:

More than 70 Taliban attacked the famous Gojaro Kalay emerald mine in Shangla on Wednesday and took control of the mining operations. The mine had been leased to American firm Luxury International, which had been paying Pakistan Rs 40 million a year. The company had left recently because of the security situation.

The Taliban took positions around the mine on Wednesday after the security guards fled. They announced to take control of mining operations and offered the locals to work with them and share the profits. They bought mining equipment from the nearby Kotkay Bazaar.

Sher Bacha, the nazim of the area, and the locals confirmed the report and said more than 1,000 people worked on the mine on Wednesday. Only 100 people worked at the mine before the Taliban takeover.

The most clever part of this takeover is bringing in the locals in the form of an (apparently) inflated workforce, as they now have a strong vested interest in helping to maintain Taliban control of the mine.

However, it’s not all about emeralds in Shangla. Check out this very interesting post on the ‘timber mafia’ in the region.

Towards mid-November 2007, the militants headed towards Shangla district and a heavy battle followed at Belay Baba. Denizens of the troubled town of Alpuri and its adjacent thickly wooded green valleys fled to escape the heavy artillery shelling from the bordering Swat district. Many, while ascending the five-kilometre dirt route from Alpuri to Shangla Top, would stop at the sound of trees being cut in the nearby mountains. A gentle night breeze spread the scent of the newly felled pine trees across the area.

Truckloads of ‘war booty’, looted from Alpuri Bazaar, would thread their way towards Shangla Top under the protection of the Taliban whose attention was not in the least diverted by the sound of the thick pine forests being felled… militants mostly served as ‘cavalry’ for the powerful timber mafia in the districts of Swat and Dir, and they rode on the success of the militants, swooping on the verdant pine mountains spread over 600 square miles like vultures. A recent survey conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy reveals that a loss of over Rs8bn was incurred by the forest sectors of Swat alone during the last 16 months…

Besides the exploitation of thick pine forests, precious emerald mines and archaeological artefacts have also been a huge source of revenue for the local black economy. As the media wrestled for news emerging from the recent Swat peace agreement, militants captured the emerald mines on the outskirts of the main town of Mingora and in the Shamozai area in Kabal tehsil. Subsequently, heavy excavations started in which over 200 labourers took part to extract precious stones, with the Taliban taking one-third of the total share. Other plunderers have also had a field day thronging to the mines (where finds are of excellent quality) one of which had earned the government about Rs90m through a single auction in the past.

The post then makes the case for our own research very nicely:

All this points to the symbiotic tie between the pro-active ‘business’ mafia, whose greed knows no bounds when it comes to the vast natural resources of the troubled areas, and the militants for whom funds is an integral part of efforts to keep their ‘ideology’ alive. This makes it all the more necessary for those wielding power in government to devise a strategy that would isolate monetary benefits from militancy.

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