Don’t Boycott Afghan Gems

Two gem experts say that boycotting gems from Afghanistan will not hurt the repressive Taliban government, but it will hurt opponents of the Taliban.

Noted gem author Fred Ward says lapis lazuli, emeralds, ruby, aqua, spinel, tourmaline, and other gems are found in the small region that’s controlled by anti-Taliban rebels. “The people who fight Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leaders are the ones hurt by avoiding Afghan gems,” he says. “Let’s not cut off the only legitimate source of income for the people fighting terrorists inside Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, gem dealer Gary Bowersox of Honolulu, who has been traveling to Afghanistan for 30 years, says Western nations should “surgically remove” Osama bin Laden. Bowersox had just returned from his usual summer gem-buying trip to Afghanistan when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.

Bowersox travels northern Afghanistan, bringing back emeralds, ruby, sapphires, kunzite, tourmaline, aquamarine, morganite, and lapis lazuli. He notes that the rebel Northern Alliance has fought the ruling Taliban since 1996. “Bin Laden and the [rebel] war have come within 15 miles of the emerald mines,” he says. Earlier this year, he recalled, bin Laden and “5,000 Arab troops with him [came] within 40 miles of [my] gem expedition.”

Bowersox says it will be at least a year before more gems come out of Afghanistan. Production was down this year because miners had already skimmed the “cream” from the emerald and lapis mines, and they need technology to get the rest. Also, he says, most miners are involved in the war against the Taliban, which has created a manpower problem.