An Afghan government ban on the mining of semi-precious lapis lazuli stones has put many of those involved in the trade out of business. But, as Hayley Platt reports activists say that illegal extraction of the stones is continuing and funnelling millions of dollars into the hands of insurgents and corrupt warlords and funding the conflict in the country.
It's a craft that dates back thousands of years. And much of the world's brilliant blue lapis lazuli comes from Afghanistan. But a government ban on mining the semi-precious stone has back-fired, according to corruption watchdog Global Witness. Instead of controlling the industry - it's put traders out of business. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GLOBAL WITNESS RESEARCHER, STEPHEN CARTER, SAYING: "The mines themselves are in the hands of illegal armed groups and the benefits from this mining is disproportionally going to them, and those groups include government armed groups in theory but actually are also extracting money from the mines, and the Taliban." Mohammad Akbar invested everything in the semi-precious stone before the ban was introduced. (SOUNDBITE) (Dari) LAPIS DEALER, MOHAMMAD AKBAR, SAYING: "No one will dare to buy it, so what should I do with all this lapis now?" In contrast - the Taliban and other armed groups are said to be earning up to 20 million dollars a year from the mines. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GLOBAL WITNESS RESEARCHER, STEPHEN CARTER, SAYING: "There is competition among armed groups for this resource and what that does is it creates the ideal conditions for an insurgency to flourish." 10,000 deposits are reportedly outside government control. And there are rich rewards - Afghanistan's mountains are estimated to contain up to $3 trillion in mineral resources.