Peshawar: For 400 years the craftsmen and traders of Peshawar`s jewellery bazaar have cut, polished, set and haggled over precious gems dug from the rugged mountains of northwest Pakistan.
Pakistan`s gem and jewellery exports have boomed in recent years but Taliban violence, a crippling power crisis and outdated production methods are taking their toll in Peshawar, where traders say business has slumped alarmingly in the past 12 months.
As dusk settles over Peshawar, the gateway to Pakistan`s wild and restive northwest, the stalls and narrow lanes of Namakmandi bazaar in the heart of the city bustle with activity.
Traders peer beadily to check the quality of emeralds, rubies and lapis lazuli, plying customers with green tea while food sellers roam about, the aroma of spices scenting the air.
But traders like Shehzad Sabz Ali say business is collapsing, and foreign buyers in particular have been scared off a major problem in a sector where exports account for 95 percent of the market.
"I have been in this business for the last 25 years but the slump that we are witnessing these days because of unrest and Talibanisation is unprecedented," he said.
The buyers from the United States, Thailand, France, Germany and Dubai who once thronged the packed market are largely a thing of the past.
"The bomb blasts and suicide attacks have turned our businesses upside down, leaving us no option but to interact with our buyers through the Internet," Ali said as employees in his small shop cut and polished delicate rose-pink kunzite stones.
Online dealing may be the thing of the moment, but traders like Ali, whose businesses have been built on generations of salesmanship and personal relationships, feel it is ineffective.
For fellow trader Sheharyar Ahmad, the solution is to hold more trade shows in Pakistan`s other cities.
"I have attended a few exhibitions in Islamabad and Lahore where foreign buyers showed great deal of interest in the stones such as emerald, ruby and sapphire," he said.