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Afghan Jewellery Culture Dying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

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PESHAWAR: Juma Khan, 35, headed out from the newly merged tribal district of Bajaur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). He came to a women jewellery market in the provincial capital of Peshawar to buy tribal jewelry for his small shop located in Islamabad. He is sitting in a vintage shop sipping green tea and arguing on the quality and the price of the products with the seller.

He reminded the seller of his old business days when such vintage jewellery could be brought at a very cheap price from Peshawar. He said that, “We were buying such jewellery at very cheap prices and then sold them in the capital city of Islamabad. Now profit in such business is shrinking as prices have increased and the quality of the product is decreasing by the day.”

He is now thinking about switching his shop to some other business. He said, “If rise in prices continues and quality does not improve, i am going to close down my jewellery shop and start investing in some other profitable business.”

Afghan or tribal jewellery is one of the most popular jewellery that women like to wear across the globe.  The Afghan jewellery was introduced in Pakistan in the 1970’s but got more popular when Afghans started living as refuges in Pakistan after Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan.

Afsar Khan, 30, is one of those persons who has been associated with jewellery business since long and is running his late father shop at Afghan Market in the capital. Regarding the hike in prices, he said, “In the past, we had Afghan workers who were skilled enough in making such accessories like Mata Pati, Kochai necklace and other accessories, but after their return such business have suffered on a large scale.”

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He elaborated further by saying that Pakistani jewellers are not skilled like Afghans.  He said, “We tried to make Afghan jewelry in our shop but failed.” He shared his past experience with Afghan craftsmen and said, “Afghan workers made 70 to 100 pieces of jewellery per day, while Pakistani workers are not able to produce even one specimen in a day.”

Furthermore, he criticised the government for not allowing Afghan jewellery to pass through the border and said, “The Pakistan Customs on Torkham border is not allowing us to legally import Afghan jewellery from Afghanistan, but somehow we manage to obtain these through illegal ways and then sell the items in our shops.”

He further said that a neighbouring shop keeper had brought a container of Afghan vintage jewellery which was in the custody of Torkham border officials from the past six months.

Pakistan is one of the largest refugee-hosting nations in the world and is home to an estimated 2.4 million registered and undocumented people.

Salman Shah, 19, is working as a labourer in one of the oldest shop’s in Peshawar. He said that, “Jewellery making is a part of the Afghan culture as Afghanistan is rich in emeralds, rubies, lapis lazuli and other resources.”

He said that customers demand handmade vintage jewellery, but the shops don’t have much to offer.

He further said that Afghan jewellery cost Rs100 to 120 when Afghan refugees were working with them but now cost has increased to Rs300. Furthermore, most of the demand comes from Punjab and Karachi where people wear such jewellery with pleasure, Shah added.

In Peshawar, due to lack of skilled individuals, the business is shrinking. In the past, Afghan Market was home to 20 jewellery shops out of which only three remain. Meanwhile, Spin Zar Plaza located inside the city had 30 shops but now lies vacant.

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Journalist Bushra Iqbal Hussain keeps a close eye on fashion trends. Talking about fashion trends, she said, “Tribal style is a major running trend from the past couple of years due to its vibrant colors and elegant look, but now the trend is fading out due to availability issues.”

She called it a cheap and easily accessible fashion and said that Afghan style jewellery is liked by the young and working class people across Pakistan.

She also said, “Afghan jewellery stalls are decreasing fast after the repatriation of Afghan refugees.

The history of jewellery is based on 15 classifications based on age, geography, aesthetics, style and other factors. The Afghan jewelry is not just popular for its beauty, it also has a captivating history that dates back to thousands of years and shadows the ancient routes that cut through Afghanistan.

Among others, Chand Bibi, 24, uses Afghan jewellery when she goes to any event in Peshawar. She said, “I used to wear such jewellery because it reflected our culture and matched all kinds of dresses.

Furthermore, she said that people were developing a love for the Afghan style of jewellery. She said, “I see the Afghan jewellery and clothes worn by top ranked models on television shows.”

“I sometimes get the feeling that the Afghan culture has really taken over the West by storm,” Bibi concluded.

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