Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
The resources of Balochistan are being squandered without a thought for the human or environmental consequences. The frantic and frenzied pace of bequeathing concessions and privileges to foreign firms to exploit the resources of Balochistan has predictably intensified in scale and magnitude. The human and historical rights of the people there have always been ignored and trampled upon arrogantly and callously.
The army operations, the forced disappearances, the extra-judicial killings, the incarcerations, the acquisition of land by the armed forces under different pretexts, the Gwadar land scams and concessions to foreign firms are all a part of an established policy of depriving the people of their resources and rights. The main thrust of this policy is to subdue the populace through economic deprivation. The goal is to coerce the population into acquiescence so that exploitation can be conducted in a threat-free environment of submissive people.
The Koh-i Dalil or Reko Dik project is yet another example of this policy. It has a mining life estimated at 23 years. Its projected revenue will be nearly $ 200 million in royalty and taxes, and about $ 40 million annually as share in profits, peanuts one can say, keeping its real worth in mind.
The project was awarded to Antofagasta after Jam Yousaf and other officials had paid a visit to Chile. The authorities go the proverbial ‘extra mile’ but of light year proportions to appease and mollify firms that agree to their demands. Kick-backs and commissions seem to have become an integral part of the system. What transpired is difficult to say but the terms are a good indicator.
The royalty has been reduced from 4 percent to 2 percent. Where the deducted percentage will go is anybody’s guess. The company is also being provided land free of cost to build an airport. The road from Reko Dik to Gwadar is being built by the provincial government. The Jams and Jellies of the provincial government are more concerned about the commissions than the rights of Balochistan and its people.
The agreement includes the unjust clause that the Chilean company will pay 25 percent share to the Balochistan government only after it invests 25 percent in the cost of the project. This is aimed at keeping deprivation intact. Where will this money come from in this economically deprived region?
Syed Fazl-e-Haider, a respected analyst, says; “Sparsely populated, Balochistan is the most backward and least developed province. It generates a paltry Rs 1.5 billion revenue from its own resources. Placed on the political periphery and deprived of its autonomy, the province has been heavily dependent on the federal government for its financial needs and obligations.
About Reko Dik he says, “It is a giant project in Chaghai, containing 12.3 million tons of copper and 20.9 million ounces of gold. In inferred and indicated resources it is believed to be even bigger than Sarcheshmeh in Iran and Escondido in Chile. The Reko Dik copper deposits are four times larger in copper ore tonnage than Saindak. The most credible international surveys suggest that Reko Dik is one of the biggest undeveloped copper projects in the world with over 11 billion pounds of copper and 9 million ounces of gold. The Australian firm that had entered into a joint venture with the government of Balochistan estimates an annual production of 200 to 500 million pounds of copper from the Reko Dik mining project.
A further 14 mineralized porphyry bodies are known to exist, with the potential to place the Reko Dik Project among the largest undeveloped copper resources on the globe.”
The Australian Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) interests in Reko Dik and its neighbourhood have now been taken over by Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp and Chilean Antofagasta Minerals. Consider the history of these two firms to preview the impending disaster in the offing at Reko Dik. Rob Macguire of The Dominion says: “The SaindakCorp, with sales exceeding $ 2.6 billion in 2005 and the largest reserves in the industry, at nearly 90 million ounces, was founded in 1983 by Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and George Bush senior was an advisor to it at one stage. It is at present involved in a controversy over its Pascua Lama gold-mining project in Chile where it is set to destroy three Andean glaciers to extract 615,000 ounces of gold, 30 million ounces of silver and 5,000 tons of copper annually over 21 years.
The people are resisting this venture for the environmental degradation and water contamination it will cause because in order to process the ore, Barrick will use 7,200 kilograms of cyanide and 10 million litres of water per day. Cyanide contamination of water resources can be devastating — cyanide concentrations as little as 1 microgram (one-millionth of a gram) per litre can be fatal to fish. Health problems directly linked with arsenic exposure include cancer, deformation, miscarriage and underweight children.”
At Reko Dik these deadly chemicals will not only contaminate the underground aqufiers but will leave the entire area uninhabitable, but then who cares. It is too far from the Margalla Hills, isn’t it?
Antofagasta Minerals is at present involved in a dispute with people residing near Chile’s largest copper mines, Los Pelambres, over water rights. Locals say the mine’s new dam is cutting off and potentially poisoning valuable water supplies.
An Antofagasta Minerals release stated: “Tethyan’s principal assets are a 75 percent interest in the exploration licence encompassing the highly prospective Chagai Hills region of N W Pakistan known as Reko Dik, which includes the Tanjeel Mineral Resource and the Western Porphyries, and a 100 percent interest in certain other licences in the region. This mining district hosts significant copper-gold porphyry deposits as part of an extended copper-gold belt.”
Tethyan has reported total indicated and inferred mineral resource estimates at these properties of 1,213 million tonnes with a copper grade of 0.58 percent and a gold grade of 0.28 grams per tonne. The resource estimates include probable reserves at the Tanjeel Mineral Resource of 128.8 million tonnes with a copper grade of 0.7 percent.
Its CEO, Marcelo Awad, stated, “A partnership with Tethyan will allow Antofagasta to evaluate the mineral resources at Reko Dik and ensure that they are developed to their full potential to the mutual benefit of the shareholders of both Antofagasta and Tethyan.”
It should be remembered that companies give estimates suited to their ends, their purpose being to profit by exploiting as much as they can by giving as little as they can.
With China our friend milking Saindak dry; it would be naïve to expect that these companies that hold people and the environment in scant respect will have any second thoughts regarding the depletion of resources or the destruction of the environment there.
Here these corporate predators with the conniving corrupt officialdom will have no checks and the consequences can well be imagined. They will rob the Baloch people of their precious resources with impunity and destroy the environment as well. But such minor things do not invite the attention of a state busy warding off one crisis after another.
The frenzied way in which the authorities, the conniving politicians and predatory corporations seem to be constantly tearing Balochistan apart reminds one of Ghalib’s couplets:
Haif us char girah kapray ki kismat Ghalib
Jis ki kismat main ho aashiq ka garaibaan hona.
Aashiq’s garaibaan Balochistan is certainly not. Many with a positive approach equate Balochistan to Prometheus chained to a rock under penance for defying Zeus, his liver being eaten away daily by the vulture Ethon. They think it too like Prometheus will one day be unchained.
This article was first published in The Post on 04 March, 2007
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