Recently a seminar was organized by the newly formed Reko Diq Defence Campaign in Quetta Press Club (Balochistan). The seminar had the presence of many journalists, intellectuals, civil society members, politicians, Human Rights Commission members and others who voiced their discontent on the Reko Diq deal and the closed door meeting between Pakistan and a Canadian mining corporation called Barrick Gold. The speakers of the seminar demanded that the people of Balochistan have every right to know the details of the deal signed as it has not been made public so far by the Pak government.
What is the Reko Diq Deal? Why is it facing desistance from the Baloch?
The Reko Diq mine is situated near Reko Diq town in Chagai district, occupied Balochistan. It is one of the largest undeveloped gold and copper deposits globally, which has a capacity of producing 250,000 ounce gold and 200,000 tons of copper annually for more than half a century. The Tethyan Copper company — of which the Canadian gold firm Barrick and Chile’s Antofagasta Mineral control 37.5 % each — had found vast gold and copper deposit at Reko Diq. In 2011 this open-pit mine project came to a halt after the local government denied renewing the lease with Tethyan Copper and it was declared invalid in 2013. Further, in 2019 the World Bank’s arbitration tribunal committee levied a penalty on Pakistan for “unlawful denial of mining” and declared that Islamabad had violated the Pakistan Bilateral Investment Treaty and awarded $6 billion, plus interest penalty, against Pakistan to Tethyan Copper Company Limited .
However, now Barrick, the Canadian mining company, has ended its dispute after holding multiple meetings and negotiations with Islamabad. An out of court settlement has been announced by the Pakistani officials. Islamabad on 20 March 2022 awarded the development contract of the Reko Diq project to Barrick Gold while the penalty of $11 billion, i.e. with interest imposed on Pakistan by the World Bank tribunal was dropped. It is estimated that the company will invest multi-billion dollars in Reko Diq project in Balochistan. With the successful out of court settlement of a long standing dispute, Barrick will once again be looking after the project with a full-fledged mining lease and the Reko Diq project shall be revived and developed in partnership with Pakistani entities.
After signing and revival of the project, the now ousted PM Pakistan Imran Khan took to his Twitter account to say, “RD will potentially be the largest gold and copper mine in the world. It will liberate us from crippling debt and usher in a new era of development and prosperity”. Soon after the announcement of the deal’s revival and the tweet, the people of Balochistan started to vehemently oppose the closed door meeting on mining and signing of the deal.
As opposed to the deal the “Reko Diq Defense Campaign” was launched at the University of Balochistan by the Baloch leader and former senator Lashkari Raisani and many other political workers and politicians. They held a seminar on 2nd April 22 where the former Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani stated that “Imran Khan has said that the Pakistani state will use revenue generated from Reko Diq to payback Pakistan’s borrowings. But we need to first understand the extent of the loans that have been taken in last 70 years and how much of these have been spent in Balochistan. We will find out that Balochistan has nothing to do with these loans”. He further left a message by saying that it is the collective responsibility of the people of Balochistan to resist this “type of fake political processes to save our future”.
One of the speakers said, “Only the people of Balochistan have the right to make any deal on the resources of Balochistan”. Addressing the seminar, Rashid Karim Baloch, the Deputy Organizer of National Democratic Party also said: “…it is alleged that people of Balochistan are against the development process, but the reality is we are against exploitation not real development”. He further added “Reko Diq belongs to the people of Balochistan and only they have the first rights on it. The people of Balochistan must unite to raise voice against the exploitation of Baloch resources”. The speakers while detesting the entire deal said that the people of Balochistan were not taken into confidence not only in this deal but also when agreements of Saindak and CPEC were signed (China and Pakistan had signed the Saindak copper gold project and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor).
Dr Ishaq Baloch, the Vice President of The National Party, said: “Reko Diq mine is a very important natural resource reserve of Balochistan, however, the agreements around it have been manipulated since the beginning. Therefore, the public now needs to know all details around the new variations of this agreement”. They stated that several aspects of Reko Diq deal with Barrick Gold are still concealed and Balochistan is not aware “of the details of the agreement”.
President of Balochistan Bar Council, Rahib Bulaidi, said that “details of Reko Diq’s resources, its excavations processes, and accountability mechanism are all vague. The violation of court orders and constitution are alarming”. He added that the state did not find it necessary to take the bar councils in confidence vis-à-vis Reko Diq.
Dr Mahrang voiced that Baloch have been misled in the past to extortion but this time any fancy increase in percentages will not distract them. “Now Baloch people will only follow the path the was envisioned by late Sardar Khair Baksh Marri”, she said referring to Baloch revolutionary leader. The Barrick Gold Corporation is also facing stiff resistance from Balochistan’s freedom movement groups fighting for the freedom of Balochistan from Pakistan’s extortion, harassment, enforced disappearances of Baloch people by Pak forces.