The powerless provincial government in Balochistan, if it has a
modicum of decency, should quit immediately to absolve itself of the
responsibility of exploitation and destruction of Balochistan’s
resources and environment.
Nawab Aslam Raisani, Chief
Minister (CM) Balochistan, announced last year that the provincial
cabinet had unanimously decided to cancel an agreement with Tethyan
Copper and Gold Company (TCC) for exploration of copper and gold in the
Reko Diq area of Chagai district and not to lease out the land to the
company for further work. He said, “Cancellation of the Reko Diq copper
and gold project agreement is a step towards getting control over
provincial resources in accordance with the wishes of the people.” He
added agreements undermining the rights of indigenous people would be
cancelled. Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp and Chilean Antofagasta’s
have a major share in TCC.
It turned out that he had not
consulted the real masters and, ironically, the day he said that that
the FC was running a ‘parallel government’ he also disclosed that the
federal government had rejected the scrapping of the Gwadar Deep Sea
Port and Reko Diq project agreements; which in fact means that his
government does not really exist. However, he bravely added, “the
Balochistan government would not allow any agreement that undermined the
rights of the people of Balochistan”. I wonder what ‘rights’ was he
talking of because his cabinet’s unanimous decision had been rejected
out of hand without even a face-saving gesture.
The CM’s bubble
of defiance and of the federal government, if any, was pricked the
moment Anne Patterson, the US envoy, had said, “Multinational
corporations will not invest in a country where deals are cancelled in
one hour...two major international mining companies were recently burned
when the Balochistan provincial government recently announced the
cancellation of their long-negotiated contract to build a copper and
gold mine in Reko Diq.” Adding, it had cost Pakistan a loss of $ 3.5
billion investment for one of its least developed regions. After this no
government here would have the courage to stand by its cancellation
decision. We indeed are sovereign.
Many interests are at work in
Balochistan. The Baloch people have primary interest. Their so-called
representative, the provincial government, is as toothless as it is
ineffectual. Its resolutions and decisions are not even worth the paper
they are written on. Then there are the mining multinationals, the
modern Midases, their mentor the US, then China that is milking Saindak
dry and would love to do the same to four times bigger Reko Diq, and
lastly the interests of powerful and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats
in Quetta and Islamabad.
A question arises why would the US
Envoy be interested in the cancellation of this deal in particular? The
real reason is the support for Barrick Gold, the foremost gold mining
corporation in the world, founded in 1983 by Saudi arms dealer Adnan
Khashoggi. It produced 7.42 million ounces gold in 2009 and expected to
increase to 7.6-8.0 million in 2010. It is as rich and influential as it
is notorious. Remember Halliburton in Iraq? Moreover, the US seeks to
limit China’s role in Balochistan.
Barrick’s track record is
pathetic. Credible international surveys indicate and suggest that Reko
Diq is home to one of the biggest copper reserves in the world with over
“12.3 million tons of copper and 20.9 million ounces of gold”. With an
estimated life span of more than 50 years and four times larger in
copper ore tonnage than Saindak, it is a modern day Midas’s dream.
Allowing a mining company like Barrick Gold is like welcoming disasters
of unparalleled magnitude for the people and environment because mind
boggling amounts of water and cyanide would be needed.
Claude, of environmental group Oceana, says, “Gold mining dumps 79
tonnes of waste for every 28 grams of gold, and produces 96 percent of
the world’s arsenic emissions.” So extraction of a tonne of gold
produces 28,214,285.72 tonnes of waste; just imagine how much waste and
arsenic emissions would result in extracting 20.9 million ounces of gold
(650 tonnes) at Reko Diq. The gold here will be more cursed for the
people than it was for Midas.
A few facts about cyanide would not
be out of place here. The discoverer of cyanide Carl Wilhelm Scheele
found that it could dissolve gold in 1783 but it was not used until
1887. Though there are alternatives to cyanide, including starch and
sulphur dioxide, cyanide is preferred as it readily bonds with gold,
etc. Approximately 1.4 million tonnes of hydrogen cyanide is produced
annually worldwide; with approximately 13 percent, i.e. 182,000 tonnes,
being used to produce cyanide reagents for gold processing. Recent
studies show that residual cyanide trapped in the gold-mine tailings may
cause persistent release of toxic metals (e.g. mercury) into the
groundwater and surface water systems. Cyanide poisoning can occur
through inhalation, ingestion, and skin or eye contact. One teaspoon of a
2 percent solution can kill a person.
Though cleaner and safer
methods exist but multinational mining companies, the modern day
Midases, more concerned with profits, use cyanide freely because in any
case neither they nor their public are affected; the host areas are
ravaged irreparably. Chagai has already had more than a fair share of
disasters. It was an unwilling victim of two nuclear explosions that
turned a black coloured mountain to ashen grey.
provincial government in Balochistan, if it has a modicum of decency,
should quit immediately to absolve itself of the responsibility of
exploitation and destruction of Balochistan’s resources and environment.
But then the lure of power and pelf, however demeaning it is, is deemed
acceptable by those to whom self-aggrandisement is a priority. Had they
shown spine and resisted the Centre on the Reko Diq issue, they would
have got a groundswell of support all around.
environmental consequences, all licenses to Reko Diq should be
cancelled. In Sindh it is said that, “Gold that begets grief is better
forsaken.” The hunger for gold is seemingly insatiable. Till 2009,
161,000 tonnes of gold had been mined in human history but that failed
to satiate. A hundred more Reko Diqs will not satiate either. With gold
prices at above $ 1,100, to expect the modern Midases to be
compassionate to the people or environment in their ruthless quest for
gold is futile, unless of course the people take matters into their own
Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the
Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org