Baloch leaders caution Barrick Gold from mining in Balochistan

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Baloch leaders, leading politicians and “pro-independence” groups have warned Barrick Gold, a gold and copper mining company, from mining in Balochistan. The leaders said that the Pakistani government is exploiting the natural resources of Balochistan and foreign companies must not involve themselves in this loot. The leaders cautioned that the mining company will have to bear dire consequences if it starts the mining project in Balochistan.

Pakistani officials announced that Islamabad has reached an out-of-court agreement with Barrick Gold Corporation to restart the gold and copper mining project in district Chaghi, Balochistan. The foreign firm has also waived the $11 billion in penalties that the World Bank had imposed on Pakistan in 2019.

The consortium Tethyan Copper company — of which Canadian gold firm Barrick and Chile’s Antofagasta Minerals control 37.5 per cent each — had found vast gold and copper deposits at Reko Diq in Balochistan.

The project came to a standstill in 2011 when the local government, headed by Aslam Raisani, refused to renew the Tethyan Coppers’ lease and Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled it invalid in 2013. Barrick Gold sought reparations for the losses and in 2019, the World Bank’s arbitration tribunal levied an $11 billion fine on Pakistan for the unlawful denial of mining.

After a decade-long legal battle, the Pakistani state evaded the heavy fine as the officials announced that Islamabad had struck an out-of-court deal with Barrick Gold to renew the mining project in Balochistan.

“The agreement has nullified the award of around $11 billion on us and secondly Barrick and its partners will invest $10 billion,” Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin said during a press conference.

“This is a unique opportunity for substantial foreign investment in the Balochistan province and will bring enormous direct and indirect benefits not only to this region but also to Pakistan for decades to come,” Barrick’s President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow said in a statement.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan confirmed the settlement in a tweet and said that the Reko Diq project “will potentially be the largest gold & copper mine in the world.”

Reko Diq mine is one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world, capable of producing 200,000 tons of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold every year for more than half a century. The Reko Diq project was suspended in 2011 when the Pakistani government denied Barrick Gold and Chile’s Antofagasta the license to develop it. The companies fought a decade-long legal battle with Pakistan and won in 2019 when the World Bank imposed the crushing $11 billion fine on Pakistan.

The Pakistani government signed a deal with the Barrick Gold Corporation to renew the gold and copper mining project in Chaghi. The company also waived the $11 billion penalties. Antofagasta agreed in principle that it will exit the project as its growth strategy is focused on the production of copper and its byproducts in the Americas.

Under the new deal, Barrick and Pakistan will each hold 50% of the reconstituted project. Pakistani shareholders will include:
– a 10% free-carried, non-contributing share held by the government of Balochistan
– an additional 15% held by a special purpose company owned by the government of Balochistan
– 25% owned by federal state-owned enterprises.

Reko Diq could be in production within the next five to six years.

Baloch nationalists react

The settlement between Barrick Gold Corporation and Pakistan, though celebrated throughout the country, was met with anger and condemnation in the Baloch political circles. Baloch nationalists said that the Pakistani state has been exploiting the resources of Balochistan for decades as the local communities, the owners of the resources, starve for a one-time meal and basic facilities of life. They said that foreign firms must not involve themselves in this plunder or they will face dire consequences.

National Party chair and former Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, said that the incumbent government will not be allowed to sell the resources of Balochistan for such a petty price. He said that this agreement is not acceptable.

Former President of Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, Senator Amanullah Kinrani, said that the Reko Diq agreement is tantamount to pillaging the resources of Balochistan for the next several generations. He said that the people in power signed the deal to secure their rule.

Haq Do movement leader Maulana Hidayat Ur Rehman also shared his reservations on the Reko Diq agreement and said that the natural resources of Balochistan are being sold without the consent of its people. “This is unacceptable”, he said.

The Baloch Students Organization Azad (BSO-Azad) said that foreign investors must take into account the situation the war-stricken Balochistan before agreeing to carry out any mining projects in the territory. The group said that such rash and hasty decisions often lead to unanticipated and unwanted consequences. It said that any agreement signed without the consent of the people of Balochistan will not be acceptable and such an agreement will never reach its desired end.

BSO-Azad said that the “puppet government of Balochistan” does not represent the masses. The people of Balochistan have rejected such capitalist ventures signed between the Pakistani state and the foreign countries, and the resistance shown against CPEC projects is one such example. “An investment project opposed by an entire nation can never succeed”, BSO-Azad said.

BSO-Azad appealed to the Barrick Gold Corporation to reconsider and repeal the project. The group said that the people of Balochistan have rejected the project and if the firm deliberately decides to mine in the region, it will face dire consequences. The Baloch youth will never agree to sell out their resources and foreign firms must take reality into account before commencing any projects in Balochistan, the group said.

Baloch National Movement chairman, Khalil Baloch, also condemned the agreement and said the Baloch nation will never allow the “occupying” forces to auction the resources of Balochistan. He said that the Pakistani state fought a legal battle with Barrick Gold and lost, and now it is selling out the resources of Balochistan for a menial price to pay its debt. The Canadian government and Barrick Gold Corporation must take the reality of Balochistan into account and repeal the agreement on just grounds.

Khalil Baloch said that foreign firms must understand that the Baloch nation resisted the $60 billion CPEC project and made it unsuccessful – China and Pakistan have now resorted to genocide in Balochistan in their futile attempts to revive the project. He said that such exploitative agreements are bound to fail in Balochistan.

The BNM chief appealed to the Canadian government to step in and stop Barrick Gold Corporation from carrying out the Reko Diq mining project.

Baloch Nationalist Army leader Gulzar Imam warned the Barrick Gold Corporation to back off from the agreement with Pakistan or face consequences. In a tweet, the “pro-independent” leader said that the Baloch nation has made its position clear on agreements signed between the “occupying” Pakistani state and foreign investment firms.

“Baloch freedom fighters & the entire nation has clarified their position on foreign investment the occupiers sign with investors around the world that Baloch nation refuses being part of them. We once again warn @BarrickGold to stay away from Balochistan or face the consequences”, Imam said in a tweet.

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