Dawn News

Exploitation of mineral wealth

UNITED Nations Security Council Resolutions 1173, 1176 and particularly 1295 led to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, an international initiative to curb the “flow of conflict diamonds” and certify the origin of rough diamonds as “conflict-free”.

However, the international community’s silence on other conflict resources i.e. gold, copper, oil, gas, coltan and uranium is aggravating the destruction of the environment and human security in the ‘unreported’ world.

In fact, across the globe, already suffering communities are encountering even more desperate situations that deprive them of their natural resources and lead to conflict, insecurity and endless poverty and hunger.

From copper, gold and gas extraction in Balochistan and illegal logging in Malaysia to the marble trade in Afghanistan and the smuggling of oil and petroleum products in Iraq and Iran, our world is plagued by the tragic exploitation of the land and its people.

Let’s take the case of Congo. Diamonds are not the only minerals fuelling conflict. It is a country of many other natural resources like gold, rubber, coltan and cassiterite. Congo should have been wealthy today. Instead, these resources have ended up fuelling one of the bloodiest conflicts since the Second World War.

After inflicting pain, persecution and plunder in Africa, many multinational companies are moving to other parts of the world including Pakistan to exploit natural wealth with the collaboration of a corrupt ruling elite. Resource-rich Balochistan is no less miserable a region than Congo. This under-reported region is strategically located and shares a 1200 km coastline with the Persian Gulf region. It also shares a 900 km border with Afghanistan’s insurgency- hit areas.

Since 1952, the centre in Islamabad has been extracting large quantities of gas and coal from Balochistan but has been denying the people of the area their rights and benefits accruing from this activity. The region has been exploited in terms of its strategic land, marine resources, uranium and countless minerals but the Baloch people have remained illiterate and destitute.

Why haven’t Pakistan’s ‘blood and conflict’ resources never attracted international attention? Conversely, the discovery of what is said to be the world’s second largest copper-gold reserve, Reko Diq, in Balochistan’s Chaghi region has attracted many greedy companies, benefiting from corrupt deals.

The multibillion copper-gold Saindak project is also situated in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. The resources here are being extracted by a Chinese company, without any independent monitoring for the past seven years. According to official reports copper-gold worth $633.573m were produced during 2004-08. The Balochistan government receives a paltry two per cent share, while half the profits go to Beijing and 48 per cent to Islamabad. The fortified Saindak project is a no-go area for the Baloch people.

The conflict in Balochistan is very well documented by reputed organisations including the International Crisis Group. It is clear that Musharraf’s military offensives against the moderate Baloch in 2005 and after resulted in immense loss of life, with the figure of the dead and displaced running into thousands. The targeted killings of Baloch activists are virtually a daily affair.

The proposed copper-gold project in Reko Diq is expected to intensify the Baloch-Islamabad conflict. In December 2009 the provincial government cancelled the Tethyan Copper Company’s licence. However, Islamabad’s corrupt elite has been pushing the provincial government to convert the cancelled exploration agreement into a mining licence, allowing Tethyan to exploit the massive deposits without Baloch consent.

In fact, when his government cancelled the project the province’s chief minister had said that the “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”.

Tethyan’s permission for mining will result in despair and reaction by the Baloch people who have long-standing complaints against Islamabad’s land-grabbing and forceful extraction of province’s wealth. In fact, the expected 10 billion kilograms of copper and 368 million grams of blood-soaked gold over the 50-60 year lifespan of the Reko-Diq project will end up multiplying pain and misery rather than promoting peace and development.

The way the gold-and-copper project at Reko Diq landed into the hands of the present companies, media reports suggest, might constitute one of the biggest white-collar crimes in this part of the world.

Before his resignation as finance minister, Shaukat Tarin, reacted to the unfair deal and complained: “I think we have sold our future.”

As indicated earlier, Balochistan is not the only case where such ruthless exploitation takes place. War, misery, hunger and disease caused by the looting and plundering of natural wealth belonging to marginalised communities by unjust states, mafias, organisations and multinational corporations are rampant. Environmental destruction and insecurity are compromised. Key social indicators show that even though resource-rich such regions are home to the world’s least developed communities.

It is about time that the international community broke its silence and took firm measures to stop the unending cy cle of misery associated with such exploitation of the land and its mineral wealth. The world should play its due role in promoting and affording protection to the “the right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources” as enshrined in the UN General Assembly Resolution 1803 (XVII) of 1962.

The UN and European Commission must establish specialised, independent bodies responsible for mapping conflict resources and combating the forceful and illegal exploitation and trade of such resources. There should be a comprehensive global mechanism for the certification of natural resources that should encourage and put restrictions on trading partners and aid recipient countries including Pakistan.

The writer is a former senator.

balochbnp@gmail.com


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