When it comes to a country’s natural resources, politicians often find their populist instincts getting the better of them. Such has been the case in Balochistan, where the Reko Diq copper and gold mine contracts awarded to foreign investors have come under threat in recent months as the provincial government has threatened to cancel the mining rights awarded to a consortium led by the Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold Corporation and the Chilean mining company Antofagasta.
It is easy to paint a picture of a neo-colonialist effort to continue pillaging the natural resources of a poor country and then creating wealth for shareholders in rich countries. Yet the fact remains that this simplistic narrative serves on the very narrow, short-term political interests of the politicians who make this argument and not the country as a whole, nor even the people of the province of Balochistan. In recent months, it has been argued by no less a person than the former finance minister, Shaukat Tarin, that the country would be better off by mining the area on its own and then processing the metals within the country. Yet he seems to ignore that nobody in the country has the $3 billion that it would take to get the mining operation off the ground. The gold and copper lying underneath the ground is worthless unless somebody can mine it and no Pakistani company has the financial wherewithal to make it happen. And the Balochistan government’s argument that the people of the province are being given a raw deal rings hollow when the provincial government has a 25 per cent stake in the project.
We support the prime minister’s recent efforts to personally intervene in the flare-up between the provincial government and the mining companies. He has made it clear that the two companies that had been given the right to explore and discover the mine in the first place will also be allowed to develop the project, which is only fair considering the expenses they have already undertaken in the first stage of the project. It is easy to scare the public through xenophobic rants. It is much harder to develop a credible development strategy for the country’s natural resources. Quetta and Islamabad would do well to learn that distinction.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2010.