Reko Diq Deal: “Deal Makers Acting Like Defenders Of The Nation’s Wealth Are Sell Outs”

Reko Diq Deal: “Deal Makers Acting Like Defenders Of The Nation’s Wealth Are Sell Outs”
On December 15, 2022, the Reko Diq deal was finally signed between Canadian mining company Barrick Gold Corporation’s head Mark Bristow and the government of Balochistan’s Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo. The deal has saved Pakistan from the imposition of fines worth $11 billion. A  few hours before the deal was to be signed, coalition parties including Akhtar Mengal’s Balochistan National Party (BNP) and Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, raised vociferations, but ultimately endorsed the deal when they were promised a 10% increase.

The BNP’s president and JUI-F’s Maulana Asadur Rehman were present at the negotiation table set on December 15, called by the federal ministers Ayaz Sadiq and Azam Nazeer Tarar. Other local parties, including former CM Dr. Malik Baloch’s National Party (NP) and National Democratic Party (NDP), too raised hue and cry against the deal, while local organisations including Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) categorically ‘rejected the Reko Diq agreement’ by starting a social media trend under the hashtag #NoToRekoDiqAgreement.
Reko Diq is home to one of the largest copper-gold deposits in the world

As per the deadline set by the federal government, the deal had to be signed by December 15; the provincial government followed suit. Many coalition parties had reservations on ‘not being taken on board’ before such an order was made and suggested that the deal was an infringement of the Eighteenth Amendment. They termed the federal’s directions on a provincial subject ‘direct interference’ on provincial matters. “It is beyond us how the federal government respects and holds the opinion of a Chief Executive Officer (pointing to Barrick Gold’s chief) in higher regard than that of ours, who have been with them from day one,” Mengal remarked on Hamid Mir’s Capital Talk on Geo News.

However, after negotiations with the federal government, on the recommendations of increasing the share of Balochistan’s percentage with an extra 10%, the parties acquiesced. It seems like the violation of the Eighteenth Amendment is a problem no more.

Where is Reko Diq?

Reko Diq is a town in Balochistan’s Chaghi district. The name is derived from two Balochi words ‘Rek’ means sand and ‘Diq’ which refers to a hard, round item usually made of sand. It is a small desert like area located in Nokundi, towards the north-west of district Chaghi, some 70 kilometers away. It corners Pakistan’s borders with neighboring Iran and Afghanistan. It is one of the largest copper-gold deposits in the world, present in the Balochistan’s province of Pakistan.

What is the Reko Diq Agreement?

Earlier on hold after a drawing-back of the agreement with Australia’s Tethyan Copper Company in 2011, the government – both federal and provincial – successfully entered into a deal with Canada’s Barrick Gold Corporation on terms that shares will be distributed with “50% vested to the foreign company itself, 25% by three federal state-owned enterprises of Pakistan, 15% by the province of Balochistan and 10% by the province of Balochistan on a free carried basis.” The share was equally shared between the federal and province earlier, but after severe protests from coalition parties from Balochistan, another ten percent was added to the provincial purse. However, there are still slogans being raised against the deal, surprisingly from Mengal’s Balochistan National Party.

On the other hand, the corporation says they are committed to restarting the project, with new ambitions for developments for the province in particular. The deal with the Canadian mining company was pending as a case on its validity and legality was questioned by parties back in Balochistan. Days after it was finalized in a Supreme Court judgment that the Reko Diq agreement was legal, the foreign company got the agreement inked officially and now reserves rights to work on the deal from December 16, 2022.

During its peak, the project is expected to employ 7,500 people and will create another 4,000 long-term jobs.

Barrick Gold’s remarks on the deal

President of Barrick Gold Corporation, Mark Bristow was pleased to work in the Reko Diq copper-deposit. He terms the settlement of the deal a new dawn for a “world-class, long-life” mining project. “The deal will ensure sustainable progress for the people of Balochistan and benefit Pakistani stakeholders for generations to come,” says Bristow. Bristow says that they are committed to working on the ‘first production of the deposits’ by 2028, which will bring more economic benefits for the local population.

Barrick Gold, after it signed a treaty with the Pakistan state’s Reko Diq mines, is looking forward to accelerating the company towards its goal of ‘creating the world’s most valued gold and copper’ business. The company is hopeful for the deposit to promote its copper portfolio once they start work. “The completion of Reko Diq will substantially expand the company’s strategically significant copper portfolio,” interprets Bristow.

Upon the question to their investment in Balochistan, the corporation says they will spend a “total cap-ex of $7 billion” split down between two phases. “This is subject to change once we update the feasibility study over the next two years,” they told me in an email reply to my query.

The corporation believes that Reko Diq will bring significant socio-economic changes in the lives of the people of Balochistan. The corporation claims to focus on and prioritize healthcare, education, vocational training, food security and clean drinking water provision along with 50% of royalties to the provincial government of Balochistan until ‘commercial production’ starts. “We are making sure that Balochistan and its people will see these benefits quickly,” the Barrick representative ensures, adding that during the peak of construction, the project was expected to employ 7,500 people and would further create 4,000 long-term jobs. “Barrick ranks the employment of local people and host country nationals very highly.”

Balochistan government terms the agreement ‘historic’

The provincial government termed the Reko Diq deal ‘historic,’ which would ‘change the fate of the province’. The Chief Minister of Balochistan, Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo declared the Supreme Court’s judgment on the reserves a ‘welcoming step’ to use the province’s resources to enhance economic development.

While announcing the deal on his Twitter handle, the CM Balochistan said that the Reko Diq project, with ‘$7 billion’ foreign investment, was the “biggest project in the history of Pakistan”. He went on to say that the project helped Pakistan to avoid paying the fine of $6.5 billion which became ineffective after the deal was signed on December 15. “Reko Diq is enforceable from today, December 16, which will In Sha’a Allah boost the provincial and federal economies,” the CM claimed.

However, Sana Ullah Baloch, Member of the Provincial Assembly in Balochistan and party leader of Balochistan National Party-Mengal, refrained from delivering his comments on the inking ceremony of the deal, organised in London on December 15.
The Baloch were ‘cheated’ with such ‘false hope’ in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and that Barrick Gold is no better as a mining firm.

“No project benefitted Balochistan”

Many other politicians and Baloch activists eye the deal differently, which they fear will cause more damage and upheaval in the normal life of the people. From the recent wave of ‘enforced disappearances’ – of students in particular – to the alleged fake encounters in the province, the masses are greatly concerned for their safety, which they feel is under greater danger with the signing of Reko Diq project. The presence of significant foreign investment in a region with as many intractable conflicts as Balochistan is likely to intensify already present grievances.

An organizer of the National Democratic Party, Advocate Shahzeb Ahmed, considers Reko Diq’s deal with Barrick Gold an example of “the chain of exploitations in Balochistan for decades”. While recalling history, Ahmed told me that every government in Balochistan had used the Assembly to ‘bargain’ away Baloch resources and had led to ineffective outcomes for provincial development. “Barrick Gold may get economic progress and success internationally, or maybe with other federating units in Pakistan, but Balochistan’s gain from such a venture is currently a daydream,” opined Ahmed.

Commenting on the assurances made by Barrick Gold for 7,500 jobs in general and 4,000 long-term opportunities in particular, Ahmed was of the opinion that the Baloch were ‘cheated’ with such ‘false hope’ in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) also and that Barrick Gold is no better as a mining firm. “The National Democratic Party rejects this deal and we will raise our voice in every legal forum against exploitative policies in Balochistan,” he maintained.

Dr. Mahrang Baloch, a Baloch activist and an organizer of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC), was not particularly optimistic about the project’s prospects either. While commending on the prospects of ‘development’ from Reko Diq, she labels the project ‘dangerous’ for Baloch generations. Projects such as Sui Gas, Saindak and CPEC could not turn the tide in the favor of the Baloch nation, and are instead used to oppress the Baloch people, she says. “Launching Reko Diq in collaboration with Barrick Gold is the furtherance of such colonial policies against the Baloch,” she stresses, adding that when the dealmakers were seeking to become the defenders of the ‘national wealth,’ and referred to themselves as ‘nationalist parties’, they were complete sell-outs.

Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch, former Chief Minister of Balochistan and President of the National Party, while commenting on the Reko Diq deal, called the project “a killing of the mere essence of the 1973 Constitution” which, he said, rendered authority to the federating units over their resources. “We reject the Reko Diq bill passed by the Senate and the puppet Balochistan Assembly,” adding that his party would resist and use every democratic forum to protest the injustice being done to Balochistan.

Twitter reacts

After the completion of the agreement, Barrick Gold tweeted the link to the corporation’s site of announcing the ‘legal finalisation’ of Reko Diq, which got severely criticised by Twitter users, almost all of them Baloch. By 8 PM on December 30, the post received 730 likes, 210 replies and 350 retweets. Out of 210 replies, 17 replies were in favor of the deal and 9 stood neutral while 184 replies replied against the deal, with the hashtag #NoToRekoDiqAgreement being seen frequently.

The writer studies Law at University Law College Quetta and tweets at @Alijanmaqsood12