Friday September 29, 2023

Balochistan’s mining needs global vision to be a game-changer

March 28, 2022

Pakistan’s western border all along boasts rich mineral resources because of geological blessings of nature.

The mountains along the border which are shared by Iran and Afghanistan have in their bosom “the booty of mineral resources”. It is not only a prize from the Almighty for Pakistan but also the geological makeup of earth in the form of various mountain ranges lying on this axis. Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan all have copper, gold, iron, lead and granite, fluoride, chromite and marble (metallic and non-metallic resources).

Metals (copper, gold, iron and lead) in largest quantities are available only in Balochistan, whereas stones (non-metallic) are sufficiently available in KP too, and presently mining at a large-scale (of a non-metallic kind) is mostly taking place in KP.

At an individual level, mining of chromite, fluoride, granite and marble is also being done in Balochistan at a good scale.However, Reko Diq stands apart from all other places because of its metallic resources and its colossal quantity (billions of tons of copper and gold).

This deal of Reko Diq is considered to be a game-changer if it is materialised methodically. Alongside this, there are at least four more deposits of this level available in this area whose licences have been approved.

So, at least five Reko Diq level initiatives can be materialised, and two out of these (in addition to the current Reko Diq) are going to be rolled out soon as their mining licences have been approved.

In the context of this large-scale spree of mining in the metallic category, the most important steps Pakistan needs to take on a priority basis are as follow:A multi-layered security mechanism to thwart the enemy’s design to sabotage these projects should be evolved.

Any Nushki-type incident around Reko Diq and the other two potential sites will be a disaster costing both prestige and fortune. Even if a separate security division has to be raised (ok, make it a Brigade Group), it is worth it.

The borders have to be iron-walled and pick-and-choose for infiltrators is no option on whatever strategic pretext. In other words, these national assets need to be jealously guarded against cross-border raids.

From a business point of view, a very elaborate communication and infrastructure system needs to be immediately undertaken in its entirety. New transport companies, new by the road-stopovers, new logistical support are inevitable. And remember, CPEC should not be mixed with the gains of this indigenous CPEC development.

Above all, political management in terms of administrative and narrative facilitation has to be launched from tomorrow. This is going to be the major impediment as the anti-development narrative incentivises groups to oppose such strategic projects to grab more power seats. Make no mistake, political management will also be a necessary condition for it to go smoothly.

All other categories of mining (granite iron and lead particularly) in the area of Chaghi and Dalbandin must now be expedited, urgently awarded and executed to make use of the communication infrastructure that will, otherwise, be built for Reko Diq.

An elaborate administrative system needs to be built, i.e the current mining ministry (which is weak and corrupt) has to be paired with the Corps Headquarters’ civilian interface for necessary availability of expertise, timely execution and removing bottlenecks.

A special committee at the highest level of the province comprising Corps Commander, Chief Minister and Governor should be formed to be overall in-charge with clear responsibility to ensure smooth execution of these contracts and facilitation of investors for mining extraction.

Last but not the least, the dysfunctional Governor’s Office should be technically strengthened by handing over the ineffective BOI Directorate to properly structure the one-window-facilitation for investors including overseas companies – an absolute demand of investors and diplomatic corps to invest and rollover projects in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s mineral assets are estimated at around 50 trillion US dollars as compared to 1.3 trillion US dollars of Saudi Arabia. As part of Saudi Vision 2030, KSA’s Vice Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources for Mining Affairs Eng. Khalid Saleh Al-Mudaifer, who shared Saudi Vision with the Financial Times recently, said: “Our green future will witness an intense demand on minerals in light of global endeavours for the transformation of energy sector, which means higher demand on strategic minerals, estimated at 40 times of current levels and will be accompanied by price hikes, noting that sustainability affects both global supply and demand.”

Make no mistake, Pakistan being a close strategic friend of KSA, can copy Saudi Vision and strategy for developing its mineral sector in Balochistan as well. All we need is a political will in Islamabad which is lacking for now, unfortunately.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service.

He is also Chairman of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) & Balochistan.

He tweets @Jan_Achakzai