Dr. Zaffar Baloch, the president of Baloch Human Rights Council of Canada delivered his speech in a conference called “Mining (in)justice: at home and abroad” organized by Community Solidarity Response Toronto (CSRT), it was held in Toronto-Canada from May 7-9, 2010 at the Earth Sciences Building – University of Toronto. Dr Zaffar Baloch is providing the Baloch perspective on Multinational companies role in Balochistan.
There cannot be a human rights violation greater than the enslavement of a people. All the categories of rights and freedoms are lost or snatched away with a single stroke. Such is the plight of Baloch and other stateless nations, subjugated by colonial powers in the past centuries, our forced acculturation, and our annexation into alien political states. The process of loss of nationhood and its rightful place in the world community is a painful experience that lives on in our collective memories. Independence for the Baloch people cannot be simply related to the nation’s socio-economic development, it also addresses the very core question of survival as an historical entity.
Multinational corporations such as Barrick Gold, Tethyan Copper and Antofogasta Minerals have signed agreements for exploration and mining in Balochistan with the new colonizers based in Islamabad, turning a blind eye at the gross human rights violations committed by the state forces against the indigenous Baloch people struggling for sovereignty over their land and resources. The greed for power, gold, and vast deposits of oil and gas is turning Balochistan into a killing field fueled by the decades of political turmoil within the province and in bordering Iran and Afghanistan. It is a common practice of the international companies to sign deals with the military dictators in Pakistan for larger share of profits and convenient terms of agreement. The former military ruler, retired General Pervez Musharaf who introduced Barrick Gold in Balochistan is not just another dictator but actually holds the title of “butcher of Balochistan” for the atrocities he has committed in the nine years of his rule. In a public speech, broadcasted live by the state television and radio, General Musharaf, then President of Pakistan, threatened the people of Balochistan and said, “You won’t even know what hit you.” And he kept his word.
Reko Dik, the area where Barrick Gold has been granted lease of land for mining holds world’s fifth largest copper and gold deposits. This site alone, according to reports, has an estimated 12.3 million tons of copper and 20.9 million ounces of gold now sold to the international companies for US$ 21 billion. Rough estimates suggest that the gold and copper at the surface accounts for US$ 65 billion worth of deposits. And Pakistan’s total national debt is actually is lesser and stands at US$ 38 billion. The final document of agreement between Barrick Gold and Antofogasta was signed in February 2006 under General Musharaf’s military rule and in August 2006 Nawab Akbar Bugti, former Chief Minister and Governor of Balochistan, and one of the most significant Baloch politician and leader of the resistance movement was killed after days of aerial bombing by gunship helicopters. Indeed, dictator Musharaf kept his word. However, only two years after the signing of this agreement, Balochistan’s sitting Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani cancelled the lease of land to Barrick Gold. Chief Minister Balochistan said, “This agreement was against the wishes of the people of Balochistan.”
Militarization and mining in Balochistan go hand in hand. At present, there are four mega military cantonments, 52 paramilitary cantonments, five naval bases, and six missile-testing ranges in Balochistan. The first nuclear test conducted by Pakistan on May 28, 1998 was in Ras Koh Mountain, merely 15 miles from Reko Dik where Barrick Gold is involved in exploring copper and gold. The second and third nuclear devices were tested in the same area of district Chaghai only 60 miles from Reko Dik. Just imagine the devastation already done by the nukes that will be further complicated by the pollution caused by cyanide and arsenic used in mining. As for any kind of impartial investigation to measure radioactivity in the area or pollution caused by mining – the military has declared it a “sensitive strategic zone” where civilians are not permitted to enter. Therefore, the whole Barrick Gold saga in Balochistan is hidden under a thick military blanket with maximum protection. In fact, a testimony of a local physician was published by a foreign journalist on March 3, 2010. The doctor told the interviewer that following the nuclear tests, three scorched bodies of local shepherds were found in the wilderness. The police took charge of the bodies and stated that the cause of death was heat stroke. Next day, reports came in of several dead camels in the same vicinity and nobody believed that a camel could die from heat.
And if you think that the nuclear tests and copper and gold mining in Reko Dik are not enough to pollute the land of district Chagai in Balochistan, welcome to Saindak copper and gold project, located 189 miles from where Barrick Gold is digging for gold. Saindak project is a Chinese investment who now is also interested in buying Reko Dik mining lease after the cancellation of the agreement with Barrick Gold. Negotiations are underway between China’s state owned Metallurgical Group and Islamabad. Since, this Chinese company is already developing the Saindak copper and gold project and China being the largest supplier of military hardware to Pakistan after the US, this could possibly materialize with the blessings of Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashraf Kayani.
District of Chagai in Balochistan is 50,545 sq Km with a population of 250,000 according to a 2005 estimate. Chagai is an arid zone and faces acute shortage of water. Like the Saindak project, the expected mining operations in Reko Dik will depend on sub-surface water mainly used by local inhabitants for personal usage and for their animals and farming. The local natural resources of water seem barely enough to sustain life in the area and to support the operation of two copper and gold mining projects, a large quantity of water needs to be fetched from far off places and stored in reservoirs. At present the Saindak project is supplied water from a dam, which is located approximately 2 miles from the site. There are plans to build another dam for Reko Dik about 48 miles from the mines. It seems that the state of Pakistan wants to make sure that in case the people of Chagai survive radioactive and chemical pollution, they should certainly die of thirst.
To sum up the ordeal of the people of Chagai and the rest of Balochistan; there is an ongoing brutal military operation, 250,000 have become internally displaced, torture and extrajudicial killing of activists is common, more than 8000 have been forcefully disappeared by the security forces, and there is no salvation from being crushed by the state’s military on one hand and by the so-called mega development projects on the other. People of Balochistan do not seek justice from the state any more because they expect none. Today, after decades of struggle and hardships, the Baloch nation is beginning to realize from their collective experiences of history that ‘there cannot be justice without freedom’.
Courtesy: Imtiaz Baloch FB Notes