Barrick Gold is responsible for fueling the conflict in Balochistan and death of the indigenous people
Date: APRIL 29, 2010
Dear friends and comrades,
Baloch Human Rights Council of Canada is grateful for this opportunity to speak on behalf of the people of Balochistan and to express our solidarity with the oppressed people and nations of the world in their struggle for justice and freedom.
There is a saying in Balochistan that a Baloch child may be without socks, but when he grows up every step he takes will be on gold.
Balochistan, the southwestern province of Pakistan, is rich in mineral deposits and is the energy hub that supplies 30% of the country’s need for natural gas. It is also 44% of the total landmass of Pakistan. And yet the Baloch nation for the last six decades, is systematically being marginalized from society and from their ancestral lands. At present, as we speak, there is a brutal military operation being conducted by the Pakistani army to crush the indigenous movement for sovereignty over their lands and natural resources.
More than 8000 Baloch political activists including 141 women and 168 children have been forcefully disappeared by the Pakistani military secret services. Hundreds of youth have been tortured to death and their bodies dumped in the wilderness dropped from military helicopters. This is a land where secret military death squads are involved in targeted killing of Baloch political leaders including the former Governor and Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, also the chief of the Bugti tribe who was assassinated on August 26, 2006. Balochistan is a land where gross human rights violations and slow motion genocide is an everyday reality.
Such are the circumstances of political turmoil and civil strife in Balochistan today where Barrick Gold is investing in gold. Let me tell you, the gold from Balochistan is not yellow anymore; it is the colour of the blood of our martyrs and national heroes. This is simply unethical, illegal, and against international law to invest in business ventures in a zone of conflict.
Reko Dik is an ancient volcano in the Chaghi district of Balochistan, which literally means sandy peak or sand dune in the Balochi tongue. This is the place where we have world’s fifth largest copper and gold deposit and where Barrick Gold is involved in digging and polluting the earth for riches that do not benefit the local inhabitants.
Ironically, the district of Chaghi in Balochistan is also the site to Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear test that ended all livelihoods for the inhabitants and their livestock. Local tribesmen and their families were hauled in military trucks on short notice and displaced into the remote desert without any compensation. Pollution and illnesses from the radiation have never been investigated because it has been declared as a sensitive military zone.
Barrick Gold is not only guilty of investing in a zone of conflict; they have also officially appointed military personnel of the Pakistani army, Colonel Sher Khan as the security director of the company’s site in the area. This man has personally commanded military operations in Balochistan and has openly threatened in media and news blogs that resistance to the state control of Balochistan’s resources shall be crushed at all cost.
The other shadowy person involved in the Barrick Gold racket is a Pakistani businessman living in the U.S., Mr. Muslim Lakhani who made millions by arranging and facilitating deals at the highest level for the Canadian company that includes not only the top brass in the army but the President of Pakistan, Mr. Asif Zardari. Muslim Lakhani contributed generously to the Obama campaign in the recent U.S. elections. He is also on the Council of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington D.C., where he is mentioned on the Center’s website as the man who was able to bring to the market a discovery of one of the world’s largest reserves of copper in remote Balochistan. Mr. Lakhani is also a very close buddy of Pakistan’s former military dictator, retired General Pervez Musharaf who has been nicknamed by the Baloch people as the butcher of Balochistan.
Well, so much for the track record of violations of human rights and international law by Barrick Gold and its partners in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. In a recent unanimous decision by the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Nawab Aslam Raisani and his cabinet ministers on December 24, 2009 cancelled the agreement with Barrick Gold for exploration of gold and copper in Reko Dik despite the pressure from Islamabad and warnings from the U.S. Ambassador and the Canadian Government. Chief Minister Balochistan stated that this is according to the wishes of the people of Balochistan and that any agreement, which undermined the rights of the indigenous people, would be cancelled.
Reko Dik, the sandy peak is indeed a symbol of our national pride and resilience of a people who know the price of freedom. Below this sandy peak lie 12.3 million tons of copper and 20.9 million ounces of gold and along the dusty paths of this remote land you will always witness a shepherd boy walking without socks on his feet.
In the end, the message for Barrick Gold from Balochistan is that each ounce of gold that you steal from us is drenched in blood and tears of our people.
MAY 9, 2010
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 authorities of Pakistan want 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, thousands 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 the Baloch exercising their national right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN declaration of human rights’.