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Balochistan’s El Dorado

Sanaullah Baloch

During the 16th and 17th centuries European explorers’ greed to discover El Dorado – ‘The Lost City of Gold’ – ended up wiping out entire generations of Native Americans. Coupled with technological superiority, gold-greedy Spanish conquistadors used lethal diseases against natives such as smallpox, chicken pox, diphtheria, typhus, influenza, measles, malaria and yellow fever.

The natives lacked immunity and resistance to these infections. This typical path of disease transmission moved much faster than the conquistadors so that as they advanced, resistance weakened.

According to the American researcher, HF Dobyns, 95 percent of the total population of the Americas died in the first 130 years, and 90 percent of the population of the Inca Empire died in epidemics.

Many will say that we don’t live in the 16th century and shouldn’t bother about such history when no country in the world is using similar methods for exploitation. But in reality, with advanced knowledge and wealth today’s ‘conquistadors’ are using much more sophisticated and advanced methods to control gas, gold, copper and costly natural resources.

Let’s have a look at recent history. Diamonds and rubber in Sierra Leone, oil in Angola and Sudan, tantalum and gold in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, copper in Zambia – the list of the natural resource wealth Africa possesses is a long one. However, these riches have not always been a blessing for the people.

Let’s take the case of Congo. Diamonds are not the only minerals fuelling conflict there. It is a country of many other natural resources like gold, rubber, coltan and cassiterite.

In fact, across the globe, suffering communities are encountering even more desperate situations. From copper, gold and gas extraction in Balochistan and illegal logging in Malaysia to the marble trade in Afghanistan and the smuggling of oil and petroleum products in Iraq and Iran, our world is plagued by the tragic exploitation of land and people.

After inflicting pain, persecution and plunder in Africa, many multinational companies are rapidly heading towards other parts of the world including Pakistan to control and exploit natural wealth through fishy deals with the help of the corrupt ruling elite.

Resource-rich Balochistan is no less miserable a region than Congo. Since 1952, Pakistan’s central government has been extracting large quantities of gas and coal without any socio-economic benefits for the Baloch.

Since the 1990s, the discovery of what is said to be the world’s largest copper-gold deposit, Reko Diq, in Balochistan’s Chaghi region has attracted many greedy conquistadors.

The multibillion copper-gold Saindak project is also situated in Balochistan. The resources here are being extracted without any transparency, and in total violation of the United Nations Global Compact principles and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative recommendations.

According to reports, copper-gold worth $3 billion has been extracted since 2004. After several failed attempts, the PPP government, involving a multi-million dollar deal, in October 2012 extended the lease of a company for five years. This was in total violation of the 18th Amendment. It has been alleged that commission was paid not only to politicians but high officials in the army were also handsomely paid in the process.

Like the Spanish conquistadors’ exclusive territories, the Saindak area is a no-go area for the Baloch people. The mining area is heavily guarded by security forces and private militias who receive attractive ‘benefits’ for their services.

The multi-dimensional conflict in Balochistan includes grievances by Baloch nationalists that the Pakistani state is using all sorts of means to control and exploit Balochistan’s wealth with no transparency and benefits to the locals.

These include support to extremists to suppress the progressive and national posture of the Baloch movement. Including a ‘policy of systematic underdevelopment’ other destructive policies include supporting the drug mafia in Chaghi and Makran region.

More recently, rather than economic and social development for water-scarce and huger-stricken communities in Chaghi district, Islamabad’s establishment sent loads of preachers from Punjab representing controversial outfits to openly preach jihad in Dalbandin city, the district headquarters of Chagi.

Dalbandin has become an epicentre of Pakistani jihadists. Outfits like Jaish-e- Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkatul Mujahideen and Jamaatud Dawah are gaining firm footing there. Jihadi literature and books and CDs are being distributed to youth at no cost and the migrant jihadi scholars deliver speeches from public mosques throughout the city soon after the Maghrib prayers. Their flags, posters and graffiti are all over the place.

Like El Dorado’s gold, the mouth-watering copper-gold project in Reko Diq is expected to intensify tactics to suppress the people. To have strong bargaining position and say in Beijing and the world market Pakistan’s elite depends on Balochistan’s gas, gold and Gwadar.

The Chinese are confident that with great exploitative skills earned from Saindak, including links with both civil and military powers, they will become prime ‘owners’ of the world’s largest copper-gold mines. In fact, the expected 10 billion kgs of copper and 368 million grams of gold over the 50-60 year lifespan of the Reko-Diq project will end up multiplying pain and misery rather than promoting peace and development.

Balochistan is not the only case where such ruthless exploitation takes place. Key social indicators show that resource-rich regions are home to the world’s least developed communities. Environmental destruction and insecurity are features of such spaces.

Despite tall claims of resource sharing and socio-economic development, Chaghi is Pakistan’s least developed district – only six percent population has access to water while five percent has access to electricity. The entire district lacks a college or vocational training centre. Government-run schools are systematically destroyed by the government to pave way for religious schools run by illicit drug money. The Chinese fly in special planes from Dalbandin to Karachi for rest and recreation. However, the hospital there has two beds with no X-ray, laboratory and ambulance facilities.

In Balochistan deaths, diseases, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, drug trafficking, extremism and systematic underdevelopment are problems that remind us of the Spanish explorers/exploiters who gained access to El Dorado.

The writer is a Baloch leader and former senator.

Courtesy: The News

Published in The Balochistan Point on October 18, 2014

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the Author and The Balochistan Point not necessarily agrees with them.

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