Stringer Asia Logo
Share on Google+
news of the day
in depth
Balochistan: a story of chinese mining and exploitation
  • Gwadar-mine
According to the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation, "In 2021, at least 176 miners were killed and 180 injured in mining accidents. Of these deaths, at least 100 were reported in Balochistan alone." Balochistan is Pakistan's largest province, of key strategic importance since it borders Iran and Afghanistan. It is also the poorest of all Pakistani provinces: nearly 75 percent of Baloch live in rural areas and have little or no access to health facilities, schools, drinking water and gas. Despite the fact that the region's subsoil is extremely rich in minerals, and the province has in recent years become the flagship of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the infamous CPEC that has now become a case study for researchers. The minerals, gold, copper, zinc and lead, are in fact exploited exclusively by Chinese state-owned companies. The Saindak mines, from which gold and copper are mined, were leased in 1995 to the Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd. (MCC), a subsidiary of the China Metallurgical Group Corporation. MCC itself signed a memorandum of understanding with the Pakistan Minerals Development Company (PMDC) in 2002 to exploit zinc and lead mines in Duddar. On November 23, 2004, MCC Duddar Minerals Development Company Pvt. Limited (MDMD), a joint venture of the three companies, all of which are Chinese. On January 6, 2005, the company signed a financing agreement with the China Development Bank. MCC Huaye, Duddar (MHD) Mining Co. formed by China Metallurgic Group as investor and developer and China Huaye Group in charge of construction and production, took over the operation in 2014 through an international tender. Saindak was leased for 10 years in exchange for a share of the profits. In February 2022, the government extended the lease period for another 15 years. According to the Pakistani press, "The Pakistani government's share was increased from 3 percent to 53 percent, while the Chinese company agreed to increase rent, royalty and social uplift payments to the federal and Balochistan governments." That is: so far, the Pakistani government has received only a 3 percent share of mining profits, while Balochistan, according to its people, has received less than zero despite bombastic Chinese statements. Chagai, the district of which Saindak is a part, is one of the poorest in already impoverished Balochistan. Like Chagai, Lasbela, the district of which Duddar is a part, is also one of the most deprived in the geographic area. Local unskilled workers are paid an average of 15,000 Pakistani rupees per month (compared to the local average of 40,000), and working conditions are even worse than those recently highlighted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its latest report. According to locals, there is an "undisclosed ban" on anyone entering Saindak, especially journalists. Not only that, the MCC apparently extracts far more from Saindak than officially declared. The overproduction, with the complicity of a network of flankers including local politicians and members of the military, goes directly to China through the port of Karachi. Just as rare metals found in the area, which are not part of the agreements signed with the Pakistani government, would arrive in China undeclared. These metals, used in electronic devices, are worth a fortune but Pakistan does not get a penny from them. It is even worse in Duddar. In fact, according to local sources, "Although the MCC and Pakistani authorities claim that the site is rich in lead and zinc, there is a strong suspicion among locals that the project is involved in uranium mining. The existence of uranium deposits in the region, the extreme security of the area, and the secrecy of the project fuel these suspicions. The project includes at least two active processing facilities and another abandoned one. These plants appear to have state-of-the-art processing facilities, with massive cooling towers, containment structures, several loading ramps, buildings and turbines for power generation. The Chinese also built a dam on the Kharrari River for this project. There is a huge residential area with several houses and apartments and several warehouses and buildings for transport storage. There are also several other facilities, including small and large outbuildings, a basketball court, a heliport, and several areas dedicated to agriculture. A state-of-the-art paved road has been built from the town of Winder to the project site. It is the only such road in the entire area. The site is so impressive and highly protected that a base of Pakistani forces is stationed at the entrance to the project." Needless to point out, it is only the Chinese who benefit from the site's facilities, just as in CPEC's flagship Gwadar, it is only the Chinese who benefit from urban development projects. The acting governor of Balochistan, Mir Jan Muhammad Jamali, said last May that the province's economic future is tied to the mining, minerals and fishing sectors. Someone should explain, then, why all these sectors are being handed over to the Chinese. Officially, like mining and minerals, or unofficially, like fishing in Gwadar. The people of Balochistan anxiously await an answer.
Francesca Marino