Pak army holds sway over Baluch's giant copper and gold mine
13 March 2019
Pakistan’s military, the country’s power centre, is looking to have a greater say in the country’s resources as well. An army-controlled engineering firm, Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), is positioning itself to be part of any consortium involved in bidding for the development of one of the world’s biggest untapped copper and gold deposits, say reports.
The government of Prime minister Imran Khan is looking to attract foreign investment into the Reko Diq mine, in resource-rich Baluchistan region, which is currently stalled by a multi-billion dollar legal wrangle with foreign mining firms, reports citing sources familiar with the matter said.
Development of the mine, which is situated near the borders with Iran and Afghanistan, has been delayed for long by a dispute with previous investors in the project, Canada’s Barrick Gold and Chile’s Antofagasta.
The government is now trying to settle the dispute as a World Bank arbitration tribunal, which ruled against Pakistan in 2017, is in the next few months expected to announce how much in damages the country must pay to the foreign firms, who are claiming more than $11 billion.
The dispute relates to the withholding of a mining lease.
Analysts say, Pakistan’s move is backed by state-run companies from resource-hungry China that have long been looking to usurp the coveted Reko Diq. Resource-rich Saudi Arabia has also recently shown interest in developing the mine, according to Pakistani officials.
The army sees the Reko Diq mine as a strategic national asset and, according to government officials, the military has become the last word in the development of the mine.
The army has come as a drag on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s move to attract foreign investment to Pakistan and stave off an economic crisis.
Not only that the military will be in a position to decide which investor develops the mine, but an army-controlled engineering firm, Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), will be part of any company or consortium involved in developing the mine.
Baluchistan government officials say the mine has already been taken over by the Pakistan army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
A Reuters report citing the military spokesman’s office said: the military may only participate in the development of Reko Diq as per the government’s requirement.
The army spokesperson, however, acknowledged that the FWO, which currently builds roads in difficult regions, has developed “substantial” mining capability and would be interested in taking a role in the project.
Pakistan government also needs support of the army to operate mines in the insurgency-hit southwestern province of Baluchistan.
The army, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its history, is believed to have a greater influence over the Imran Khan government and is trying to tighten its hold on the civilian government at federal and provincial level to boost its resources.