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Canada’s top firm reaches out to Baloch people with eye on rich gold, copper deposits

Balochistan has one of the world's largest gold and copper reserves (Photo: Twitter)

Barrick Gold Corporation, which signed a deal with the Imran Khan government in March this year to develop the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in Reko Diq mines in Balochistan, is reaching out to the marginalised Baloch community directly.

In a visit on Saturday, Mark Bristow—the CEO of the Canada-based mining firm said that the company has begun work for “the socio-economic development of Chagai, along with providing employment to the locals”.

The Dawn newspaper reports that Bristow and his team met with a cross-section of Baloch and Pakistani politicians. “This was the first such meeting about the Reko-Diq project in which all stockholders were given the opportunity to chat with Barrick’s CEO”, Dawn reported.

The mining firm’s initiatives towards the Baloch people are significant as it is trying to address development issues of an alienated community that has been kept impoverished and marginalised by Pakistani rulers due to their ethnic status. As the largest province in Pakistan, it boasts of the lowest human development indicators in terms of education, gender and livelihoods.

At the signing of signing the deal in March, Baloch politicians and independence groups had warned Barrick Gold from mining in Balochistan. Since then, the company has provided aid and helped  in flood efforts as well.

India Narrative spoke with the Canada-based Baloch politician Naela Quadri Baloch to check if the Baloch people have changed their minds about opposing Barrick Gold. In an exclusive statement, she said: “Our message to all investors is not to step in occupied Balochistan. They should not waste their capital and resources until and unless Balochistan takes back its sovereignty”.

She added that working with the Pakistani government means that the Baloch community takes it “as a support to the occupiers, war criminals and a terrorist-State responsible of on going genocide of the Baloch nation”.

The estranged Baloch community, that lies in south-west Pakistan sandwiched between the borders of Afghanistan and Iran, has been fighting a seven-decade war to gain independence from Pakistan. The nationalist movement has spawned dozens of armed groups fighting for independence of a Baloch nation. The struggle is being led by various Baloch tribes as well as the family of the former princely state of Kalat—granted independence by the British as a sovereign State.

As part of their independence struggle, the Baloch rebels have been attacking projects like transmission lines, communications towers as well as the gas pipelines that take gas from Balochistan to Punjab.

The brunt of the attacks have been borne by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that seeks to join China through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. The CPEC, once considered to be the crown of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) almost lies abandoned due to resistance by the Baloch separatists.

Quadri said: “The Baloch people will be the decision-makers of how and with whom they will develop their mineral resources and ports. If any company or country wishes to invest in Baloch resources, support the Baloch movement today, we give it priority for tomorrow’s government in a sovereign and independent Balochistan”.

Also read: INTERVIEW: Suspicion, questions persist over Reko Diq deal signed between Pakistan and Barrick Gold