Hoor Asrar glances at the rising anger in Balochistan over an important asset
Though there is apparently an elected government managing Balochistan but the impression widely conveyed about the province is that the governance there does not represent the political stance of the well-entrenched political elements that runs contrary to the intentions and policies of the incumbent government. In this context it must be kept in view that the current dispensation holding office in Balochistan as is headed by CM Quddus Bizenjo is described to be pro-federation politician believing in acquiring rights for Balochistan through remaining within the ambit of national politics. This ruling group also portrays itself as having a professional approach to governance and is credited with a clean record. However, the Quddus government has not been able to shake-off the impression that it has been brought to fore by the forces of status-quo and there is more than a grain of truth in this assertion Balochistan is facing low-level insurgency mounted by forces controlled from outside the borders of Pakistan and the need to keep political sanguinity there is of paramount importance.
The current political dispensation in Balochistan is indeed performing in extremely competitive political environment and it understands the necessity of bringing in reforms in the corruption-infested, gravely mismanaged and poorly-governed province. Reportedly, this dispensation is trying to revamp the connections between Quetta and far-flung areas of the province and is coordinating policy decisions with specific requirements of all regions of the province. It is also concentrating on the badly managed Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), a financial facility especially designed by the federal government for development in the province.
Nevertheless, extremely fragile is the state of perceptions in Balochistan and this fact was brought to fore when the federal government passed Reko Diq-related Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Bill, 2022 in the Senate. Though apparently the Supreme Court cleared the adoption of the relevant resolutions in Sindh and Balochistan and the ratification of the deal by the federal cabinet and the Senate implying that all roadblocks in putting back Reko Diq project on the rails were removed but that was not sufficient. It was also not sufficient to witness that both Sindh and Balochistan assemblies invoked Article 144 of the Constitution along with invoking Article 147 under which the provinces surrendered their rights to regulate the mineral resources in favour of the federal government. This development was described as an exciting moment for the mining sector and expressed hope that besides massive capital investment, the reputed mining company will introduce cutting-edge technology and processes to enrich the collective knowhow in this crucial sector.
It was mentioned that Pakistan will be now free of any liability towards all mining companies involved in this case and will rake in rich dividends from the development of mines in the remote Chagi district. The details of the current mining deal revealed a 50 per cent entitlement to Pakistan in shares in the Reko Diq project and proceeds of the mining giant. Half of the federal government shares and earnings accrued from the mining operations of Barrack Gold will be shared with the Balochistan Government. The federal government’s shares of 25 per cent will be divided equally among three state-owned entities: Oil and Gas Development Corporation Limited (OGDCL), Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) and Government Holdings Pakistan Limited (GHPL). The Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Bill, 2022, aims to protect investors from unnecessary court proceedings and other hassles.
The bill states that the federal government will notify additional investments, sectors, industries, and projects as eligible investments. Under the bill, protection will be given to investments done on the basis of international agreements. Furthermore, eligible investors would be provided secrecy in the bank transaction under the law. In its verdict in the Reko Diq case last week, the top court had observed that the proposed FI-Bill would not only pave way for implementation of the Reko Diq project in its present form but would also facilitate and encourage foreign direct investment in similar mining projects and other high capital intensive industries in which direct foreign investment was required to be encouraged through guarantees assured by laws and regulatory measures. It was of the opinion that FI-Bill was not limited exclusively to the Reko Diq project but rather it provided a framework for the grant of investment incentives which, subject to the provisions of the bill, would be available to all investments of $500 million or more. Under the new agreement, Barrick decided to become a 50 per cent partner with the governments of Pakistan and Balochistan and three state-owned entities in the project, while the Chilean firm exited the contract in exchange for $900 million by Pakistani shareholders. Balochistan government holds a 25 per cent stake in the project under the new pact and the rest of the 25 per cent shareholding is controlled equally by the three state-owned enterprises.
But the difficulty was that this so-called lucrative arrangement did not cut ice with the key political parties of Balochistan, including Balochistan National Party Mengal (BNPM), National Party (NP), Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) who were simply unhappy about it. The members of the cabinet from Balochistan walked out of the cabinet meeting that approved Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Amendment Act 2022. Some openly threatened to quit the government and the others said that they would resist and protest against what they terms as betrayal by the coalition government. The protests in this context were not only confined to the federal level but lawmakers of opposition parties in the Balochistan Assembly continued to protest against the resolutions adopted by the provincial assembly on 10 December despite a clarification given by the chief minister at a parliamentary leaders’ meeting. Both resolutions about the Reko Diq affair were passed by majority votes amid uproar from opposition members who said the resolutions were equal to selling Reko Diq to the Centre and vowed to challenge them in a court to protect Balochistan’s rights.
The opposition from Balochistan was based upon their point of view that without informing the lawmakers the agenda of the session, the house could not adopt any resolution without sending the matter to the standing committee concerned. They criticised the provincial government’s move and said transferring the constitutional powers of the province to the federation was a condemnable act. It was mentioned that if the people of Balochistan had no right on federal resources, at least Balochistan resources should be left for its people. They emphasised that Reko Diq is the future of the people of Balochistan and it is required to be protected by them at any cost adding that if the importance of the legislature was denied, the political parties would adopt the route of resistance. They also pointed out that the adoption of the resolutions had deprived the powers of province given to it under the 18th amendment. It is very clear that the intentions of the federal government and two provincial governments are strongly contended by many public representatives of Balochistan. They state equivocally that to address the sense of deprivation and alienation, there is an urgent need to empower provinces and not take back what they secured after decades of sacrifices and struggle. TW