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From Chile to Chagai

Chagai

CHILE’S remarkable rescue operation of 33 trapped miners enhanced the image of the country as a responsible state. Pakistan and Chile have many similarities — from copper and gold exploitation to a history of military rule, human rights violations and enforced disappearances.

But over the past few years Chile has moved ahead, undoing the damage caused by a military dictator. Human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and military rule is now a part of that country’s history.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s political and human rights image remain incredibly bruised. The country comes across as one where state agencies forcibly ‘disappear’ political opponents, prominent leaders are killed, the people’s wealth is exploited, the country’s assets is sold for a song and disregard for human and political rights is rife.

Gen Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s former military ruler, was indicted for human rights violations and charged for a number of crimes before his death in 2006. In 1990, Patricio Aylwin — Chile’s first democratically elected president following the dictatorship — created a commission for truth and national reconciliation, which for the first time officially recognised the existence of missing detainees.

Compensation, pensions and scholarships were given to the families of victims of human rights violations recognised by that institution. And now the Chilean government has achieved another humanitarian landmark by rescuing 33 miners and promising to address the plight of miners in the country.

In contrast Pakistan’s human rights situation is going from bad to worse. Disappearances are common, political assassinations are the order of the day, economic and ethnic discrimination is on the rise and exploitation and looting of natural wealth is routine.

Deep in the remote and rugged highlands and deserts of Balochistan and southwest of Quetta lies Chagai, a vast region whose name became well-known after Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998.

Beneath the rugged mountains and golden sand, Chagai holds remarkable wealth: there are copper, gold, iron, marble, high-quality granite and precious and semi- precious stones. But as in the other Baloch territories of Dera Bugti, Gwadar and other parts of the province, the population in Chagai suffers from discrimination and neglect and has yet to reap the fruits of this mineral wealth.

The strategic exploitation of Chagai started in the 1980s when the Pakistani establishment started digging costly tunnels in the Rasko hills to carry out nuclear tests. Since the Baloch people do not meet the criteria of being ‘trusted citizens’ in Pakistan, the contractors, suppliers, labourers and technicians all came from other provinces.

The worst exploitation of Chagai’s copper and gold deposits began in March 2002, when military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf signed an unfair deal concerning the Saindak copper-gold project with China’s Metallurgical Construction Company (MCC). Based on early estimates the project was expected to generate about $65m annually. But a sharp increase in the demand for copper and gold raised the value of the project three-fold.

Unilaterally signed by the centre, the project’s terms are appalling. MCC Resources Development Company Ltd, a subsidiary of the MCC, is running the project in return for 48 per cent of the total revenue. Islamabad will receive 50 per cent of total profits, including the annual rent of $0.5m; however Balochistan will receive only two per cent of the net profit ($0.7m) per year as royalty.

According to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, with regard to social and community development only three steps have been taken: a) establishment of a Saindak Model School at the project site (this school is situated in the fortified compound of Saindak and provides education to the Saindak staff, not to locals); b) establishment of a 50-bed hospital and dispensary to provide health services to the staff and c) the lessee is providing potable water to the locals, which is scarce in the area.

Since the start of the project no initiative has been taken for human resource development either in gas-rich Dera Bugti or the copper-gold heaven of Chagai. Not a single technical or vocational training institute was established to develop human resources in the area. Islamabad did not bother to establish a polytechnic or cadet college in the district headquarters or provide special scholarship schemes for the locals. Thus the social, economic, unemployment, health and education scenario of the copper-gold region is very grim.

Today the habitants of the area are left with deep environmental and economic wounds. In Chagai, features resembling the Grand Canyon are a reminder of the ruthless mechanical surgery of the land for copper and gold extraction.

Another group of giant multinational companies is reportedly getting ready to exploit the world’s second largest copper and gold deposits in Balochistan: Reko Diq copper and gold deals are being discussed in Islamabad’s cosy drawing rooms, ignoring the masses and their needs.

Copper, gold, gas, iron, coal, lead, zinc, ports and bases worth billions of dollars have brought countless social, cultural, environmental and developmental problems and pain for the Baloch people, rather than ushering in development

The writer is a former senator. He can be reached at balochbnp@gmail.com. Visit his website at: http://sanabaloch.com


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