EXPLOITING MINERAL RESOURCES OF BALOCHISTAN
Feb 16 - 22, 2009
The rapidly changing geopolitical realities of today's world predict that future wars would be fought over gaining control of natural resources among the nation-states. Minerals have been the symbol of riches and grandeur for nation-states. Their use as building materials, tools and raw material for industry enhanced their importance in human beings life since the ancient times. Today, minerals are considered of immense importance for their vast applications in the fields of electronics, optics, advanced materials and environmental sustainability. Today, the Industrialized and developed nations have tremendous consumption of minerals. The trade and production of minerals indicate the socio-economic development of a nation-state, to say the least. Control over mineral resources, their mining and production serve as major indicators of progress of the country. The emerging shape of future warfare, which is highly likely to be a fight over control of natural resources, demands that Balochistan mineral potential is tapped efficiently and fully. Unfortunately, no crucial efforts were made, from the very outset to explore and exploit the colossal potential in mining in the province by the decision-makers in Islamabad.
Balochistan abounds in both metallic and non-metallic minerals. Only Chromite is being mined since 1903 among metallic minerals. According to the GSP sources, the unending reserves of limestone occur in Balochistan. Other mineral deposits include barite, fluorite, gypsum/anhydrite, limestone/dolomite, magnesite, coal, marble and sulphur. Unfortunately, mineral sector contributes nominally to the provincial GDP. The sector can contribute to the economic development of Balochistan through royalties, employment, and community development.
The province's near term growth potential exists with commercial exploitation of Saindak copper and gold deposits and the possible future exploitation of Reko Diq copper deposits in Chagai and Duddar zinc-lead deposit in Lasbela district. Balochistan's strategic copper and gold assets have attracted interests of foreign investors who have purchased stakes in copper projects during the last five-year period. The Chagai district is expected to become a hub for the metallic mineral mining industry in the next five years.
Saindak and Reko Diq projects can make Pakistan one of the major producer and exporter of copper in the world. The country can save a huge amount, which is spent on the import of minerals each year. It can earn a large foreign exchange by exporting minerals, and its products
The federal government has mainly been responsible for mineral sector promotion and co-ordination across federal, provincial, and local governments. However, the results are still below expectations mostly due to relatively slow implementation of the National Mineral Policy (NMP). What is really needed is to implement the NMP that was formulated in 1995 with an aim to bring reforms in the sector. The NMP decentralized licensing, regulatory, oversight functions, and taxation to provincial governments to achieve efficiencies and promote local economic development.
As per revised mineral policy, the basic geological data would be generated and disseminated through print and electronic media and project profiles of world class mineral resources would be published in well-reputed mining magazines. Accelerated geological mapping and geo-chemical exploration of high mineral potential areas like Balochistan would assist understanding the genesis and geometry of these deposits for the subsequent development.
Government should first collect maximum valid resource data on minerals in the province. This resource data can be collected by carrying out a detailed exploration of the minerals, which will quantify the reserves. It is deplorable that even mineral reserves of many ores have not yet been categorized. The mineral reserves of all the ores found in the province must duly be categorized as 'measured', 'indicated' and 'inferred'. The funds should be allocated the purpose.
The provincial mining concession rules, which fail to meet international standards, must be abolished. The inadequacies of these rules created uncertainty decelerating the pace of development in the sector. Another reason for negligible growth in the sector has been the lack of knowledge of the mineral potential of the province.
The mining districts in the province essentially lack the facilities like electricity, gas and water, which have plagued timely development and commissioning of mines. The exploration of underground water potential of the area is essential for carrying out any mining project.
Some districts like Chagai are faced with acute shortage of water. Like the Saindak project, the expected mining operations in Reko Diq will depend on sub-surface water. To overcome the shortage of water, there is a dire need to explore and develop underground water potential of the mining areas in Balochistan.
The private firms and foreign companies should be invited to explore and exploit the tremendous mineral potential of Balochistan. Government of Pakistan should facilitate the exploration and evaluation surveys conducted by these firms ensuring security of foreigners in the areas. Following the precedent of Saindak Project, other projects for mining should also be given on lease in Balochistan. The lease contracts would be conditional to training of Pakistanis by foreign experts and generation of jobs for local youth in the project. These conditions will ensure a sustainable process of socio-economic process in the province.
The government may establish Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in different districts of Balochistan where mining and production activities are underway. The utilization of EPZ facilities by foreign companies would bring foreign investment in mineral sector. There are other indirect benefits of establishing EPZ such as income from taxation, development of rural areas, infrastructure and support industries and poverty alleviation.
A fully operational Gwadar port provides the province enormous opportunities to exploit its mineral resources, which have so far been untapped. The Gwadar seaport and the related planned regional highway projects will help the province become a world-class mining center. Foreign mining firms, which are presently operating mining business in Balochistan province, have already shown keen interest in bringing their cargoes through the new port of Gwadar on Arabian Sea.
Pakistan can save a huge amount, which is spent on the import of minerals each year. It can earn a large foreign exchange by exporting minerals, and its products. The new economic managers in Islamabad must pay heed toward development of mineral sector and take practical steps and serious measures for taping the colossal mineral potential in Balochistan.