In January 2013 a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry declared the Reko Diq agreement void and in conflict with the country’s laws. Earlier there had been a media campaign against the deal between the Balochistan government and a foreign corporationby international business rivals and domestic sensation mongers. It was claimed that “$260-billion gold mines” were going for a song behind closed doors. There was a need on the part of the apex court to seek the opinion of independent investment experts before passing the judgment, which was not done. Tethyan Copper Company Limited (TCC), the corporation involved, appealed to the World Bank Tribunal which found Pakistan to have violated the bilateral investment treaty and awarded $6 billion (approx.) plus interest against Pakistan. This came as bolt from the blue for PrimeMinister Imran Khan who was desperately trying to seek loans for the country. Mr Khan directed the formation of a commission to investigate the reasons as to how Pakistan ended up in this predicament; who were responsible for making the country suffer such a loss and what are the lessons learnt, so that mistakes made would not be repeated in the future. That was the last time one heard about the Commission. There is however still a need to probe the factors responsible for the debacle to avoid another shock of the type.
The government has managed to reach an agreement with Barrick Gold PLC of Canada, one of the two partners of TTC. The firm would reportedly not demand its part of the $6 billion fine, pay to the other partner its share of the fine, and start work if Barrick Gold’s conditions are accepted by the government. On the face of it this is a good development for the country. The devil however lies in details which the government continues to keep confidential, thus causing suspicions. Questions are being asked about what the Pakistan government has offered in return and why it wants the untold conditions kept secret. The Balochistan Provincial Assembly has been given a secret briefing while the media was studiously kept away.
The PM has assured that the Centre would bear all financial burden for Reko Diq’s development. Fine, but this requires taking Parliament on board. It is time that the proposed agreement is put before the National Assembly and Senate.