The deal signed in March with Canadian firm Barrick Gold to reconstitute the Reko Diq project in Balochistan was important on two counts. First, after the signing of the agreement Pakistan could avoid the $11bn penalty slapped on the country by a World Bank arbitration court. Second it brought an investment of $7 billion and provided an opportunity to exploit the world’s largest gold and copper reserve. The agreement however was only in principle. The implementation of the deal required prior steps to be taken. After the Riko Diq development lease was declared null and void in 2013 by the Supreme Court in the wake of a months-long smear campaign against the project in media, investors had become wary. Barrick Gold wanted the Supreme Court of Pakistan to review the settlement and Parliament to endorse it through legislation before any move was to be made towards the project’s implementation. For this the Barrick Gold CEO and his team met Finance Minister Miftah Ismail early this week.
It appears that the Finance Minister has given an assurance to fulfill both the demands within a couple of weeks. This presumably brought Barrick Gold CEO Mark Bristol to Quetta on Tuesday where he and an enthused Chief Mimister Abdul Quddus Bijenjo jointly announced start of work on the project from 14 August. Bizenjo called the project a game changer for both the province and the country. He said the project would bring $1 billion every year to Balochistan’s kitty without any investment by the province. The project would also provide over7000 jobs to the local population. The province would also enter into an investment environment from a security environment
Some of the nationalist parties have complained against the secretiveness maintained by the Balochistan government about the details of the agreement. A private citizen has approached the court over the issue. This is natural on account of the scale of corruption prevailing in the province. There is a need therefore to make the agreement public.
The press briefing was organized under a heavy presence of defence personnel. This was meant to provide confidence to the Barrick Gold CEO. But the real challenge will emerge when thousands of workers and scores of foreign personnel will have to be provided a security cover both in Chagai and Quetta.