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Light a Candle for Baluchistan: Baluch protest exploitation of Barrick Gold
by Ahmar Mustikhan
Friday Aug 14th, 2009 6:23 AM
Baluchistan is Pakistan's largest geographic province and is home to the Baluch people, a tribal people who are indigenous to the region. There has been a longstanding struggle in this region for greater autonomy and independence, alongside a history of repression and exploitation of natural resources.

A man who is on the council of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was part of an alleged racket in cahoots with a Toronto-based international gold giant that has reportedly resulted in billions of dollars of losses to Baluchistan.

The man in question is a Pakistani businessman named Muslim Lakhani, who was a polo buddy of Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari and was a point-man of Barrick Gold Corporation in Pakistan.

Pakistani media had expressed serious concern over the way Lakhani had acquired the project from Australian giant BHP Billiton, when the company he headed had no experience in copper and gold exploration.

Lakhani is a non-Baluch and locals complain they are being denied jobs at the Barrick Gold Corporation project at Reko Diq in Baluchistan. Barrick Gold Corporation and the Chilean Antofagasta PLC got 37.5 percent each of the shares in the project.

Lakhani, who arrived in the US a couple of years ago, is on the council of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. In a 12-month span, Lakhani contributed more than $83,035 to different Democratic Party nominees, including $68,100 to the Obama campaign. He was initially a Hilary Clinton supporter.

Lakhani's role in the transfer of the gold and copper project to Barrick Gold Corporation and Antafagosta is being cited by Baluch leaders as a classic example of exploitation of indigenous people.

"We have seen similar reports from Peru and Guatemala," said London-based Baluch national hero Hyrbyiar Marri, 41. He said this shows how money made in oppressed and occupied countries are then used to buy influence and prestige in the so-called civilized West.

"The world must know about the loot and plunder going on in Baluchistan," he said.

Interestingly, Lakhani got involved with the gold and copper project in Baluchistan under patronage of the coup leader General Pervez Musharraf’s regime, which started the worst military operation against the Baluch people. At the time when the former dictator was engaged in a brutal military operation, Lakhani was showering praise on the Musharraf regime.

Lakhani's bio on the Woodrow Wilson site acknowledges: "In Pakistan, [Lakhani] was able to bring to the market a discovery of one of the world's largest reserves of copper in the remote Pakistani province of Balochistan, which was lying dormant due to very low prices of copper in 2001. After successfully confirming the reserves, it was sold to two of the world's largest copper and gold mining companies in early 2006. This innovative project shared its profits with the Balochi people in a manner that made its presence welcome in the region."
Locals had a different view of the aforementioned accomplishment altogether. Baluch Independence movement leader Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur wrote in Pakistan newspaper Dawn:

"These ruthless corporate predators along with conniving corrupt politicians and officials have scripted the requiem for Reko Diq. The people will end up poorer and the aquifers and the environment in general will be contaminated with cyanide, arsenic, etc with unremittingly grave consequences for the people.
Given the frenzied way in which the authorities, the politicians and predatory corporations are ravaging Balochistan's precious resources, one can only wonder why the rulers in Islamabad are surprised, offended and annoyed when the resentment against such injustices results in insurgencies."

There was widespread angst in Baluchistan news reports in Urdu – not followed in the West – over how the project changed hands from the Australian BHP Billiton to Lakhani's Tethyan Copper and finally to Barrick Gold Corporation because of Lakhani's contacts in the former Musharraf regime. There was also anger that the stock for his company was sold at the stock exchange in Australia, instead of stock exchanges in Pakistan.

Samia Ali Shah, a spokeswoman for Tethyan Copper Company Pakistan, a subsidiary of the Barrick Gold Corporation and Antofagasta Minerals plc joint venture gives the following background:

"In 1993 BHP Billiton negotiated a joint venture with the Province of Balochistan to explore the Chagai Hills region. From 1994 to 1997 BHP Billiton discovered a major copper deposit at Reko Diq. In year 2000, Tethyan Copper Company was established by Mincor Resources NL after taking over the project from BHP Billiton. In 2006, Antofagasta Minerals plc and Barrick Gold

Corporation formed a JV and acquired 100% of Tethyan Copper Company Pty. Limited, an Australian company. Tethyan Australia subsequently transferred all mining rights to its Pakistani subsidiary, Tethyan Copper Company Pakistan.”
Critics say that the government in Islamabad blundered by selling what may be the world's biggest untapped copper and gold deposits, worth over $100 billion, to foreign mining firms at a throwaway price, to the disservice of the people of the country's most backward province and economy

Lakhani and Barrick Gold, along with others are faced with a suit in the Supreme Court of Pakistan:

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On August 14 at around 5.30 pm, protesters will march from the St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church on 16th and Newton Streets to Lakhani's office at 1155 23rd street northwest Washington DC at 23rd and M streets where a candle light vigil will be observed for victims of Pakistan's war crimes against Baluchistan.

The Baluch are observing black day on Pakistan's independence as their Texas-sized homeland was annexed against their wishes on March 27, 1948 by Pakistan army.

The DC-based American Friends of Baluchistan is calling upon international auditors to see how Lakhani and Barrick Gold Corporation joined hands in what Pakistani media reports suggest was one of the biggest white-collar crimes in Pakistan's history.

The AFB is also demanding 100 percent of jobs for Baluch locals and have condemned a Barrick Gold manager, a retired Pakistani Colonel named Sher Khan, who sent an email in defense of Pakistani intelligence officials crimes against humanity in Baluchistan.

In spring, Pakistani intelligence officials had tortured and killed three Baluch activists Ghulam Mohammed Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammed Baloch who were fighting for Baluchistan's independence.

However, Barrick Gold's manager on site Colonel Sher Khan blamed the state killings as infighting among Baluch nationalists over an alleged ransom.
Since Pakistan is a rogue state, after the killing of the three by the Pakistani intelligence the Pakistani federal government said it was clueless about the killers and interior minister Rehman Malik announced a reward for information about the killers.

The Baluch have vowed to continue with their protests until Colonel Sher Khan is brought to justice and fired from the job.

Furthermore, Baluchistan officials are surprised how an internationally reputed Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars has accepted Lakhani on its council.

In phone calls made to this scribe, Lakhani insisted he no longer has anything to do with Barrick Gold Corporation as he quit his chairman position of its subsidiary Tethyan Copper Company of Pakistan in June 2006.

Lakhani in calls he made on Monday night and Tuesday morning acknowledged that Shaukat Aziz visits his home in Washington DC but adds he [Aziz] "is a banker and friend of everyone."

Aziz was handpicked by despot Musharraf as his premier. Aziz, Lakhani and Musharraf are all from Karachi, commercial capital of Pakistan.

He also said he has not played polo with Zardari since 1996.

He said if the protesters come to his office on August 14 he would invite them for tea and that this scribe was also welcome to visit him anytime, but the protest must be called off. As a matter of courtesy, he was asked to come and talk at the August 14 event to give his viewpoint if he thought the protest in front of his office was unjustified. Intriguingly, the next day on Wednesday this scribe received a notice from Lakhani's well-paid lawyers accusing him of defamation and harassment among many other things.

Lakhani said when he was running the show he had gone to Reko Diq area and promised the locals all the jobs would be given to them.

Lakhani outlined a lengthy process how the local can get jobs at Reko Diq by mentioning each portion where a non-local has been employed and give the names of three meritorious Baluch candidates for those positions. He said after that if Barrick Gold Corporation still denied the locals jobs, then they could be sued at the Baluchistan High Court.

But the Baluch who are struggling for liberation have no trust in Pakistani institutions. "Pakistani courts are kangaroo courts," said former chief minister and Baluch "Nelson Mandela" Sardar Akhtar Mengal in a recent interview ith this correspondent from Dubai.

Lakhani said he fully sympathizes with the Baluch struggle but cannot say this out loud as he has to visit Pakistan.

He also offered to request the Woodrow Wilson Center to take up issues regarding Baluchistan.

The Baluch in Canada are also planning massive protests against Barrick Gold Corporation in Toronto.