(This is the first of a two-part series on China's serial overtures in Baluchistan in the name of economic development and the unfolding human rights crisis in the province.)
The only underground mining project in Pakistan is China's biggest in the country—one spanning five square kms and designed for an annual processing capacity of 660,000 tons of ores, including mining and concentration processes. The mines are said to have a depth limit of 900 meters.
In 2019, it is said to have reached the annual full production capacity well before the planned term. On that occasion, the representative of the Pakistani government claimed that “The systematic investigation of Duddar deposits started in 1980 and USD 236 Million were invested to bring it to the present stage."
Duddar mining project, the only underground mining project in Pakistan is China's biggest in country.
Pakistani government claims the systematic investigation of Duddar deposits started in 1980 and USD 236 Million were invested to bring it to the present stage.
Balochistan sources reveal that none of the money China allegedly paid to has gone into development or, at least, the development of the population.
Local unskilled workers are paid an average of 15,000 Pakistani rupees per month (compared to the average of 40,000 paid by private coal miners), and the working conditions are even worse.
According to the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, at least 176 miners were killed and 180 injured in mining accidents in 2021. Of these deaths, at least 100 were reported from Balochistan alone.
Can China Substantiate Its Balochistan Expenses?
Out of this, USD seven million was spent by UNDP or PMDC, USD 20 million by Pasminco of Australia, USD 108 Million by MCC Duddar Mineral Development Company of China (DMDC), and USD 101 Million by MCC Huaye Duddar Mining Company (MHD)” adding that, “So far, MHD has paid the provincial government of Balochistan Rs 1,052,434 Million as royalty, Rs 210,487 million to the government of Pakistan as presumptive tax, and Rs 105,2 million to EPZA as development surcharge."
But as usual in Balochistan, non-official sources tell a very different story. None of the money China allegedly paid to Balochistan has gone into development or, at least, for the development of the population and not of the wealth of local politicians and Pakistan's supporters but this has made the Chinese richer than ever before.
The project is, in fact, actually run by a subsidiary of Chinese state-run metallurgic Corporation. On 22 March 2002, China Metallurgical Construction Group Corp (MCC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Pakistan Minerals Development Company (PMDC) on the project development. The agreement stated that PMDC would be responsible for the construction of external roads leading to the project site.
In addition, the Pakistan government would convert the Duddar zinc-lead mine area into an Export Processing Zone (EPZ). With the approval of the Ministry of Commerce of PRC, MCC Duddar Minerals Development Company Pvt. Limited (MDMD) — a joint venture of the three companies, was registered on 23 November 2004.
Grim Reality of Pak-China Joint Project
On 6 January 2005, the company signed a financing agreement with China Development Bank(CDB). Duddar lead-zinc project commenced construction in 2005 and shut down almost immediately due to the difficult underground mining conditions. The MCC Huaye, Duddar (MHD) Mining Co., formed by China Metallurgic Group as an investor and developer and the China Huaye Group responsible for the construction and production, reportedly took over the operation in 2014 through an international tender and is thriving since then.
But, despite the size of the project and the money involved in it, Duddar has been shrouded in secrecy and there is little to no public information on it besides the official propaganda ones.
Despite the claims of both the Chinese and local Pakistani supporters and officials, of investing in health, security, and training for workers, the truth is different and, according to an article published in The Dawn, “The picture one got to see afterwards of Kanraj tehsil— the Duddar project’s location, speaks volumes about the state of affairs confronting the area." Despite the fact that Lasbela is the home district of Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani, and his father and grandfather also held the same post, in the words of a local reporter, “Kanraj is one of the most deprived tehsils of Lasbela."
Local unskilled workers are paid an average of 15,000 Pakistani rupees per month (compared to the average of 40,000 paid by private coal miners), and the working conditions are even worse than the ones recently highlighted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its most recent report on coal mines workers.
The report states that according to the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation, at least 176 miners were killed and 180 injured in mining accidents in 2021. Of these deaths, at least 100 were reported from Balochistan alone."
But there's much more. According to local sources in fact, “Though MCC and Pakistan authorities claim the site is rich in lead and zinc, there is strong suspicion amongst the locals that the project is involved in the extraction of uranium."
The existence of uranium ores in the region coupled with extreme security in the area and the secrecy around the project adds to the seriousness of such suspicions. What is certain is that China has invested heftily at this site and very aggressive extraction of minerals and resources is taking place.
State-of-the-Art Facility or Breeding Ground for Human Rights Crisis?
It is to such an extent that the Duddar lead-zinc mine project was suspended in 2012 and the underground system was put on 'care and maintenance’ due to mountains in the area, sinking. The number of structures at the project site is extraordinary. It also consists of at least two active processing plants and another derelict one. These plants appear to have state-of-the-art processing constructions with massive cooling towers, containment structures, several loading ramps, buildings, and energy-generating turbines.
Towards the south of the project site, there are multiple mining entrance buildings that tunnel into the mountains. The Chinese have also constructed an exclusive water dam at the Kharrari river for this project. There is a massive residential area with several houses and flats and several warehouses and transportation storage buildings. There are also several other installations including small and big outbuildings, a basketball court, a helipad, and multiple farming dedicated areas.
A state-of-the-art tarmac road has been constructed from Winder town to the project site. This is the only such road in the whole area. The project is so massive and highly secured that a whole base of Pakistani forces is stationed at the entrance of the project.
The acting Governor of Balochistan, Mir Jan Muhammad Jamali had said last May, that the economic future of the province is linked to the mines, minerals and fisheries sectors. Somebody should explain, then, why all of them have been handed over to the Chinese. Officially, like mines and minerals, or unofficially, with Chinese fishermen exploiting Gwadar. People of Balochistan are still waiting for an answer.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)