South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Zia Siddiqui

Pakistan is blessed with numerous natural resources; namely gold and copper in Saindak and Riko Diq, natural gas at many places, coal in Thar, salt mines in Punjab, and precious stones in KP etc. However, we have miserably failed to exploit these resources, for the benefit of our people and do not take advantage of such great reservoir of wealth on and under our beloved motherland. Most of these untapped resources are of great strategic value and must be utilized for the strategic gains to benefit our country in general and the region in particular. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, our successive government have without fail messed up with these strategic assets and there is a long list of grave misconduct in exploring, exploiting and utilizing these resources for the above stated purposes. Instead a number of these resources have been in the past thrown away to benefit individuals or the foreign companies but the state and its people. Riko Diq gold mines, Gwader port operations, steel mill cases are just a few examples of mismanagement and lack of transparent mechanisms during award of contracts.

Thar coal reserves are one such strategic asset that Allah Almighty has blessed Pakistan in abundance, and right utilization of these ‘Black Gold’ reserves can change the destiny of Pakistan in general and poor people of that area in particular. However, this would only be possible if coal reserves in Sindh in general and Thar in particular are exploited and utilized properly. Such huge reserves certainly need lot of investment and state of the art technology to avoid wastage of the precious resource. Therefore it is of utmost importance that once the contracts for the exploration of coal are awarded, the potential investors have been thoroughly screened and scrutinized in detail. It is essential that such strategic assets do not fall into wrong hands and the award of contract does not get challenged as in case of Riko Diq.
While one would wish the above, rumours are afloat that Indian investors; TATA power and Bharat Heavy Electric Limited (BHEL) are steadily making inroads in the power corridors to gain support for the award to conduct open cast mining of Thar Coal. Reportedly consultations are taking place on multiple fronts, i.e sell Pakistan coal to India for their projects in Gujrat and Tamil Nadu, and development of Thar coal mines by Indo-US Companies. Sources have revealed that a number of visits have taken place by highly influential people in Sindh government through Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) officials to India and the same were reciprocated by TATA and BHEL delegations to make progress to grab Pakistan’s Black Gold reserves. The deal is likely to benefit the two parties in similar manner as was envisaged in Riko Diq case. While these rumours are well supported with evidence of behind the scenes consultations on the modalities to gain control of the strategic reserves, Pakistani team of looters and grabbers are busy in finding ways and means to save the deal from being challenged in the Supreme Court fearing a premature exposure to an otherwise extremely secret deal. It is in this backdrop that the experts are suggesting that Thar coal should be developed indigenously to accrue the maximum benefits out of this blessed strategic resource. There is no dearth of technical and administrative expertise to undertake such projects. It is earnestly believed that technology and scientific expertise could be made available by retired officers of Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers as well as the Faculty of the Centre for Coal Technology at the University of Punjab. To name a few, Major General (R) Pervez Akmal who is already developing a institutional model for the development of Thar coal and Professor Dr. Shahid Muneer, either individually or as a group may be tasked to provide the technical and scientific consultation for the Black Gold Project; as has been done by Dr. Samar Mubarakmand in case of Riko Diq and Thar Coal Gasification projects.
It is once again highlighted that Government of Sindh must not indulge itself in any such dubious deal to award the strategic contracts to Indian companies under the garb of steady improvement in trade relations and for the want of foreign investment. Such strategic projects must not be handed over to the companies from countries which have a history of enmity and hostility for Pakistan. It is hoped that sanity would prevail and Thar Coal would not become another Riko Diq.