A R Jerral Stories about the exploitation of Pakistans gold and copper reserves at Reko Diq (Balochistan) have appeared in local newspapers, indicating that two of the worlds largest gold mining groups have been visiting Pakistan and meeting high-ups behind closed doors, including the President in Islamabad. What deals are being struck and who will get the mining rights are not yet known, and perhaps will remain a mystery for quite some time. Reko Diq or Sandak, as previously known, appeared in the news a long time back. There were various versions. There were claims that it is the largest gold and copper deposit this side of the Suez Canal, and if managed properly can put Pakistan on the path to financial recovery in a big way. Then news appeared that the mining rights of this vast reserve were given to a Chinese firm. The detailed information was never made public; people and the media only speculated. For a long time the issue of mining went into background. Then stories started appearing in the press that Baloch miscreants are harassing Chinese engineers; reports regarding kidnapping and even murders also emerged, but there were never any definite details of such episodes. Then it was leaked that the Chinese just packed up and left. Till to date there are only sketchy reports, all based on hearsay. This year in June a government official in a private gathering in Rawalpindi disclosed that a French-American joint venture has been given the mining rights of Reko Diq by the provincial government bypassing the centre. The details he gave depicted this deal as an outright plunder of Pakistans natural wealth. According to him, the miners were given the right to take away major share of the gold dug (75 percent) without any mechanism in place to audit and determine exact quantity excavated. He also revealed that Chinese were scared off as a deliberate plan to make way for the western companies to exploit this reserve. There was no independent way to verify his claim. The story now appearing about two largest mining groups vying for this place somewhat vindicates his assertions. Pakistan is blessed with abundant natural resources - oil, gas, coal, salt and other minerals. Major General (retd) Agha Masood, who was Chairman Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC), claims Pakistan is rich in almost all minerals. His claim is that glacial area in the north has large deposits of gold. He also narrated that a foreign company had come to survey the northern areas for gold deposits; they did find it but then packed up and left suddenly. Even he, as Chairman PMDC, was not told the reason of their sudden termination. He suspects that there was big game involved. Thar Coal deposits in Sindh are said to be the largest coal stock. This find was declared with great fanfare. Mining rights for this deposit were also initially given to the Chinese. A documentary on a private media channel depicted that Chinese had started to build coal-fired power station too. Then suddenly they abandoned the whole operation. No one knows how they got the lease and why did they abandoned the project. Were they scared off this venture too, and who were the forces responsible for this? We in Pakistan remain ignorant of these happenings. These coal deposited were valued at billions of dollars when these were first announced to the nation. The gold deposits in Reko Diq are valued at $260 billion, as reported in the news story. Add to it the value of the coal and one realises that Pakistan is sitting on colossal wealth. Properly exploited this can alleviate all our financial vows once and for all. In fact, Pakistan will be in a strong position to retire its debt liability in its entirety. Pakistan at this stage is in dire financial quagmire. Sometimes there are scares that Pakistan might go bankrupt. Whenever faced with financial crises we run to the IMF and the World Bank for loans, which come with cumbersome terms. There are conspiracy theories about our mineral and oil and gas excavations. One cannot say with reasonable accuracy the truth about them. This scribe was posted in Balochistan during 1960s. During those times, Russians and some western companies were prospecting for oil in Bolan Pass and Makran areas. I travelled extensively in those areas and saw these explorations. The companies prospecting oil had set up elaborate camps, which were off limits to the natives. An official of the PMDC told me that whatever data these companies collected was sent abroad for evaluation, but its results were not told to Pakistan He said that oil was struck in Turbat area, but the well was capped under foreign pressure. There was no separate source to confirm his statement. In private gatherings later whenever Pakistans mineral wealth came under discussion, people opined that exploitations of mineral wealth all over Pakistan was controlled and directed by an unknown powerful force. If this assertion is correct then difficulties encountered in utilising Thar coal and Reko Diq gold seems possible. Exploitation of such large quantities of the national wealth should not be left to some individuals. It should be the National Assembly, the peoples representatives, who should collectively handle its lease and exploration. The Chief Minister of Balochistan should not be the one to declare that Pakistans interest will be watched. Pakistans interest should and ought to be watched by its people through their elected representatives collectively. The gold dug from its mines or fields must remain in Pakistan and overseen by our State Bank - the national institution - which controls its currency matters. With gold in its depository, Pakistan currency will stabilise and boost our economy. The State Bank, National Assembly, possibly the Balochistan Assembly, the PMDC and the Ministry of Finance should collectively oversee the grant of lease contracts, terms of lease, distribution of wealth between the centre, province and the company digging our wealth. It is the wealth of the people, and its benefits must go to the people and the country. The Supreme Court should intervene only when rights of the people and the country are violated. The media should raise this issue vigorously to force the government to conduct the proceedings in an open and transparent manner. In this way, the chances of striking any shady deal will be minimised or totally eliminated. The writer is a freelance columnist.