ISLAMABAD - The Balochistan government is most likely to take up the lingering issue of the handover of the ownership of the Saindak Copper and Gold Project to the province under the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan (AHB) package, with the Council of Common Interests (CCI), for a favourable decision, it is learnt reliably here.

“Yes, they have told us that they will take up the issue of the ownership right to the Council of Common Interests,” a high government official confirmed to The Nation.

Under the Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan (AHB) package, Balochistan will receive 35% of sales proceeds from the minerals extracted from Saindak mines if it gains administrative control of the SML. Currently, the proceeds from Saindak are split halfway between Pakistan and China; only 5 percent is given to Balochistan.

Under the AHB, it was decided that the SCGP may be transferred to Balochistan, but the federal government refused to comply with it under one pretext or another. Balochistan time and again approached the Centre for the handover of the project and received a big no from the other side.

“The Centre appears in no mood to give the ownership of the project to the Balochistan government before 2018. The Centre took the plea that it cannot transfer the ownership of the Saindak project as long as the agreement between Pakistan and China remains intact,” the official said.

Saindak Copper-Gold Mine is located near Saindak town in Chaghai district of Balochistan. The discovery of copper deposits at Saindak was made in the 1970s in collaboration with a Chinese engineering firm. The investment was started during the second government of Benazir Bhutto, but after the 1995 trial run, the project faltered for a number of years. In 2002, the federal government invited foreign investors to provide funding for the project and awarded the mining project to the Metallurgical Corporation of China (Ltd) for a 10-year lease, which was later extended for another five years.

The Finance Ministry is of the view that accepting Balochistan’s demand would embolden other provinces to come up with similar demands, the official said. If the KP government comes up with the demand of handing over Tarbela Dam to the province or if Sindh comes forward with the demand of taking over the authority of the Karachi port, the federation will be in trouble, the official added.

The second issue in the transfer of its ownership to Balochistan is the federal government’s huge investment of Rs 29 billion in the SCGP. The federal government termed the investment a loan while the Balochistan government argues that the federal government has not given any loan to the company; rather it is investment which cannot be declared a loan.

Earlier, the Balochistan chief minister asked the federal government to waive off Rs 29 billion given for the Saindak Gold and Copper Project as a goodwill gesture, under the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (AHB) package, to remove the sense of deprivation among the Baloch people, but it didn’t happen, the official said. “If the federal government waives off these dues, the Saindak project could easily go to Balochistan” the official added.