To quote from my article “ANOTHER REKO DIQ SCANDAL?” of July 10, 2014, “Controversially appointed Vice Chairman Balochistan Investment Board (BIB), one of Arsalan’s (former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s son) first (and probably only) acts was announcing the multi-billion dollar Reko Diq gold mines would be awarded to the highest bidder through an open global tender to be floated. Jan Buledi, official spokesperson of the Balochistan government, tactically admitted, “the Balochistan Govt, acting on advice from the Federal Govt, was trying to reach an out-of-court settlement with the TCC as they would not be able to bear the financial losses in case a financial penalty is inflicted by the International Court of Arbitration”. Revealingly, Jan Buledi added, “I think it will be unfair to prevent TCC from participating in the bidding for a licence”. Credible sources recently reported that the former CJ planned to establish a “consultancy office”. Sheer coincidence that the legal lacunae was created in the first place on Jan 7, 2013 when a 3-member SC bench headed by Arsalan’s father declared the agreement of July 20, 1993 between the Balochistan Govt and TCC void and in conflict with Pakistan laws. Attracting widespread criticism across the broad spectrum, Arsalan was asked to resign within twelve days into this controversy. Democracy was seen at its best when National Party’s Hasil Khan Bizenjo and the upright and honest Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik candidly admitted that the appointment made at the request of Arsalan’s father (in absolute contradiction to Arsalan’s assertion that his father knew nothing about it) was a gross mistake. Defending Arsalan’s appointment despite his having no conceivable expertise or experience in attracting foreign investment, PML(N) stalwart Mushahidullah spilled the beans touting this as a “reward” for Iftikhar Chaudhry’s “many services to the nation”. To the nation or PML (N)?Arsalan is not new to controversy reflecting negatively on his father. The former CJ was accused of getting him into medical school despite insufficient grades, and then rapid promotion in his first government assignment. Arsalan ultimately abandoned medicine and started his own telecommunication business, reportedly doing extremely well in “the operation management and maintenance of the network of the telecom side.” Coincidence and/or prima-facie evidence notwithstanding, eArsalan’s Federally-inspired appointment was very “Reko Diq-specific.” Why?”

China with its already stated interest in Balochistan development could be one option; Russia could be another. There may be still other options around but Reko Diq is not like any other business deal; it should imply a recorded well-intended interest in Pakistani development by the contender

What are the lessons to be learned and applied to future conduct? The first thing to nail down is that the contract as it stands is not worth executing especially after the recent verdict. That means that all offers of TCC to be ‘open to negotiations’ have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The only real option from Pakistan’s point of view is a fundamental revision of the contract. But that is not in the interest of TCC. If they wanted that it could have been done long ago in an out-of-court settlement. So for all practical purposes TCC would be probably out – safe only some much unexpected turning on their side. That means Pakistan has to look for alternative investors who could do the deal on more equitable conditions and with whom the payment of the fine could somehow be adjusted. One hopes that the GOP has already started this process and if not its high time to do it. There are very knowledgeable contenders in the mining field and while all will want to make money – and rightly so- there should be a balance in earnings for both sides. China with its already stated interest in Baluchistan development could be one option; Russia could be another. There may be still other options around but RekoDiq is not like any other business deal; it should imply a recorded well-intended interest in Pakistani development by the contender.

There is another lesson to be learned as well. One is of course that accountability should be made part of the performance of bureaucrats and politicians as well as specialists involved in such transactions. Furthermore, posts and positions have to be filled with people who bring the right knowledge and experience for the job, that means on merit and not on the recommendation of some interested party based on the principle ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’. The missing of merit in the award o positions is a major mistake that has to be rectified. And last but not least the education of specialized bureaucrats and well educated specialists not only in mining has to be initiated on a ‘war footing’ as one of our previous mavericks used to say. It is more important to learn the lessons that this botched deal is teaching us than to find the money to pay the fine! Hopefully this lesson will not be lost on those sitting in the Commission constituted to rectify the RekoDiq debacle!

The writer is a defence and security analyst