Chinese Companies Undertake Exploitative Mining in Mineral Rich Gilgit-Baltistan

Earlier this month a Chinese national in Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan was arrested for involvement in illegal mining activities in the region. More than 65-ton mica was recovered from the residence of the Chinese citizen and he was suspected of mining in Gilgit-Baltistan without legal documents. He nevertheless secured bail and produced evidence of contract mining with a local company. There is extensive evidence of significant corruption and clandestine mining operations in the nascent extractive industries of Gilgit-Baltistan. In fact more than two-thirds of the mineral-rich areas of Gilgit Baltistan have been leased out to outsiders, mostly the Chinese.

To understand the nature of exploitation of resources from Gilgit-Baltistan, it is important to comprehend that this region has always been an anomaly in the political system of Pakistan. The history of Gilgit-Baltistan has indeed been tragic and to date the people of the region lack a national/state identity. There is no transparency or accountability in governance. As a result the region suffers from little to no infrastructure development, and very little development in potential growth areas like energy, tourism and mining.

Covering about 73,000 km2, Gilgit-Baltistan is surrounded by three world famous mountain ranges, viz. the Hindu Kush, the Himalaya, and the Karakorum. Gilgit-Baltistan’s geology is characterised by a large number of mineral deposits,including metallic, non-metallic, energy minerals, precious and dimension stones, and rocks of differing industrial value. There are many mineral deposits in the area. The major deposits are of nickel, cobalt, copper, lead, tin, mica, quartz, zircon, coal and other important resources. Many surveys have confirmed the presence of gold and other minerals across the region. Earlier data indicates that almost Rs 500 million worth of gemstones were being extracted annually from Gilgit-Baltistan. Limitations of official international investment due to corruption and security issues has enabled the illicit mining sector to flourish.

Although Pakistan’s Federal Government collects trekking fees, environmental protection fees and other taxes, it does not share it with the local community, nor is there any transparent mechanism to assess the revenue earned from tourism.

While Pakistan continues to grapple with the thorny issue of determining the legal status of the territory, the residents of the area have been consistently deprived of the benefits of autonomy generally associated with a federal set-up. In Hunza, a common complaint is that the Federal Government does not disclose details of the revenue it receives from trucks entering from China. In Hunza activist Babajan Hunzai of Progressive Youth Front spearheads the resistance against Pakistani and Chinese expansionism. The result is that hundreds of Gilgit-Baltistan residents are locked up in Pakistani jails and face sedition charges for denying space to the Chinese and Pakistani mining companies in their valleys.Babajan claims that the international mining mafia controls more than 50,000 sq. km of land in Gilgit Baltistan.

There is evidence to suggest that Chinese nationals along with local contractors are engaged in large scale mineral extraction from stretches of river beds in Gilgit-Baltistan. This unabated mineral extraction from the Gilgit-Baltistan’s rivers poses a grave threat to fish habitat and breeding grounds.  In fact there are reports that the Pakistani government encourages unemployed youth to travel to Gilgit Baltistan and engage in collection of gold specks from the sand accumulated along river banks of the area.[1] Gold usually found in rocks of Gilgit-Baltistan was carried to the rivers by water.

Visitors have been taking away gemstones from Gilgit-Baltistan without payment, as the government does not have a policy in place to keep a check. The Gilgit-Baltistan government had placed a ban on the haphazard mining of precious stones in the region after reports surfaced that inefficient mining techniques were depriving the regional economy of potential revenue. But in 2011 the government lifted the ban on mining and the result is unchecked/unplanned exploitation of land resources.[2]

The people of Gilgit Baltistan have been protesting against foreign miners for smuggling certain mineral deposits from uranium-rich Karkalti village of Ghizer district to China. In 2008, for instance, local residents of the uranium-rich Gindai valley in Ghizer district clashed with Chinese miners. In 2010 locals of Nasirabad valley of Hunza district once again tried to resist Pakistani company Mohmand Minerals.  Pakistani mining company Mohsin Industries, has partnered with the locals as well as Chinese and Korean miners, attempting to smuggle uranium outside Pakistan. The company has been awarded exploration licences in the uranium-rich areas of Sakwar, Minawar, Pari Bangla and Bonji, as well as parts of Shigar district and Skardu.

Today, Chinese miners and their affiliates are everywhere in Gilgit Baltistan especially in the Hunza-Nagar district, which is rich in uranium and certain minerals used in space technology. Some areas in upper Hunza, for instance, like the Chapursan valley have become no-go areas, where the Chinese continue their work on tunnel building and mineral exploration. Chinese miners have also acquired leases in Astore district to extract high quality copper. Another company digging uranium and gold in Gilgit Baltistan and coordinating with the Chinese investors is Shahzad International, which is one of the largest lease-owning foreign contractors in the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan remains neglected, isolated and disfranchised. Its status has been deliberately kept ambiguous and its people have been denied basic rights and privileges.  Locals have failed to benefit monetarily from the leases issued to Chinese companies in the last two decades. Pakistani companies in collaboration with the Chinese, refuse to share revenue from resource exploitation with the locals. They don’t pay tax to the Gilgit government either, since they owe their allegiance to Islamabad-based federal institution called Gilgit Baltistan Council (GBC), which has absolute control over legislative matters pertaining to minerals, forests, water reserves, trade and transit routes, and issues mining licences to foreigners without consulting with the Gilgit-based GBLA.  Local activists have been demanding royalty to the locals over their mineral assets, giving preference to the local companies during the licensing process, and granting business loans on easy terms to the local miners. It is time to take cognizance of the illegal and exploitative mining practices of Pakistani and Chinese mining companies in the  resource-rich and strategically located region of Gilgit Baltistan.


[1] Gold rush is on in Gilgit-Baltistan – Pakistan – DAWN.COM

[2] Gilgit-Baltistan: Ban on mining lifted (

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