Dr. Asim Yousafzai
Waziristan sits on mineral deposits worth billions of dollars. Untapped mineral deposits in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and especially North and South Waziristan are in such abundance that if properly explored, exploited and commercialized, mineral deposits in Waziristan alone can employ almost everyone in FATA. Additionally, it will also provide employment opportunities for technical workforce in the adjoining Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
Among these minerals, copper deposits in Waziristan are of utmost importance and in such abundance that they need immediate attention of the government officials and private sector investors. Bajaur, Khyber and Mohmand Agencies have inexhaustible deposits of high-grade marble, manganese, chromite, soapstone, silica sand, quartz, feldspar, and a large variety of high quality gemstones. Orakzai Agency contains huge deposits of coal, oil & gas and iron ore as well. North and South Waziristan Agencies host enormous metallic mineral deposits such as copper, gold, chromite, construction material such as marble and granite and energy resources of oil and gas. Most of these resources have not been economically mined and remain untapped.
Satellite data can be used to decipher Gossans of copper mineralization in the Waziristan Ophiolite Complex. The copper mineralization in Boya, near Miran Shah in North Waziristan Agency, can be extracted in the minimum possible time to avoid pitfalls of further devaluation of metallic minerals in the international market. The price fluctuation in metals from London Metal Exchange over a 10-year period can be used to demonstrate that metal prices have been on a steady decline.
Waziristan is known to the world for all the wrong reasons of terrorism, Internally Displaced People and decades of military operations.
Waziristan was not always chaotic; it takes pride in its rich cultural history and even richer natural resources. Just like the rest of the under-developed tribal belt, Waziristan is a region with very little civilian infrastructure. It is an arid mountainous area with lush green valleys fed by water from rivers and springs.
The mountains are full of mineral resources and the now defunct FATA Development Corporation was responsible for mineral exploration in the tribal belt. I was amazed at the mineral potential of Waziristan when I was retrieving rock cores coming out of the drilling operations in mid 1990s. The core samples were full of copper, iron, gold, silver, nickel and other rare earth elements (REEs). Waziristan copper deposit is smaller in size than Riko Diq and Sandak copper deposits, but it has more potential with a higher copper content, and if properly explored, exploited and developed, it could change the fortune of Pakistan. It is important to note that REEs are highly sought after metals and used in high tech industries. Natural resources don’t recognize man-made boundaries and the same mineral resources extend into Afghanistan.
There are currently an estimated 50 million tons of copper deposits present in North Waziristan and an unconfirmed amount in South Waziristan Agency as well. Governmental professionals had limited access to these areas since their mineral potential was discovered in early 1970s. With limited security, I was still able to conduct my research back in early 1990s.
The average copper content of these deposits in 0.8% and the current value of copper in the international market is $5500 per ton. If we assume that the current North Waziristan Agency deposit contains 50 million tons in a very restricted area of 150 sq. km., then it can be very easily extracted as most of the tests have already been conducted over the past 4 decades. Geophysical surveys have shown positive anomalies for metallic prospects. Geochemical analysis and core drilling have been conducted on a number of prospects and computer models have already been generated.
The above numbers will put this deposit at 22 Billion US dollars or 23 Trillion Rupees at the current price of copper in the international market. It goes without saying, that an initial investment must be done on this deposit before it can be made profitable. The total revenue target for Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province for the fiscal year 2016 is 22.6 Billion Rupees which is less than 1% of the revenue generated from Waziristan copper!
Copper was one of the first metals extracted by early humans and it has been vital in sustaining and improving society since the dawn of civilization. Around 8000 B.C., copper was first used in coins and ornaments. Around 5500 B.C., copper tools helped civilization emerge from the Stone Age. Human civilization crossed another barrier when they found out that copper alloyed with tin produces bronze and this marked the beginning of the Bronze Age at about 3000 B.C.
Copper is malleable, a property which makes it much desirable than iron; copper can be easily stretched and molded into various shapes, it is also resistant to corrosion and an efficient conductor of heat and electric charge. Because of its corrosion resistance, copper has been extensively used in underground plumbing and underwater pipelines.
Copper is heavily used in construction industry, and in heating & cooling systems. It is used in power generation and transmission, electronics manufacturing, telecommunications and industrial machinery. The most visible use of copper is in the transportation vehicles in the form of engine motors, bearings, wiring, radiators, connectors, and brackets. An average car has 1.5km of copper wire and the total amount varies from 20kg in small cars to 45kg in luxury cars.
Copper when alloyed with zinc produces brass locally known as “Peetal” and before the advent of aluminum, all utensils were made of brass.
It is a well-known fact among the geologic community worldwide that the Himalayas and Hinduksh ranges are home to some of the world’s priciest mineral resources. There was a time when the world was content with gold, silver, iron and chromium (steel based industries). Now-a-days we need silicon, germanium and a number of REEs to satisfy our high-tech needs such as computers, high-definition TVs, lasers, satellites and mobile cell phones.
Unfortunately, the unrest in Waziristan is hampering the prospects for any meaningful geologic work in the entire tribal belt. The sooner, the military ops come to an end, the better and all displaced people must be returned at the earliest possible date.
The non-scientific and non-technical localized mining of these large deposits are hurting their potential and the government must take serious steps for incorporating them into a formal mining sector. There is no need to create further bureaucratic machinery, the current institutions needs to be strengthened and empowered to start a bidding and leasing process to expedite the mineral extraction.
In Waziristan, and the entire tribal belt, lies the solution to the myriad of problems being faced by Pakistan today. The mineral potential of this region is eagerly waiting to be explored. If it is not explored today, with fast changing face of technology, it may not be worth much tomorrow. A stable and peaceful Waziristan is only the first step towards a stable Pakistan.