Earlier this month, Reuters reported exclusive details on Pakistan’s military taking a key role in the development of one of the world’s largest untapped copper and gold deposits, which is currently stalled by a multi-billion dollar legal wrangle with foreign mining firms. Correspondent Drazen Jorgic reported that sources said the military has become the most important voice on the future of the Reko Diq mine, which it sees as a strategic national asset. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Drazen offers a behind-the-scenes look at how he scored the exclusive.
–How did you get started on this story?
The background to it all was the massive change brought by China’s Belt and Road initiative, which promised Pakistan $60 billion in infrastructure investment and put the country at the heart of one of the biggest geo-political transformations of recent years. Pakistan has enormous natural resources and has a vital strategic location in South Asia, but its economy has always lagged its neighbor India.
After Pakistan lost a 2017 international arbitration case against western mining companies who invested in Reko Diq, I wanted to find out what the government planned to do with this gigantic mine, and if the idea was to give it to the Chinese. I traveled to Quetta, capital of the Baluchistan province, to get a grip on the story and while there I began hearing whispers about the military’s role in the mine, and how a huge army-run business was maneuvering to grab a slice of the Reko Diq pie.
–What types of reporting were involved?
I have to say this was really old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. Meeting as many people as possible and trying to piece together the puzzle. Though in the story we cite 10 current and former provincial and federal officials and mining sources, in reality I had spoken to more than 40 people over an 18-month period who were in some way connected to the mine. Not all of them knew the full picture, but the vast majority provided some insight or history to help put the puzzle together.
–What was the hardest part of the reporting?
This is undoubtedly the trickiest story I’ve reported out of Pakistan. I had no mining sources or government contacts in the Baluchistan province prior to this story, and the sources I was building would rarely be willing to talk on the phone, even through encrypted channels such as WhatsApp or Signal. In many ways, Pakistanis are very open and hospitable – as part of the culture Pakistanis often invite strangers to their home at the first time of meeting them – but when it comes to discussing issues relating to the military, government officials tend to be extremely cagey due to fears for their jobs and personal safety. With that in mind, I had to cultivate sources over a long period of time, having countless coffees, drinks and dinners, before they became comfortable to discuss a very sensitive topic with a foreign journalist.
–Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
Recently there has been a lot of talk about how Pakistan’s military is throttling the country’s fragile democracy and encroaching on civilian issues behind the scenes, but there is seldom proof. This is one of those concrete examples of military overreach and I believe this story tells us something about modern-day Pakistan. It is also an important story for our customers because it involves one of the world’s biggest untapped copper and gold mines, which could impact commodities markets and major mining companies that invested in the project.
–What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
I work as a general news correspondent in Pakistan and the great thing about my beat is that I can report on anything that interests me. Though my reporting has focused on the big stories, such as fraught civil-military relations, the fraying U.S.-Pakistan relationship and China’s growing economic and political influence in Pakistan, I’ve been lucky to travel across the country and report on everything from the reopening of a ski resort that was blown up by the Taliban to the way Pakistan’s economy is being held back by the country’s negative image and reputation abroad.
–What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
The most rewarding part of the job is meeting people, and the travel: from war-torn countries such as Somalia and South Sudan, to little-reported places such as Madagascar. The most difficult experiences are usually when arriving at the scene of a tragedy, where you witness incredibly distraught families, including children. One that strikes me in particular is visiting a village on the Kenyan coast soon after Somalia’s Al Shabaab militants carried out a cross-border raid and killed 50 villagers. It’s never easy to see so much suffering and not be able to help.
–Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
Not really. I’ve been doing this since I was 16.