Dawn News

While some officials from the government and non-governmental organisations have only expressed concern over the situation, other individuals, including former army soldiers, State department officials and members of the US Congress, have now begun to publicly assert support for an independent Balochistan.  —Photo by Reuters
While some officials from the government and non-governmental organisations have only expressed concern over the situation, other individuals, including former army soldiers, State department officials and members of the US Congress, have now begun to publicly assert support for an independent Balochistan. —Photo by Reuters

The United States (US) Committee on Foreign Affairs is set to convene a congressional hearing on Wednesday (February 8), for an exclusive discussion on Balochistan.

The extraordinary event has generated great interest among followers of Pakistan-US relations, as the allies’ mutual relationship seems to be deteriorating. The powerful House of Representatives committee oversees America’s foreign assistance programs and experts believe it can recommend halting US assistance to Pakistan over human rights violation in Balochistan.

Calls for ‘independence’ While Islamabad has strictly treated Balochistan as an internal matter, the debate on such a divisive topic by the powerful committee has highlighted the level of American interest in Balochistan and its support, if any, for the nationalist movement. On its part, Pakistan has kept Washington at arm’s length on the Balochistan issue, by refusing to grant it permission to open a consulate in Quetta.

A Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who recently co-authored an article with Congressman Louie Gohmert expressing support for an independent Balochistan, will chair the hearing.

“Perhaps we should even consider support for a Balochistan carved out of Pakistan to diminish radical power there (in Pakistan),” Rohrabacher wrote in his piece.

According to Asia-Pacific Reporting Blog, “it is expected that the hearing will tackle issues related to whether or not the US Congress should tie human rights issues in Balochistan to Pakistani aid.”

Witness box Another area of interest is of the controversial witnesses who will testify before the committee. The three-member panel comprises of defence analyst Ralph Peters, Georgetown assistant professor, C. Christine Fair and Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch.

Ironically, the panel on Balochistan does not include a Baloch representative, an issue which has disappointed the Baloch diaspora in the United States, who fear the misinterpretation of their stance by people they view as unfamiliar with the Baloch conflict.

One of the witnesses, Ralph Peters, attracted scathing criticism by right-wing Pakistani strategists in June 2006, when his article Blood Borders was published in the Armed Forces Journal with a map of Free Balochistan. Peters, 59, a former US army officer, is expected to support in his testimony the idea of an independent Balochistan comprising of the Balochistan provinces in Pakistan and Iran and parts of Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Dr Christine Fair is known as a passionate supporter of Pakistan with an anti-India stance. The Pakistani media quoted Dr Fair in March 2009, for allegedly linking India with the Baloch insurgency. She was reportedly questioned the role of the Indian consulates in Afghanistan and Iran.

“Having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan,” she told a roundtable organised by the Foreign Affairs magazine, “I can assure you they (Indians) are not issuing visas as their main activity.” Later on, however, she told Outlook, an Indian newsmagazine, in an interview that the Pakistanis had blown her comments out of proportion.

On Twitter, a week ahead of the hearing, Dr Fair called Ralph Peters, the fellow witness, a “nut” and asked “WHAT does he know?” On Saturday, she also irked the Balochs by questioning their majority status in Balochistan while in another Tweet she warned the separatists not to “expect me to support an independent Balochistan”.

Public debate Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, Pakistan’s former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, told Dawn.com that the congressional hearing was a “significant step” in highlighting Balochistan’s problems. “The information provided in the event,” he said, “will not only be used by members of the US Congress but will also be picked up by the world media.”

“The shocking stories of torture and murder in Balochistan will become part of the public debate. It is in the interest of Pakistan to quickly and effectively resolve the situation in Balochistan bringing back the Baluch with honour, respect and dignity,” said Dr Ahmed, who is currently the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington DC.

Dr Ahmed, who served in 1980s as the Commissioner of three districts in Balochistan, says the hearing can potentially create a great deal of negative publicity for Pakistan.

Close watchers In the United States, the conflict in Balochistan has been gaining remarkable attention of late. While some officials from the government and non-governmental organisations have only expressed concern over the situation, other individuals, including former army soldiers, State department officials and members of the US Congress, have now begun to publicly assert support for an independent Balochistan.

For instance, on January 15, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, expressed America’s “deep concern over the ongoing violence in Balochistan, especially targeted killings, disappearances and human rights violations.

“This (Balochistan) is a complex issue. We strongly believe that the best way forward is for all the parties to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue,” she said.

Last year on November 16, the State Department deputy spokesman, Mark Toner, had also observed during a press briefing, “You know, more broadly, we do have concerns about the situation in Balochistan. We’ve addressed those concerns with the government of Pakistan.”

Nationalist view Baloch nationalists are cautiously monitoring Wednesday’s hearing.

“To be honest, we are not very optimistic about this meeting,” Sardar Akhtar Mengal, a former chief minister of Balochistan, told Dawn.com, “but both support and attention from the US are significant because the presence of the US cannot be overlooked in South East Asia. It is essential that the US gives attention to Balochistan, as the aid that is given to Pakistan in the name of war against terror is being spent to commit atrocities in Balochistan.”

A political expert in Washington DC, who requested anonymity, said during the election year, the Republicans are likely to bring up the Balochistan issue to castigate Democratic President Barrack Obama for deliberately keeping quiet against Pakistan, an ally in the war on terror, for allegedly misusing American assistance to fight the secular Balochs instead of quashing the Taliban.

After the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, many American policymakers have become disillusioned with Pakistan and now some of them propose an independent Balochistan to fight religious extremism. Last month, Louie Gohmert, another Republican Congressman from Texas, suggested that the US should, “talk about creating a Balochistan in the southern part of Pakistan…they love us. They’ll stop the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and all the weaponry coming into Afghanistan, and we got a shot to win over there.”

Sardar Mengal, who leads the largest Balochistan National Party (BNP), says the hearing does not mean that the Washington is going to support the Baloch cause in the future.

“What the US can do for us is to care for the Baloch as human beings. Since Washington is apparently a committed supporter of human rights, it is obligatory that the US should stop the genocide of the Baloch nation by the authorities as it has done in other parts of the world, supporting their right of self-determination.”

M. Chris Mason, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, who recently retired from the US Foreign Service, has emerged as another ardent proponent of free Balochistan in the United States.

In an article, Mason, who lecturers at the prestigious National Defense University, argued an independent Balochistan would solve many of the [Af-Pak] region’s most intractable problems overnight and would create “a territorial buffer between rogue states Iran and Pakistan.”

“The answer to the current Pakistani train-wreck is… recognising Balochistan’s legitimate claim to independence… to help the Baluchis go the way of the Bangladeshis in achieving their dream of freedom from tyranny, corruption and murder at the hands of the diseased state,” he wrote.

Routine matter Hassan Abbas, a scholar based in Washington DC who until recently was Quaid-i-Azam Chair Professor at Columbia University in New York, seriously doubts if the US will officially support Baloch nationalists at this time as this will complicate US-Pakistan relations.

“I think the hearing is a routine matter as all security related issues in Pakistan are being analysed in the policy world with keen interest as well as concern. The hearing will discuss human rights issue as well as politics,” says Abbas, who is also a Senior Advisor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, “but the hearing itself will not create any serious diplomatic row. The US Congress must listen and understand that there is a variety of perspectives on the subject.”

Dr Ahmed, meanwhile, attributes the deepening crisis in Balochistan to Islamabad’s failure to understand that time is running out for it.

“The leaders of Pakistan are so focussed on the power struggles in Islamabad that they seem to have little will or imagination to deal with the urgent issues that concern the country’s largest province of Balochistan.”

How will Islamabad respond to the hearing? “Pakistan’s establishment is quite sensitive about the Balochistan crisis and they will follow the hearings closely and sceptically,” says Hassan Abbas, whose book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism was published in 2005.

According to Abbas, hawkish elements in Pakistani media are likely to create a lot of hue and cry over the hearing. Yet he cautions, “They will serve Pakistan better by focussing on projecting the concerns of the ordinary Baloch people, who are disenfranchised, distressed and increasingly getting disenchanted.”

Sardar Mengal of BNP, who was detained in Karachi for several months during the Pervez Musharraf regime, predicts there would be a definite reaction from the government.

“They can only display their superiority to the ones who are weaker, and in this case, the Baloch are the weaker ones,” he says and warns, “But if there is a reaction from Pakistan toward us, this time it will be once and for all. Either the Baloch will swim across or sink as a nation.”

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC and the author of The Redefined Dimensions of the Baloch Nationalist Movement.


Email news tips and feedback to News Desk, submit blogs to Blog Desk and share photos and Videos with Special Projects Desk.


Comments (16) Closed



Blitzer
Feb 07, 2012 02:04am
Undoubtedly, the people of Balochistan have suffered a lot in the past, but I personally believe that, going forward, the state of Pakistan can make amends with their fellow countrymen. A significant part of the unrest in Balochistan is being actively supported and funded by a well known American proxy. Instead of preaching what's best for them in the long run, both the US houses should take a good, long look at the state of affairs in their own country and the foreign (mis)adventures they are currently embroiled in. Charity begins at home, goes the old adage. How about they start with giving Afghanistan complete independence or unconditionally withdraw all boots from Iraq? Or breath some sense into the warmongering executives of the US military-industrial complex before they get an almost bankrupt America entangled in another war in the Middle East? Or provide healthcare to the 50 million or so uninsured Americans? The list is endless. Which brings me to my next point: with so many problems plaguing America, one would surely hope that the US Congress might spend more time addressing domestic rather than foreign issues, wouldn't it?
wow
Feb 07, 2012 04:09am
nice
abid
Feb 07, 2012 11:44am
nice piece comprised of good reserches and reliable sources, keep it up buddy!
Yawar
Feb 07, 2012 02:56pm
My dear Brother, It is because of the corruption and incompetence of successive governments that balouchistan has been neglected . I am sure that inshallah after the next election ( in which I hope Imran comes to power) things will be put right. All of us love our balouchi brothers
malik mohammad sadiq
Feb 07, 2012 03:20pm
Balohistan,s situation hearing before US congress powerful Committee of Foreign Relations is a wake up call for civil & military leadership of the country,this is so for every pakistani.Let the civlian & military command not fight each other rather they should evolve a strategy to bring bluchs in mainstream,Parliament should lead & focuss on this issue and find a solution acceptable to bluchs & state of pakistan.
ATTAULLAH JILANI
Feb 07, 2012 06:11pm
Let current Government go away, I hope that new government may solve Balochistan issue on priority basis.
Suleman
Feb 07, 2012 07:00pm
An excellent and well articulated article.
A.Bajwa
Feb 07, 2012 07:52pm
The proper thing was to develop Baluchistan as the heart of Pakistan with capital in Las Bella.But our leaders never play it right. Even now it is not too late.The local governments should be given greater powers as a counterpoise to provincial governments.Not only in Baluchistan but all over Pakistan. Coastal trading, and border trade with Iran could play a positive role. US always had an Interest in Baluchistan, ever since Pakistan refused naval base in Gawadar. We should now link Zahedan with Sukkar to take care of logistic movement in future.
R S Khan
Feb 07, 2012 08:38pm
Good job, Blitzer.
Agha Ata
Feb 07, 2012 08:58pm
Sounds like the beginning of the end! But I hope Imran Khan is the only person who would be able to control it.
Syed
Feb 08, 2012 03:12am
Pakistan should threaten to break realtions with the US until this hearing is called off. Pakistan should take a strong stand and show its resolve.
ifti
Feb 08, 2012 09:38am
Balochistanis are our brothers and it an importent part of pakistan. But because of utter failure of current govt in respect of Balochistan law and order situation and involvement of some foreign countries the Balochies are angry with Govt. But they should not became angry with the federation of Pakistan because without pakistan they have no importence. paywasta reh shure say umed e bahar rakh.... The Great Khan is coming to do the justice with Pakistanis and balochis as well..
Qasim
Feb 08, 2012 12:45pm
Americans don't care about Baluchs or Baluchistan. It is a camouflage. Objective is to encircle Iran and not Baluchistan's independence. Baluchs brothers, please remember Americans are not, were never and will never be anyone's friend except their own interests. Do not give up your rights or dignity but watch for the wolves in sheep's clothing.
abrar
Feb 08, 2012 01:57pm
I am with Blochistan.anyway hope 4 the best. we should pray for Pakistan and all Muslim communities .
ras
Feb 08, 2012 10:31pm
First of all we are thank ful USA congrass they are talking about BALOCH LIBERATION MOVEMENT . wa want to tell with USA we are struggle for freedom and our secrifice for FREE BALOCHISTAN..BALOCH PEOPLE WANTS ONLIY FREEDOM
Anwar Amjad
Feb 09, 2012 12:57am
No solution to the Balochistan problem can be found until the Baloch nationalists give up the idea of an apartheid Baloch rule and accept the ground realities that Balochistan is a multi-ethnic province. They share it with the Pashtuns, Brahvis, Hazaras etc. Before 1970 Quetta the capital of Balochistan province was a purely Pashtun and Hazara city. Today they want 80% seats in all educational institutions and consider all others as aliens.