There seems consensus among Pakistani and American experts that the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential elections in the United States would barely lead to any policy change in Washington towards Pakistan. The Baloch diaspora in the United States, nonetheless, views the US polls with a different set of expectations. They have their reasons to support both the candidates because none of them has indicated to be soft on Pakistan.
The Baloch say that whether it is a Democrat or a Republican who wins the battle for the White House, what serves their interests is the notion that Pakistan be destined to face a demanding American president. An administration in Washington that rebukes Pakistan for its human rights record provides the Baloch some hope of relief from Islamabad’s current harsh policies.
In 2012, Balochistan attracted significant attention in Washington. Expressions of concern by the US Congress and the State Department over the situation in Balochistan has worried Islamabad.
On their part, the Pakistani government and media have repeatedly objected to discussions in the US that addressed Balochistan, arguing that issues pertaining to the region were Pakistan’s “internal matter”.
Members of the Baloch diaspora have been actively interacting with US policymakers, human rights groups and the media to create awareness with respect to the situation in Balochistan.
Also, sections of the Pakistani military and right-wing politicians believe the United States supports the Baloch nationalist movement.
There is no official confirmation of such a policy from the US government. However, authorities at the Pakistani embassy in Washington have been endeavouring to cancel and disrupt events that discuss Balochistan in the US capital. The region, on the other hand, is getting more attention than ever before at American think-tanks and universities.
Islamabad was outraged in Feb 2012 when Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired an exclusive session on Balochistan.
Joined by three Republicans and one Democratic member of the US Congress, the hearing supported the Baloch demand for an independent state.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, termed the hearing an “ill-advised move” which could be “detrimental” to building trust between Pakistan and the United States.
The ambassador’s protest did not deter Rohrabacher. On Feb 18, only 10 days after the controversial hearing, he, along with two other members of the US Congress, moved a resolution in the House of Representatives demanding independence for the Baloch people.
Moreover, on March 27, Rohrabacher addressed a press conference at Washington’s National Press Club to reaffirm his support for a free Balochistan.
“Mr Rohrabacher is a hero for the Baloch nation,” says Akram Baloch, a leader of the Baloch diaspora and a US national who lives in Philadelphia.
Baloch, who personally attended the hearing and the press conference, says the developments in the United States have proved that Balochistan is an “international dispute” and Pakistan should be held accountable for its actions against the Baloch.
“We appreciate the American legislators who stood for the rights of the Baloch people and we request them to play their role in ending the gross human rights violations in Balochistan and in granting us the right to self-determination,” says Baloch who had formerly contested elections in his native Kharan district in Balochistan.
The impression that the Balochistan issue is only raised by some anti-Pakistan members of the US Congress is not correct. The US government has also frequently voiced concerns on the state of affairs in Balochistan.
For instance, on Oct 30, 2012, the United States expressed “deep concern” over the violence in the region in Geneva at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. Washington blamed Pakistani security forces for carrying out ““kill-and-dump” operations [in Balochistan] that target numerous civil society actors, including Baloch activists and their family members, as well as journalists, activists and student leaders.”