WASHINGTON: The United States categorically assured Pakistan on Tuesday that it did not support independence for Balochistan.

In an earlier statement, the US State Department shared with Dawn its general commitment to Pakistan’s territorial integrity and distanced itself from India’s effort to stir an international controversy over Balochistan.

But on Tuesday, the State Department shared another statement with Dawn, removing all ambiguities about its stance on an issue that many Pakistanis fear can be exploited to endanger the very existence of their country.

“The US government respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan, and we do not support independence for Balochistan,” said a State Department official in the statement shared with Dawn.

Read: US refuses to back Modi’s claims on AJK

But the official also expressed US concerns about the human rights situation in the province where Pakistan is fighting a simmering insurgency by both separatists and religious extremists.

International monitors claim that both insurgents and security forces commit human rights violations in Balochistan.

Official also expresses concern over human rights situation in province

“We do have concerns about the human rights situation there, and have reported that for several years in our Human Rights Report,” the State Department official said.

“However, we have consistently urged all parties in Pakistan to work out their differences peaceably and through a valid political process,” the official added.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Balochistan in attacks on sectarian and ethnic minorities while scores of people have disappeared. Sometimes, tortured bodies of those who disappear are found abandoned in remote areas.

Baloch nationalists blame the security forces for those disappearances, a charge the government rejects as incorrect and accuses the militants of kidnapping people and of killing them when they fail to get ransom.

In a speech last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi too talked about the situation in Balochistan and urged Indian diplomats and the media to highlight this issue.

Pakistan reacted angrily to the speech, calling it a breach of international norms and intrusion in the country’s sovereignty.

While commenting on Mr Modi’s statement, Pakistani officials and the media said that the Indian prime minister was trying to hide the atrocities committed by Indian security forces in occupied Kashmir by bracketing the situation in the valley with Balochistan, which, unlike occupied Kashmir, was not a disputed territory.

They pointed out that Kashmir was an internationally recognised issue and there were UN resolutions supporting the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people.

But the Indian effort to internationalise the situation in Balochistan received support from the Bangladeshi government and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

During a visit to India earlier this week, Bangladeshi Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu said Bangladesh supported Mr Modi’s stand on Balochistan and Dhaka would soon make a policy declaration on this issue.

Mr Karzai, who was also in New Delhi this week, said that Mr Modi’s remarks should make the Pakistani government “see the gravity of the situation”.

Meanwhile, at a State Department news briefing, a journalist drew the spokesman’s attention to India’s decision to register a sedition case against Amnesty International. Indian authorities claimed that Amnesty International committed sedition when it held a seminar to highlight the fate of broken families in occupied Kashmir.

“We’ve seen these reports that local police in Bangalore have initiated preliminary investigation into allegations of sedition against Amnesty International,” said Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner.

“We obviously, as we do around the world, support the right to freedom of expression and assembly, including through civil society,” he added. “We respect the right for Amnesty and others to express themselves freely.”

The official, however, urged the journalist to contact the Bangalore police for more details.

Responding to another question, the official urged both India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue for reducing tensions in South Asia.

“We strongly support all efforts between India and Pakistan that can contribute to a more stable and prosperous region, and that includes meetings at any level between Indian and Pakistani officials,” Mr Toner said.

“Our longstanding position has always been that India and Pakistan stand to benefit from a normalisation of relations and practical cooperation, and so we would be encouraged that India and Pakistan continue to engage in direct dialogue aimed at reducing tensions,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2016