US congressional hearing room – Photo by Malik Siraj Akbar

WASHINGTON: Guilt and shame were the two dominant feelings that overwhelmed many Pakistanis at a US congressional hearing room on Wednesday as witnesses detailed human rights abuses in Balochistan. Some were also troubled - while some felt elated - as all five US lawmakers who attended this unusual hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations stressed the Baloch right to self-determination.

But this emotive session - which often drew warm applause from Baloch nationalists - offered little insight into how to resolve this difficult issue. Perhaps, that's not even the intention of those who had organised the meeting. They wanted to highlight Balochistan as a possibly explosive spot close to a US war-theatre and they succeeded in doing so.

There was some score-settling as well, particularly from US lawmakers upset with Pakistan over Osama bin Laden's discovery in Abbottabad and with Islamabad's decision to close Nato's supply lines to Afghanistan.

"They sheltered the man who master-minded the slaughter of 3,000 Americans. Those who still believe Pakistan is a friend, they need to wake up," said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, who organised and chaired the hearing.

Dr. M. Hosseinbor, a Baloch nationalist scholar, assured the Americans that the Balochs were natural US allies and would like to share the Gwadar port with the United States, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and will fight the Taliban as well.

Ralph Peters, a retired US military officer, urged the US administration to break up its ties with Pakistan and support the Baloch struggle for freedom.

C. Christine Fair, an assistant Professor at Georgetown University, in her written statement, disagreed with the suggestion, saying that given the ethnic diversity of the province, its complicated history, and the existing geographic constraints, an independent Balochistan was untenable.

But such comments on Baloch politics were not what shamed the Pakistanis, and others, in the room. It was rampant human rights violations by both sides that shamed them.

According to the statistics submitted at the hearing, around 6,000 people were displaced and scores killed in 2005 around Dera Bugti district alone.

Estimates of total number of people displaced from all districts range from tens to hundreds of thousands.

After Gen. Pervez Musharraf's ouster, Pakistan's Interior Ministry estimated that 1,100 Baloch had disappeared during his rule. So far, the government has only uncovered the fate of a handful of these people.

Armed Baloch groups are also responsible for targeted killings and destroying private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, as well as major gas installations and infrastructure. They have also killed teachers, physicians and lawyers and struck police and security forces and military bases throughout the province.

Militant religious groups also have carried out targeted killings of those Muslims who belong to sects different from there.

It was Prof. Fair, who was the first to point out, that while she understood emotions ran high, targeted killings were also being carried out by the Baloch.

Amnesty International’s Advocacy Director T. Kumar called on the US to “apply the Leahy Amendment without waivers to all Pakistani military units in Balochistan" to prevent the Pakistani military from using US-made weapons against the Baloch.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, said that Pakistan’s security forces and its intelligence agencies were involved in the enforced disappearance of Baloch nationalists.

He asked the US government to “communicate directly to the agencies responsible for disappearances and other abuses including the army, ISI, IB, Frontier Corps, police, to demand an end to abuses and facilitate criminal inquiries to hold perpetrators accountable.”

Congressman Rohrabacher declared that the hearing was no stunt, and that they wanted to start a national dialogue on what US policy should be in that part of the world.