In the days before last week’s Congressional hearing on Balochistan, Dr C. Christine Fair, an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University, was extremely critical of the proceedings, going so far as to call the hearing a “political stunt” and one of her fellow witnesses a “nut” in a series of Twitter exchanges.
At the time, Fair did not elaborate on what drove her to so publicly rebuke the hearing. It is only now that she is ready to set the record straight in defence of her statements amid what she calls “considerable harassment from some vocal members of the Baloch diaspora.”
The “stunt” heard round the world
According to Fair, her “political stunt” comment was prompted by a call from a sub-committee staff member. Fair had contacted him to solicit guidance for her upcoming testimony. In the course of their conversation, the staffer explained “we want to stick it to the Pakistanis.” The staffer further elaborated that the Pakistanis had been “killing our troops for ten years in Afghanistan.”
In Fair’s words, while she understood and even shared this person’s views on Pakistan’s relations with the United States over the past decade, this comment about the hearing made her “feel really uncomfortable about being roped into something that I would call a stunt. So, I wanted to make my position publicly known.”
Looking back on the comment, Fair is unapologetic: “Prior to accepting the request to serve as a witness, I was told this was a hearing about human rights violations and other issues needed to understand the various crises in Balochistan. But, based upon that brief phone conversation, I concluded that it wasn’t about human rights. Rather, it seemed that the people behind this hearing were pandering to diaspora politics just to tick off the Pakistanis at a time when the United States is trying to repair its tattered relationship with Pakistan.”
Fair’s comments did not go unnoticed. Elements of the Baloch diaspora, who Fair called “a bunch of extremists,” took extreme exception to the comments, especially on Twitter. In her words, they then “subjected me to an array of bullying and obnoxious assaults, many of which also tagged Congressman (Dana) Rohrabacher (R – CA).”
This avalanche of tweets protesting Fair’s participation in the hearing ultimately brought the matter to Rohrabacher’s office. On the Monday prior to the hearing, the staff member who had been coordinating with Fair reached out to her again to convey his displeasure: “He called to take a piece out of my hide. I requested that he explain to the Congressperson why I called the hearing a stunt, namely this staffer’s explanation that they wanted to stick it to the Pakistanis.” However, in her assessment, the staffer “did not have the testicular fortitude to explain the comment to Rohrabacher.”
A “nut” by any other name
Fair’s characterisation of Ralph Peters, a fellow witness, as a “nut” also rankled many proponents of Baloch interests, including at least one staff member affiliated with the hearing. According to Fair, during the aforementioned phone call, the angered Congressional staff member explained that he was taken aback that Fair dismissed Peters as a nut. He added that he had never previously experienced one witness attacking another before the hearing.
In recounting that exchange, Fair remains vivacious in her defence. She points out that she actually called Peters “a certified, flipping nut because only a nut would advocate the dismembering of a sovereign state based upon the views of one community in a province.” She then explains the reasoning for her steadfast opposition to Peters: “If this Congressional subcommittee remotely intended to try to use the hearing to put pressure on Pakistan for its human rights record in Balochistan, they should not have included someone who calls for the halving of their country.”
Biting the hand that invites you
Fair acknowledges that her comments were the impetus for the uncomfortable exchange with Rohrabacher at the hearing’s conclusion. Rohrabacher, who looked her straight in the eye and explained “this was not a stunt,” appeared perturbed by her pre-hearing comments. He therefore, used the hearing as the forum to issue his rebuttal.
While Fair admits that she “might not be invited back to give testimony again,” she does not regret her actions. From her perspective, she needed to signal her concerns because “this was a hearing designed by a collection of guys – and possibly a woman or two – who share a strategic image of how the Afghanistan and Pakistan postures should interrelate. While they reflect the general frustration in Congress with Pakistan taking US money and supporting terrorism, their views about dismembering Pakistan do not reflect the larger sentiment in Congress on Pakistan. Their statements struck me as incredibly provocative, did nothing to advance human rights in Balochistan, and made a US-Pakistan rapprochement much more difficult.”
Fair also notes that Congressmen Rohrabacher and Louie Gohmert (R – TX) bear significant responsibility for undermining the hearing before it was ever held. She points to the Congressmen’s pre-hearing OpEd, which suggested the United States should openly support an independent Balochistan, as setting the wrong tone for a hearing purportedly on human rights.
Eddie Walsh is a senior foreign correspondent who covers Africa and Asia-Pacific. He also is a non-resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS. Follow him on Twitter here.
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