Insisting that the US administration’s stance remains unchanged vis-à-vis Balochistan, US Ambassador Cameron Munter asserted on Sunday that “there is no doubt that people in Balochistan are facing human rights abuses”.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Express, the top US diplomat in Pakistan said that his country was concerned at the human rights situation in Balochistan and the US administration should take up the ‘alarming issue’ with Pakistani leaders.
“This is an important issue for us to be discussing with the Pakistani government. But we don’t want to go beyond that, in a manner that might be destabilising to any part.”
Munter’s statement came days after Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington Sherry Rehman called a US Congressional hearing on Balochistan as an “ill-advised move that would be detrimental to the trust between Pakistan and the US.”
However, Munter reassured that the Congressional hearing did not reflect a change in the US official policy. “US government’s stance is very clear; we have not changed our position,” he said.
“We are always concerned, not just in Balochistan, but all around the world on issues that have to do with human rights. And let’s be honest there are human rights issues in Balochistan.”
Emphasising on the fact that the debate did not mean much in terms of policy making, he stated: “Debate in the Congress is an open debate, people can say what they want but our government’s position remains unchanged.
“The Congress is not controlled by our government. We welcome any discussion about the future of your country. Its means that if people are interested in human rights situation of Balochistan, then that should be talked about in public.”
The Salala attack
Recalling the ‘very tragic’ incident of November 26, 2011 when US-led Isaf forces ‘accidentally’ killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers, Munter said Islamabad was ‘understandably’ upset with Washington.
“There has been a pause in Pakistan-US relationship after the very tragic incident in Salala in which Nato troops accidently killed some soldiers. A terrible accident which we regret and Pakistan is understandably upset,” said Munter.
“(Pakistani) parliament will be debating this issue next week. Since the Salala attack, we have not had that extant of contact with Pakistan about issues like the Afghan reconciliation that we would like to.
“However, we are committed to sharing all this information with Pakistan. Once we have this debate in your Parliament, we want to reengage as soon as Pakistan wants.”
Appreciating the efforts of the Pakistani military in fighting militants, Munter said: “We hope that, the efforts made by the Pakistani military, which are significant, will continue to be successful.
“We have nothing but the greatest respect for the Pakistani Army. Hence, we want to ensure good contacts over the border between Isaf and them to avoid terrible incidents like Salala.”
Regarding peace talks with Afghanistan, the US ambassador said: “We want to see an Afghan-led process to bring peace to Afghanistan and the good news is America and Pakistan agree on this.
The Qatar initiative
Stressing on the need to keep a direct contact with the Afghan government to ensure a timely end to the more than a decade-long war, Munter said: “We were delighted when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar went to Kabul and had a successful meeting. This kind of contact is very important.
“There are issues that Pakistan and Afghanistan need to work on together. I think Pakistan can support the dialogue process in Qatar.
“Pakistan will always be included in that process. People in Afghanistan realise that they need to have a process that includes Pakistan.”
Stressing on the geo-political importance of the country he added: “Pakistan has legitimate needs in this region.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.