Rohrabacher’s Pressler moment

Published: February 18, 2012

The writer is executive director special projects at ARY News and was previously director news at Dunya TV (2010-11) and Express News (2006-2010). He can be reached on Twitter @fahdhusain

Dana Rohrabacher has just become a meddlesome villain. But is he a lone ranger, or is something more sinister cooking in Washington DC?

The resolution that Rohrabacher has introduced in the US House of Representatives calling upon Pakistan to recognise the Baloch right of self-determination is an outrageous act of provocation. It is shocking in content, and deliberately insensitive in wording. And it will wreck the atmosphere prior to the debate on the new rules of engagement that Pakistan has put together to deal with the United States.

But clearly there is more to it than a US politician looking to back an issue which can guarantee him headlines. Rohrabacher would like nothing more than to grab centre-stage in the volatile arena of Pakistan-US relations. Remember Larry Pressler? He was a random US politician who introduced an amendment in the 1980’s calling for US aid to be cut to Pakistan if the US president certified that Pakistan had crossed the nuclear threshold. The piece of legislation came to be known as the Pressler Amendment, and it kicked into effect when George Bush the Elder decided it was time to squeeze Pakistan. The Pressler Amendment, and its author, single-handedly soiled Pakistan-US ties for almost a decade. Rohrabacher is now donning the Pressler mantle. But the repercussions of his mischief have the potential to be far more damaging than Pressler’s. He is, in fact, reinforcing the widely-held impression that the US is out to destroy Pakistan.

Let’s not use the word ‘destroy’ lightly. It conjures up images of what the Americans did in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. It paints a picture of bombing sorties, burnt out cities, tens of thousands killed and a country reduced to a wasteland. Transplant these images on to Pakistan and it send shivers down your spine. This is the worst case scenario.

What is possible though is the triggering of a series of events which can snowball into unpredictable situations. In fact, the unthinkable has already started: a very public and a very acrimonious debate on the demand for an independent Balochistan. As long as such a debate was confined to private conversation, or a limited section of the very local and regional press, it could be ignored. Such a debate, based on such demands, never reached a stage where it could be taken seriously. Yes Baloch have genuine grievances, yes they had suffered from criminal neglect, and yes their alienation from Islamabad was never really seriously addressed, but the simmering situation remained on the fringes of our national discourse.

Not anymore. By plucking this issue from the fringes and placing it bang centre in Washington DC, Rohrabacher has transformed the dynamics of the entire issue within a month. The resolution he has just introduced will ensure that this debate gains traction, both in the American and Pakistani media.

What do we do? Issuing condemnations is not enough. Our outrage at this blatant interference in our affairs should be heard loud and clear. The US government will try and distance itself from Rohrabacher and mouth the usual statements. Our parliament will probably pass a counter-resolution and pile pressure on the hapless Gilani government to rake Washington over coals. This is all for public consumption, and there isn’t much wrong in doing so.

But the real task is two-fold: First, get our facts clear on Rohrabacher, his resolution, and what’s happening at his back. If ever, a deep behind-the-scenes information on what’s cooking in Washington DC was ever required, it is now. Our new ambassador has a huge challenge on her hands. Second, and more important, is for us to get a grip on the situation in Balochistan, which is spiralling out of control with each passing day. Killing and counter-killings now seem locked in a vicious cycle which no one is able to stop. Despite extreme positions, the door to dialogue needs to open. Rules of engagement need to be spelt out, and the Establishment needs to change tack.

Rohrabacher is indulging in villainy because we are providing him fodder. He is exploiting our weakness. Let’s condemn him for what he is doing, but at the same time douse the flames that we have lit ourselves.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Shyam
    Feb 18, 2012 - 11:37PM

    US is following a carrot and stick approach. When carrots dont work, time to bring out the sticks.

    Recommend

  • Marri Baloch
    Feb 18, 2012 - 11:44PM

    I feel sorry for our brothers who were killed in reaction when we receive mutilated bullet riddled bodies, things were in hands 10years ago when balochs wanted autonomy and control on their resources, now its late now everybody in balochistan feels we’re moving near to freedom. Its golden time for Pakistanis to correct their priorities:
    1. Respect every minority and give them their rights.
    2. Strategic assets are your people not weapons or peice of land.

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  • Bangladeshi
    Feb 18, 2012 - 11:46PM

    I don’t think US and INDIA can get away with balochistan. It is strategically important to china
    & then IRAN has sistan-Balochistan. As a muslim I sincerely pray that PAK remains United
    and becomes a strong prosperous nation. But PAK must address the grievances of Balochis and at the same time keep check on Indo-US moves. A strategic patnership with Iran and china should also be on cards.

    Recommend

  • Torrent
    Feb 18, 2012 - 11:55PM

    A few months ago Balochistan was the occasional, weekend subject in the media. It’s sad to see that now this issue is being discussed in every news channel. Sad because the issue has been raised by the US in wake of opportunism, rather than sympathy for us.

    Why is the congressman acting as if this is something he never knew about and that US weapons were being used in Balochistan for the past decade?

    This government didn’t fulfil the mandate they were voted for, at least not in Balochistan. Recommend

  • John
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:09AM

    Very well said and agreed. Time for Pakistan to get it own house in order and address the grievances of the Baloch and help them with a Marshall Plan and ignore the baiting though do remain aware of their shenanigans.

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  • A reader
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:35AM

    An excellent piece, particularly the last bit. That said, the American media won’t be covering this (for awhile anyway) due to Iran and the presidential elections. Once they DO cover it in earnest (like with Iran or Syria or something else), then Pakistan should be worried.

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  • Zulaikha
    Feb 19, 2012 - 3:18AM

    The only solution Islamabad can immediately offer to bring down temperature in Balochistan is to call-back/.withdraw 63000 FATA-recruited Frontier Core and replace it with 100% Balochistan’s local force such as Punjab rangers which is 100% Punjab recruited. If we continue to deal and handle Balochistan as colony with remote controlled policies and alien troops deployment Baloch would never accept this and they would love to praise for US action and even intervention.

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  • PeterPiper
    Feb 19, 2012 - 4:34AM

    So let’s see if I have this right. Rohrabacher is a villain for exploiting Pakistan’s weakness? Pakistan has been a fractured, corrupt government since its founding. And it has been at least partly in the pocket of Muslim extremists for something like two decades. And it has been anti-Western generally for that time as well, being the main proliferator of nuclear technology to states which pose an existential threat to the West and so to the US. And as we try to sort out the particular extremists who attacked the US, our biggest problem is Pakistan who had no idea (wink wink) where the leader of those extremists was living. How does Afghanisan propose to deal with infiltration of their military? Why bring home their families from Pakistan. The Haqqani network? Well to paraphrase the person who Rohrabacher first worked for in government, “There you go again, Pakistan.”Recommend

  • Jahangir
    Feb 19, 2012 - 5:35AM

    Solution is to move more Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Gilgitis, Baltis, Sindhis, and Urdu speakers in Balochistan Province. There are only 4 million Baloch living in Balochistan. The rest of Baloch live in Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Move more army people and their families into Balochistan province as well and give them added security. If that doesn’t work then break Balochistan into 3 or 4 provinces like India did to their side of Punjab to stop the Khalistan movement from spreading.

    Recommend

  • chuck b
    Feb 19, 2012 - 6:03AM

    Rohrabacher is right. Islamabad has forced Baloch to suffer as you say from “criminal neglect”. So an insightful American politician focuses the attention of the world onto the region and you cry foul. What is sinister is your denial that the people of Baloch wanting independence.

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  • The Baloch
    Feb 19, 2012 - 8:19AM

    The congressional hearing atleast has initiated the debate in Pakistan that should lead to point where people should realise how minorities whether ethnic or religious are treated in this country and pushed to wall to ask for help from international community. Because it is coming from US thats why there is so much hue and cry, but nobody listened when resolutions were being passed in balochistan assembly for human rights violations, nobody cried when first bullet riddled body was received in balochistan.

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  • alam khurshid
    Feb 19, 2012 - 8:58AM

    As a balochi I am not happy about the cavalier tone of the author. Our houses are burning and we stuck in a country that our ancestors were never part of. And our country affiliation brings us no respect anywhere in the world. Who cares who brings what amendment where? Put out the fire that is burning us first. Recommend

  • Harry Stone
    Feb 19, 2012 - 9:15AM

    Congressman Rohrabacher’s hearing and proposed resolution received almost no press coverage in the US. On any given day in the US Congress there are tens and tens of hearings taking place. This hearing got significantly less coverage than the hearings about OBL and that was not much. This latest hearing only seems to be news in PAK.

    As you point out…..”Yes Baloch have genuine grievances, yes they had suffered from criminal neglect, and yes their alienation from Islamabad was never really seriously addressed, but the simmering situation remained on the fringes of our national discourse.” What you failed to address is why this situation has remained on the fringes of PAK discourse. And like many problems in PAK it has not been addressed.

    PAK faces a unique problem as it relates to its relationship with the US. The more it protests the more it is not believed. At the highest levels of the Department of Defense and within the intelligence community there are more and more public statements about PAK support of terrorism and its duplicity. Because of this and the fact that PAK is viewed both as a lawless, dangerous and very much an anti-America nation, only 14% of US citizens have a favorable view of PAK. This puts PAK on the level of Iran and North Korea.

    Going forward PAK relationship with the US is fraught with danger. This danger is greater for PAK than the US. What actions or statements PAK makes will be viewed through the above prism of anti-Americanism, terrorism and lawlessness. And yes there is a real danger in the not too distant future for PAK to be declared a state sponsor of terrorism and today the world would agree

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 9:19AM

    “more important, is for us to get a grip on the situation in Balochistan, which is spiralling out of control with each passing day. Killing and counter-killings now seem locked in a vicious cycle which no one is able to stop. “

    It isn’t a story of a day, a month, or a year. Baluchistan joined Pakistan expecting autonomy, as promised. What they experienced instead has been the tyranny of foreigners, exploitation akin to that of East Pakistan.

    I am not sure what purpose is served by talking. Hasn’t Baluchistan given Pakistan enough chances?

    Recommend

  • Feroz
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:31AM

    Pakistan finds itself between a rock and a hard place. After taking billions to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda its policy of lies and deception have landed it in a soup. No Taliban, no OBL, no Quetta Shura and no shelter for terrorists slogans, have found no takers. Its reactions and PR when caught with pants down has been not just sad but pathetic. The way it is going about resetting diplomatic relations could expose a lot of cracks that exist in the edifice. Baluchistan presents an opportunity for global Powers and gives it leverage. It is a stinging riposte to the strategists who pulled the DPC rabbit out of the hat to undercut the Democratic order.

    Recommend

  • Qasim
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:42AM

    “Rohrabacher is indulging in villainy because we are providing him fodder. He is exploiting our weakness. Let’s condemn him for what he is doing, but at the same time douse the flames that we have lit ourselves”. What more can one add?

    Recommend

  • Anon.
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:53PM

    I am so glad that liberals and conservatives are for once on the same page. Ever since this War on Terror where we misguidedly decided to saddle along with US, Pakistan has been split into camps of liberals and conservatives with the national pastime being the two sides constantly denouncing and deriding the other. The US hypocrisy is so bleeding obvious that even the liberals are starting to denounce them and call them out on their betrayal.
    Yes Balochistan needs our attention, but splitting up the country is not the solution because there are sooo many overlapping ethnicities tribes and interlinks between the different provinces. Also Baluchistan is split between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, splitting is not only a long shot but a really long messy affair which will lead into lots of unneccessary bloodshed and civil war scenario.
    Everyone needs to come together, reconcile put aside their personal beliefs and just focus on hearing the Baloch out and addressing their issues. This is not the time for anti-army, anti-govt, anti-mullah, anti-liberal rant, this is really the time to come together and take note of how despite all the sacrifices and losses by Pakistan, the US has once again used Pakistan and is now turning around and stabbing us in the back. This is the time to make note that India is trying to sabotage and incite unrest (since its plans to do so through Afghanistan have failed it is now turning its attention to a proxy war through Baluchistan)
    The way US is bringing up Baluch is insincere to their so called human rights claims. You can’t go splitting up every sovereign country, everytime a community raises issues, its especially insulting when there are other more urgent self-determination movements like those of Palestine not only being blatantly ignored by US but also being punished by US for pursuing their statehood through UN.
    The only reason US is interested in Balochistan is to get back at us for Afghanistan and the Iran-Pak pipeline. US hopes to dismember both Iran and Pakistan to create Baluchistan, so that not only can it have access to the resources, it can also block China from access to the naval port in Gwadar which China currently has. Baluchistan unfortunately is becoming a Cold War proxy ground with US and India on one side and China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan on the other side.
    If there is anything that the US needs to learn from Afghanistan is that this is a very complicated region to mess with and more sensible stable approach to Pakistan is the best long term policy.
    Everyone needs to keep in mind that unlike Bangladesh which was more easy to carve out since it was geographically separate from pakistan, Baluchistan is more like Kurdistan where not only it is split between three countries it is way too ethnically, religiously and politically diverse to be neatly separated.
    Shame on the US for such an ill-advised move. They have exposed themselves too soon and only made matters worse. The author rightfully mentions that just like the Pressler amendment, the pakistani public will not forget this betrayal and this will backfire for the Americans in the long run…

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  • Feb 19, 2012 - 1:21PM

    So you agree that Balochistan is on the boil, yet you say this guy was wrong? Does that make any sense?

    Its your blind nationalism coming into play here..

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  • Idiot Basher
    Feb 19, 2012 - 3:52PM

    @chuck b:
    Cough, New Orleans

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  • ahmed
    Feb 19, 2012 - 4:17PM

    Nothing is going to happen…

    It’s all economics stupid.. if all the money goes for military and north panjab then how balochistan will be saved.??

    are people from panjab ready to sacrifice their privileges?? It’s all about gini coefficient..

    The current upsurge of so called “love for my baloch brothers” is an indication of “fear of loss” and blind nationalism without any substance.

    Until unless holistic approach is adopted nothing is going to change…

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  • Adnan
    Feb 19, 2012 - 4:17PM

    i think time of dialogue has gone now
    right of self-determination will prove whether people of balochistan like to be with Pakistan or want indepedence state.

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  • Singh
    Feb 19, 2012 - 6:38PM

    @Jahangir,
    Division of Punjab was due to demand of Punjabi Subba in 50 & 60 by Akali Dal not of Khalistan. Write the facts right.
    Taste little Kashmir issue, that how other people feel the pain when outsider interfere in your home. Balouchi fighting for their rights since 1947 way before even Bengali ask for theirs.

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  • John B
    Feb 19, 2012 - 7:28PM

    Balochistan is paksitan’s Achilles heel.

    Rohrabacher sensed it perfectly well.

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  • M
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:39PM

    Give Baluchistan all their rights and freedoms and control of their resources let them prosper more than the rest but Pakistan can never be dismembered again we have nor forgotten Bengal,

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  • Aryan
    Feb 20, 2012 - 11:14PM

    Dana Rohrbacher is a godsend and I wish the US produced more congressmen like him.

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  • Harry Stone
    Feb 21, 2012 - 7:51AM

    Actually this is laying th ground work to implement the Leahy Amendment.

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  • baloch supporter
    Feb 22, 2012 - 12:13AM

    @Jahangir:
    This is exactly what india should do in kashmir as well-taking pak as an example.

    Recommend

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