Recent hearings in the US House of Representatives, followed by the introduction of a bill calling for Balochistan’s right to self-determination, have set the proverbial cat among the pigeons in Islamabad!
It is not only the government that has gone into high gear, describing it as “an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty”, but everyone else has joined the fray too. So, we have near unanimity, at least on one issue!
This hearing and the ‘self-determination’ bill were the initiative of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, long known as having rather skewed views about Pakistan. The invitees to the hearing, in particular Colonel Ralph Peters, who has long advocated the break-up of Pakistan, was also indicative of the Congressman’s thinking.
Nevertheless, the State Department characterising it “a complex issue” and calling upon “all the parties to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue”, cannot be seen as a ringing endorsement of our position, which left the impression that while not endorsing Rohrabacher’s initiative, the administration may not be unhappy with it either. Understandably, given the current state of Pak-US relations, anything that could add to American leverage and enhance our worries would not be unwelcome to the administration.
Moreover, human rights issues have long been a favourite US tool, used effectively even against powerful states, including China. Lest we forget it, the issue of human rights, popularly known as Responsibility to protect, has become a litmus test of a state’s credentials. Consequently, there is near universal unanimity against shielding human rights violations on the plea of ‘interference in internal affairs’.
Be that as it may, there can be no excuse for the long, wilful neglect of Balochistan and the brutal tactics employed there against expressions of dissent. These have convinced the Baloch youth that they have no future in the Federation. But credit for the intensity of their anger and outrage against Pakistan should go to General Pervez Musharraf, who treated them with contempt, coupled with ruthlessness that would have done Saddam proud. The public celebration of Sardar Akbar Bugti’s killing was deeply disgusting to most Pakistanis, but more so to the Baloch, who felt humiliated at the treatment meted out to the venerable Sardar. Ever since, the situation has deteriorated to a point where some of the Baloch are convinced that the only option available to them may be armed insurrection. Is there any surprise that this should have encouraged some of our American ‘friends’ to suggest the province’s separation?
Given its strategic location and its huge proven resources, Balochistan has long attracted the interest of major powers. In the seventies and eighties, Moscow spent a lot of time and resources cultivating the Baloch. Today, if others are interested in taking advantage of our follies, we can only blame ourselves. After all, there is undeniable wisdom in the adage that ‘those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ and this is most true of today’s Pakistan. Admittedly, many factors contributed to the country’s break-up in 1971, and we can hold some foreign powers complicit in it, too, but the primary responsibility has to be ours, particularly the politicians, as well as civil and military officials. In fact, each one of us had a role in the enactment of this tragedy.
It is not enough for us to claim that our common faith is enough of a glue to keep us together. Modern states have to be based on shared burdens and shared benefits, in an environment of adherence to law, respect for rights irrespective of caste, creed or ethnic origin, and a commitment to good governance. In short, every citizen must have a stake in the future of the state. The time for apologies and political ‘packages’ has long passed. A radical shift in our thinking and a national resolve to see the Baloch as ‘us’ and not ‘them’, is needed urgently.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2012.