First, a hearing on Balochistan by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and then a resolution introduced by the sub-committee chair, Dana Rohrabacher, in the House calling for the right of self-determination of the Baloch people.
Pro forma, we have gone ballistic. Analyses, démarches, TV talk shows. The Great Game theory reverberates. The Yanks have been told that Balochistan is Pakistan’s internal issue so they better take a hike. The US administration, given how the system works there, has distanced itself from both the hearing as well as the House resolution.
What should one make of this?
Balochistan is indeed Pakistan’s internal issue. Those who want Balochistan to secede from Pakistan will get the state’s full reply. That too, given how states behave, is a foregone conclusion. Hell, states don’t even let go of disputed territories and care even less about whether or not people in those territories want to live with them. Guess one such case close by. Right. Kashmir. Let’s park this thought for now and move on.
Rohrabacher, a Republican who once called Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Osama bin Laden great freedom fighters and then supported the inclusion of warlords into the Afghan government in 2003, wants to both embarrass a Democrat administration and put pressure on Pakistan. There’s much domestic politicking involved here. This too is a fact.
The US administration, in no position to either open another front or allow relations with Pakistan to nosedive any further than they already have, and while distancing itself from the move, nonetheless, would not mind a bit of squeeze on Pakistan. States play the game in complex ways. This too is a fact.
If Pakistan can be managed, given US and Indian interests and the competition with China, that would be great. It would work in favour of the US-India duo and would help score a point on China also. And if managing Pakistan means reshaping borders, assuming that can be done without too many unintended consequences, in theory that would be great. Possible?
Worth trying given the energy and mineral resources in the area now dubbed as the Asian Middle East. A former US Army colonel Ralph Peters was also at the hearing. He is the author of the (in)famous Blood Borders article, recommending changing borders in the general area of the Greater Middle East. Back in April 2008, Robert G Wirsing wrote a paper for US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute detailing the importance of Balochistan for Pakistan’s energy and transit needs.
Does all this add up to a grand strategy? Is there a plan to deprive Pakistan of Balochistan, decidedly a crucial part of Pakistan and one with which Pakistan’s vital interests are linked? These are questions one can debate ad nauseam. But there’s another way to look at this.
States, ultimately, are as strong or brittle as their acceptance by the people that make them up. Nazih Ayubi’s thesis comes to mind, distinguishing between ‘hard’ and ‘strong’ states. Ayubi argued that the authoritarian Arab states had little ability to control populations, trends and changes which is why they could not enforce laws and break traditional structures. The hard state coerces; the strong state achieves its goals because it is accepted by its people. By this definition, the Arab states were/are weak states.
Not entirely, but increasingly, Pakistan may be taking the route of a hard state. That would be terrible. And that is where, and when, things begin to spin out of control and external strategies come to work, giving the impression of a grand plan.
Interest the world and it ignores even your excesses. Worry it and you are equally in trouble. This is where Kashmir comes in, the thought we parked earlier. When the US president comes to India looking for jobs, America has to ignore the killing by Indian security forces of teenage Kashmiri boys asking for rights and merely pelting stones. No Rohrabacher in the US would be taking up human rights violations in Indian-Occupied Kashmir. The legal-normative, in the interaction between states, always ends up holding the finger of the political and the practical.
Yet, for reasons both of the legal-normative as well as the political and the practical, the Pakistani state has to deal with Balochistan. Not because the world is focusing on the issue but because we need to focus on it. Our imperative flows from the appreciation that human life is important both in and of itself as well as because that is the only way for a state to take, to become strong instead of falling headlong into the pit where hard states reside, both present, unable to deal with their problems, and past whose epitaphs were written in much the same way as Shelley’s Ozymandias.
So then? The president should immediately call for a dialogue with all the Baloch factions. A census should be held in the province to determine the exact demographics. The president should also appoint a special envoy dealing with Balochistan. This envoy should be based in Quetta and be responsible for the correct and speedy implementation of the Balochistan package in collaboration with the provincial government. The security forces must be directed in their work by this person and while it is important to facilitate their work, thankless for the most part, there should be strict accountability of their actions to ensure that no one steps out of line. The courts should remain cognisant of any misdemeanour.
This is not to be sequential but simultaneous. All the Baloch leaders who want to negotiate with the Centre must be protected against assassination attempts. Balochistan needs its rights, fair and square and in right earnest. Giving that confidence to the Baloch is the state’s responsibility. This will help isolate those elements who are in the pay of foreign forces. They will have to choose: participate or perish. But that requires making participation attractive, honourable and beneficial. Let’s begin the honest work of a strong state.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2012.