Dana Rohrabacher’s incendiary resolution on Balochistan may crash and burn soon, but we will live with its ripple effects for some time.
The resolution which launched a thousand howls appears to be stillborn. Thus spake US Congressman David Dreier, who is visiting Pakistan as a head of a delegation, “the first high-level group since the November 26 Salala incident”, as he said himself while talking to some journalists in Islamabad. He and his fellow Congressmen insisted that Rohrabacher’s resolution did not in any way reflect the sense of the US Congress, or the views of the Obama administration. The resolution was submitted in a subcommittee and is not scheduled to appear on the floor of the House, they said. As far as the situation in Balochistan is concerned, they said, “human rights yes, independence no”.
Comforting enough? Perhaps. But which Congressional dustbin this resolution finally ends up in may not really matter much because it has already done the damage it was intended to do. Rohrabacher’s intentions are suspect. He had been working on this resolution for some time, meeting with various exiled Baloch elements, perhaps even support — financial or otherwise — from other people with commercial vested interests. He clearly had an agenda behind this resolution. Such agenda-peddling is not uncommon among US Congressmen and Senators. Often such causes register a blip on the US public radar, and then disappear in the din and noise of Washington’s political circus.
But they burnish their scars on the home territory. Something similar has happened with the Balochistan resolution. It may have already outlived its utility in America’s political and media landscape, but here in Pakistan, it has unleashed a firestorm which is gathering pace with each passing day.
This may actually not be a bad thing. Unravelling the complexities of the Balochistan situation may require writing a book, but suffice it to say that letting it drift — like we have — is the worst possible option. But swinging from one extreme to the other may be equally bad.
That is what is happening. From completely ignoring the issue, we have suddenly jumped to talking about an independent Balochistan. Neither is tenable. As always, a more nuanced approach is needed.
There is a problem in Balochistan and it needs to be addressed and solved. This much is obvious enough, though clearly not to the government so far. Let us for a moment forget the media hype of the ‘separatists’ and their maximalist demands and focus on the bulk of the Baloch population. This population clearly does not represent the entire province since Pashtuns constitute a large segment of the population. Within this Baloch population, there are a large number of ‘moderates’ who have a stake in the federal system and who have traditionally worked within the parameters of the federation. These moderates are not political orphans. And neither are they out of touch with the sentiments on the ground. In fact, many of them have been crying hoarse in parliament about the pressing need to engage with Balochistan at a political level. Now these moderates, too, find themselves cornered by a belligerent public opinion in their province.
What then does a common Baloch on the street want? Is he aligned more with the extreme positions of Brahmdagh Bugti and Hairbyar Marri, or is he still open to the persuasions of the moderate federalist Baloch leaders? It is almost impossible to tell at this stage when each mutilated body inflames passions further and pushes public sentiments a notch further towards the extremist position. This slide into chaos cannot be halted by an All Parties Conference at this stage. A government which could not even implement its own Aghaz-e-Huqooq-e-Balochistan, is in no position to announce and execute meaningful steps. In fact, the timing of this proposed conference is also inopportune for the Baloch moderates because in such a volatile environment, they cannot afford to be seen as going along with the government’s half-baked measures.
There is only one way to start the healing process. Stop the killing.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2012.
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