American Congressman Dana Rohrabacher sent sparks flying when he touched the live wire of Balochistan by tabling a bill in the US Congress supporting Baloch separatism. The entire government displayed a showing of unity by responding strongly to the tabling of a bill in the US Congress supporting Balochistan separatists. PM Gilani slammed the bill, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar termed it a violation of UN charter, and the Embassy in Washington issued a strongly worded statement. By responding strongly, is the government turning a blind eye to the situation in Balochistan? Actually, I think it might not be the government that is acting blindly.
Some have questioned whether the government should have responded so strongly when clearly there are problems in Balochistan that need to be addressed. But let me offer another way of looking at it – the government has to respond to the perception of American interference if the issues of Baloch rights can be properly addressed.
Pakistan is not a monolithic country. Just as we have a diversity of languages, ethnicities and religions, we also have a very diverse political makeup. While some are complaining that the government has responded too harshly, there are others who think that the only way to deal with Balochistan is to pretend like there are no legitimate complaints and that it is all part of a Hindu-Zionist conspiracy to destabilise the country and therefore should be dealt with through sheer force and intimidation. This is the same attitude that pushed the Bengalis past the point of no return in 1971, and it is a mistake that should not be repeated.
If the issues of Baloch rights is going to be settled properly and senseless bloodshed finally ended, it will have to be done through the democratic political process. In order for that to happen, parliamentarians and government officials must have the political space required to enact necessary reforms. Dana Rohrabacher reduced that space and in doing so actually hurt the cause for justice in Balochistan.
We don’t live in the world as we might wish it to be, we live in the world as it is. And in the wold as it is, actions of the US are seen as very suspect. This goes back to the 1953 CIA sponsored coup in Iran that overthrew a democratic government and has been reinforced by American foreign policy mistakes many times since. That isn’t anti-Americanism, it’s history. There’s a lot of good that America has done, too – so just as we should not be reduced to our own policy mistakes, neither should the Americans.
But in the world as it is, it is also a fact of life that when an American Congressman tables a resolution supporting Baloch separatism, many very loud and influential voices will point to this as evidence of a foreign conspiracy to break up Pakistan. They will use it to marginalise legitimate Baloch leaders and to dismiss legitimate complaints. The iron fist will be hardened, and the political space required for a political solution will shrink.
And it’s not only Pakistani politics that should be considered here.
Is Dana Rohrabacher really unable to sleep because of the situation in Balochistan? Maybe. Watching the hearing online, though, I couldn’t help but notice that the Congressman didn’t even know how to pronounce the name of the province that he was so concerned about. I also noticed that much of the conversation centered not on actual Baloch rights, but whether this was a good excuse to cut all aid to Pakistan.
With our own political circus in fine form, it is easy to forget that other countries also play politics for a domestic gallery also. I have been informed that Mr Rohrabacher is not being challenged for his seat and that the Congressman Brad Sherman is a Democrat, therefore they cannot be playing politics. But this is silly. As a Republican, Rohrabacher is going to want to make President Obama look like he is not being hard enough on Pakistan. As a Democrat, Brad Sherman is going to want to act tough against Pakistan.
Of course, maybe the Congressmen have heard about atrocities in Balochistan (there’s no denying that there have been some) and were troubled by what they heard. Again, given the benefit of doubt that the Congressmen are truly troubled by the situation in Balochistan (as we all are) we have to ask how this bill could possibly serve to advance Baloch rights. As I have shown, it actually does the opposite.
Dana Rohrabacher can table as many bills in the US Congress as he wants to, but they will not pave a path to peace and justice in Balochistan. That path only exists in Majlis-e-Shura, and in order to move down that path, the elected representatives of the people must have the political space to enact reforms. Unfortunately, thanks to Dana Rohrabacher, that space just got smaller.