"……that given the ethnic diversity of the province, its complicated history, and the existing geographic constraints, an independent Baluchistan was untenable. She also pointed out that targeted killings were also being carried out by the Baluch dissident entities. Armed Baluch groups are also responsible for targeted killings, ethnic cleansing and systematic destruction of private property." Christine Fair

By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

While here in Pakistan American ambassador is on a public relationing campaign by showcasing his love for the restoration of our national heritage, back in Washington select American lawmakers’ meanness was clearly on display during the stunt of committee hearing on Baluchistan.  In Rayburn Office Building, members of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard ‘human rights activists and scholars’ present their narrative of human rights abuses in Baluchistan.

Event was chaired by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who has recently introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to confer Dr Shakil Afridi with US citizenship. This notorious doctor had crossed all limits of unethical practices in his noble profession by running a fictitious vaccination campaign to help Americans determine the DNA of Osama. As a result of this episode, parents in Baluchistan are hesitant to get their infants vaccinated; that has resulted in phenomenal rise in Polio and other deadly diseases.

In his opening remarks chair spitted the venom that Baluchistan is a turbulent land marred by human rights violations “by regimes that are against US values”. He forgot to make a mention that the present miseries of Baluchistan are a direct result of the policies followed by American darling Pervaiz Musharraf. After his ouster from power, Pakistan’s interior ministry estimated that 1,100 Baluch had disappeared during his rule. So far, the present government has only uncovered the fate of a handful of these people. Musharraf had earned notoriety for handing over number of Pakistan nationals to Americans in a series of proxy arrests and renditions, in exchange for money. Some of these missing ones could very well be in American jails sprinkled all over the world.

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Select group of persons were cherry picked to create a narrative to pressurise Pakistan as termination of logistics flow to stranded ISAF/ NATO troops in Afghanistan is about to enter the biting phase because 100 days stocking is running out and the bluff of much touted Northern Distribution Network has been called.

All five lawmakers who attended this unusual hearing of the House Subcommittee overstepped even the legitimate mandate of the committee by showing over enthusiasm towards Baluch right to self-determination. It was certainly a score-settling saga, particularly from the US lawmakers upset with Pakistan over Osama bin Laden’s discovery in Abbottabad and with Islamabad’s decision to close NATO’s supply lines to Afghanistan. “They sheltered the man who master-minded the slaughter of 3,000 Americans. Those who still believe Pakistan is a friend, they need to wake up,” said Rohrabacher. Ralph Peters, a retired US military officer also joined the chorus by urging the US administration to sever its ties with Pakistan and support the Baluch struggle for freedom.

Though this session drew warm applause from Baluch nationalists, it hardy focused on how to resolve this difficult issue. That was indeed not the intention of those who had organised the drama. They wanted to highlight Baluchistan as a potential hot spot, create a sphere of influence in the estranged Baluch Diaspora and to cultivate them for furthering American strategic interests.

It was interesting to hear Dr M Hosseinbor, a Baluch nationalist as a witness at the hearing, he assured the Americans that the Baluchs were natural US allies and would like to share the Gwadar port with the United States, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and will fight the Taliban as well. He claimed that according to Baluch sources, nearly 4,000 people have disappeared in the province since 2001. He called on the US to support an independent Baluchistan “in case Pakistan or Iran or both collapsed from within”. Rohrabacher outlined the history of Pakistan’s creation, and highlighted Baluchistan’s grievances vis a vis natural resources, said that the province’s wealth was being taken by dominant Punjabi elite. Analyst Ralph Peters called Pakistan a supporter of terrorism, and said that Pakistan had made the US complicit too by launching attacks against India such as the Mumbai attack.

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There were saner voices too. Christine Fair said in her written statement, that given the ethnic diversity of the province, its complicated history, and the existing geographic constraints, an independent Baluchistan was untenable. She also pointed out that targeted killings were also being carried out by the Baluch dissident entities. Armed Baluch groups are also responsible for targeted killings, ethnic cleansing and systematic destruction of private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baluch civilians and their businesses, as well as major gas installations and infrastructure. They have also killed teachers, physicians and lawyers and struck police and security forces and military bases throughout the province. Militant religious groups also have carried out targeted killings of those Muslims who belong to sects different from theirs. Christine Fair added that Pakistan’s abuse of human rights have served the US’ interests.

Amnesty International’s Advocacy Director T. Kumar called on the US to “apply the Leahy Amendment without waivers to all Pakistani military units in Baluchistan” to prevent the Pakistani military from using US-made weapons against the Baluch. Hopefully, Kumar would one day dare tell Indian government to repeal draconian laws in Kashmir and ask for a similar application of US law on India.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, said that Pakistan’s security forces and its intelligence agencies were involved in the enforced disappearance of Baluch nationalists. He asked the US government to “communicate directly to the agencies responsible for disappearances and other abuses including the army, ISI, IB, Frontier Corps, police, to demand an end to abuses and facilitate criminal inquiries to hold perpetrators accountable.” He dubbed the military’s role in the province as brutal, and an occupying one. He clarified that the HRW took no position on the issue of the independence of Baluchistan.  He argued that the US and UK had made enforced disappearances possible by allowing them during the war on terror, which has led to the military doing the same.

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Pakistan’s foreign office showed a rather muted reaction, “We have conveyed our concern in Islamabad and Washington on the issue of discussion on Baluchistan by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and expressed our feelings.” The foreign office spokesman, while referring to the statement of the US State Department, said that it explains that the US government has nothing to do with this briefing.“We believe that Washington fully understand our position on this issue,”

Earlier, The US state department had distanced itself from the hearing. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that their view on Baluchistan remains unchanged. “Congress holds hearings on many foreign affairs topics. These hearings don’t necessarily imply that the US Government endorses one view or another view. I’d underscore that the State Department is not participating or involved in this hearing today.” She referred to her Twitter comments on Baluchistan, “We emphasise that the United States engages with Pakistan on a whole range of issues, including ways to foster economic development and expand opportunity in Baluchistan.” In a query to whether the US supports a demand for an independent Baluchistan, the spokesperson said, “Our view on this has not changed, and you know where we’ve been on Baluchistan. We encourage all the parties in Baluchistan to work out their differences peacefully and through a valid political process.”

The hearing, which lasted over an hour, came to an early and somewhat abrupt end like a stunt. Pakistan’s Senate has expressed its unease over the hearing and has termed it as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. It would be appropriate if national security committee of our Senate holds an early hearing about human rights violation of innocent effectees of drone attacks.