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Rohrabacher Believes "Pakistani Government Does Not Deserve Respect"

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Last week, Dr. C. Christine Fair of Georgetown University outlined her reasons for attacking the recent U.S. congressional hearing on Baluchistan. Yesterday, she followed up those comments with a new article on Huffington Post. Faced with such strong criticism from one of his witnesses, I wondered what Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the chair of the hearing, thought about her remarks. We therefore discussed the four major points of criticism so that he could respond.

"Stick it to the Pakistanis"

First and foremost, Rohrabacher assails the claim by Fair that the underlying motive for the hearing was to "stick it to the Pakistanis."

Rohrabacher readily admits that the alleged comment by his staff was "less than professional." But, he is not willing to shy aware from the sentiment behind the comment: "If the comment was made, it was a passing comment. But, it is understandable. They just arrested the doctor who got Bin Laden. It must be understood in that context. It was a knee-jerk reaction from my staff who, like myself, were outraged when they learned of his arrest."

Nor does Rohrabacher feel the need to further apologize for the comment: "Quite frankly, the Pakistani military and leaders that give safe-haven to the mass murderer of Americans should not expect to be treated with respect." He also denies any connection between the hearing and his introduction of the Balochistan self-determination bill before Congress only a week later.

In his opinion, the 'Stick it to the Pakistanis' comment is enabling his opposition to misconstrue the larger motive for the hearing: "The main purpose of the hearing was to start a national dialogue on Balochistan. We wanted to raise human rights violations, discuss U.S. strategy in Pakistan, examine the issue of self-determination, and establish the facts on the ground. To suggest that the hearing was part of a strategy to advance any other goals is just conspiracy theory and nothing else."

"Limiting the Debate"

Rohrabacher similarly rebuts claims that the hearing was intentionally brief.

In an earlier interview, Fair remarked: "Having been a part of hearings in the past, I was shocked by its brevity. Such hearings usually do not have a set time. But, this was the shortest hearing ever. And, look at the reason given -- that the congressmen had to go and vote. Typically, in these sorts of hearings, the witnesses just sit and wait for them to vote and come back. The hearing does not just end." She then openly asked "what were they trying to achieve by this?"

In response, Rohrabacher says that he was not trying to limit the debate: "To make such allegations that the hearing was intentionally cut short is just ridiculous. The hearing was not cut short. I would have preferred keeping it going for another half an hour. But, a lot had already been said and I did not want to keep everyone waiting around while we voted. Whoever suggested that is just naïve about how the process works."

"Witness Bias"

Rohrabacher disagrees with criticism leveled against his witness list by his own witnesses, including Fair and Mr. Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan Director of Human Rights Watch.

Both Fair and Hasan were critical of the inclusion of Ralph Peters as a witness. Fair went so far as to say: "If Congress remotely intended to try to use the hearing to put pressure on Pakistan for its human rights record, they should not have included someone (Ralph Peters) who calls for the halving of their country."

Fair also questioned the decision to include Dr. M. Hossein Bor: "I don't understand why they brought in the Iranian Baloch to testify. His remarks were not particularly relevant." She was not alone in this criticism given that the hearing was supposed to be limited to Pakistan.

While the congressman acknowledges that not all the witnesses remained completely on-topic, Rohrabacher dismisses any criticism of his witness list: "The scope of the hearing was a broad discussion. ... We wanted to open up the discussion and look at what American policy should be and how is the U.S. going to relate to this large group of people. We saw there was a lot of criticism over tweets that there was not a Baloch witness. We thought this was a legitimate issue so we invited one who was a Baloch."

When pressed on the larger narrative on reshaping the region provided by Peters, Rohrabacher says, "We didn't want to limit the discussion. I do not gag my witnesses. It was important to hear a lot of diverse views."

"Driving a U.S.-Pakistan Wedge"

Rohrabacher aggressively defends himself against the allegation that his Subcommittee was trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Pakistan governments.

This is in reaction to Fair's recent assessment that the hearing exacerbated the wedge between the U.S. and Pakistan: "It seemed that the people behind this hearing were pandering to diaspora politics just to tick off the Pakistanis at a time when the United States is trying to repair its tattered relationship with Pakistan."

While Rohrabacher acknowledges that hearing probably "made some of our diplomats uncomfortable," he counters by saying that it is Pakistan who is to blame: "I am not the one driving the wedge. The people arming people who kill Americans, proliferating nuclear weapons, and providing safe haven to terrorists are driving the wedge. My words are not the problem but rather the gross violations of trust and ultimate betrayal of the U.S. relationship by Pakistan is instead.''

He then explains that it is not his job to appease the Obama Administration and the State Department, who both favor stronger relations with Pakistan: "Making our diplomats comfortable should not be the goal of Congress. Sometimes, it's our job to make waves. The bottom-line is that the State Department was comfortable when the Taliban provided a base of operation to kill thousands of Americans. They undercut me previously when I tried to create an anti-Taliban coalition in the 90's. These are some of the same guys today."

In any event, Rohrabacher notes, "I have not received any calls from Secretary Clinton or others at State complaining yet."

"Self-determination as Ideology"

Rohrabacher is unabashed in confronting critics who argue that his hearing disregarded Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity in contrivance to international law.

According to Rohrabacher, "if a majority of citizens of a particular region of a country want to be free, then they should have the right to be a free and independent people. I have supported this right throughout my career. Just like in Kashmir, this should be decided by plebiscite. That would bring both of these issues to a close. Further violence is totally avoidable."

Based on this principle, Rohrabacher believes "now is a good time for the United States to assert its belief in the self-determination of the Baloch." When asked whether he supports undermining Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity to do so, he says, "There are links in a society and when they are broken it is no longer up to the state but rather the people who have been subjected to human rights violations by the state."

Eddie Walsh is a senior foreign correspondent who covers Africa and Asia-Pacific. He also serves as a non-resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS. Follow him on Twitter: @ASEANReporting

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (Subcommittee Chair) is a California Republican currently serving in his 12th term in Congress. The views expressed by Congressman Rohrabacher do not necessarily reflect those of the interviewer.