When Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher concluded a controversial hearing of Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations on February 8 calling for the Baloch people's right to self-determination in the southwest of Pakistan by saying "this was certainly not a stunt on anybody's part," he simply meant more staggering developments had yet to come.
Hence, on Friday, Rohrabacher went a step further and introduced a House Concurrent Resolution reclaiming the "Baluchi (sic) nation has a historic right to self-determination." (Balochi is the language the Baloch (people) speak.)
The Times of India headline "Balochistan resolution in U.S. Congress drives Pakistan crazy" offered a succinct but an apt description of how Islamabad went berserk about the increasing support in Washington DC for the Baloch nation whose people, land and rich mineral resources had been colonized by Pakistan's Punjabi elite for more than six decades. In addition, the Balochs, more than any other ethnic minority in Pakistan, have faced severe brutalities and human rights violations in the hands of the powerful army.
"Historically Baluchistan was an independently governed entity known as the Baluch Khanate of Kalat which came to an end after invasions from both British and Persian armies. An attempt to regain independence in 1947 was crushed by an invasion by Pakistan. Today the Baluchistan province of Pakistan is rich in natural resources but has been subjugated and exploited by Punjabi and Pashtun elites in Islamabad, leaving Baluchistan the country's poorest province," says the resolution.
Pakistan is an insecure nation when it comes to its dealings with India and, particularly, the United States. According to the state narrative provided in the hateful textbooks, India aims to destroy Pakistan's "Islamic identity" while contemporary literature more emphatically suggests that the United States is determined to dismember Pakistan and take away its nukes. These feelings in fact provide the genesis of Pakistan's reactive and oftentimes intrusive foreign policy toward its neighbors and the west.
Marvin Weinbaum, a South Asia expert at the Middle East Institute, recently called Pakistan a country in a state of paranoia, arguing that it possessed all symptoms a medical dictionary can offer to describe a paranoid person.
Islamabad's reaction to the Congressional hearing reaffirms the same level of paranoia that engulfs the Muslim majority nation. For more than 30 hours, state and private news channels have featured the "breaking news" about the Balochistan resolution as their top headline with incessant news tickers which "condemned," "deplored," "regretted," and "warned" against the U.S. interference in "our internal affairs."
No wonder that more Pakistani journalists and politicians are Googling Mr. Rohrabacher these days than searching for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney! In fact, the "meddlesome villain," as journalist Fahad Husain described Rohrabacher, has got more air time than President Obama.
Hina Rabbani Khar, the hawkish foreign minister whose links with the anti-Baloch establishment date back to the regime of former dictator General Musharraf, has termed the draft resolution a "tendentious move" which is "contrary to the principles of UN Charter and international law." Cleverly overlooking parts of the same UN Charter which also recognize people's right to self-determination, the minister says the resolution is against the very fundamentals of the long-standing Pakistan-U.S. relations.
What we are confronted with at this point is Pakistani officials' lack of understanding of American political system and how politics works outside their country. Although the State Department has clearly distanced itself from Rohrabacher's stormy move, Pakistan is blaming the U.S. government for orchestrating this episode.
Pakistan's overreaction is likely to lead to two significant outcomes.
Firstly, the feeble civilian government headed by the Pakistan People's Party is gradually succumbing to the pressure of the power-starved military in order to ensure its own political survival. The staunchly anti-U.S. army has been desperately hunting for a subterfuge to freeze relations with the United States. This Balochistan resolution, Pakistanis assume, will exempt them from all forms of accountability before the world concerning their tacit support to Taliban fighters who attack American interests. The more Islamabad shuts down doors of contact with Washington, the more steps it will take to consolidate the grip of the Taliban in a future Afghan dispensation.
Secondly, the army will remain adamant toward calls to end human rights violations in Balochistan as a confidence building measure to pave the way for a political resolution of the worsening conflict. Instead the military, which is deeply resented by the native Balochs but dominated by the Punjabis, is now destined to deploy more personnel and construct cantonments to terrorize the Baloch under the pretext of national security.
Considering the way all political parties, larger provinces and the national media have ganged up against what the Baloch consider and celebrate as their democratic victory against an oppressing regime, Islamabad will eventually end up further estranging the Baloch.
The Baloch ethnic minority justifiably wonders if Balochistan was actually Pakistan's internal matter then why the country's politicians, particularly those from the largest province of Punjab, did not ever unite in the past six decades to move a resolution calling for an end to the military operation and exploitation of the Baloch. By denying the army's "slow motion genocide" in Balochistan, as veteran American journalist Selig Harrison calls it, Pakistani politicians and the national media have indicated to the Baloch that they prefer to stand with the country's military not the masses.
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