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Pakistan Vs. Balochistan

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Pakistan has further accelerated violence against its ethnic Baloch minority following an unprecedented hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs which voiced deep concern over the appalling human rights violations allegedly committed by the army in the country's largest province of Balochistan. While Pakistan's foreign office, the embassy in Washington, D.C. and the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution which "strongly condemned" the hearing by terming it "blatant interference" of the United States into its 'internal matters,' rogue intelligence agencies linked to the godlike military have chosen a ruthless path to vent retribution.

On Feb. 13, the bullet-riddled dead body of Sangat Sana Baloch, 27, a prominent leader of the secular Baloch Republican Party (BRP), was dumped in a desolate southern district of Balochistan. The young leader had 'disappeared' on Dec. 7, 2009, from a town 50 kilometers away from Quetta, the capital of the gas and gold-rich Balochistan. Considering the pattern of the young leader's mysterious disappearance which matched with hundreds of previously documented similar cases, Sana's party pointed fingers at Pakistan's infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the secret wing of the army, and its affiliates, for killing the opposition leader.

Sana had been shot 30 times to the head and chest by his captors, family members said.

"This is Islamabad's reaction to the congressional hearing in Washington which highlighted Pakistan's crimes against the Baloch," says Abdul Qadir Baloch, vice chairman of the Voice for the Missing Baloch Persons, a community-based organization comprising of the family members of hundreds of missing activists. The 60-year old-former bank employee joined the campaign after his own 35-year-old son Jalil Reki, BRP's central information secretary, was whisked away by, he alleges, the spymasters on Feb. 13, 2009.

The BRP demands a separate homeland for the Baloch people.

After two year's disappearance, Reki's tortured dead body was eventually thrown on the roadside after Mr. Baloch snubbed official threats to give up the movement seeking the release of the missing persons.

There were no official charges against Mr. Baloch's son, nor was the latter ever produced before a court of law in these two years to legally defend himself. Pakistan's judiciary lacks the teeth to bite army agents who abuse their official powers.

In a June 2011 report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent nonpartisan rights watchdog, said the enforced disappearances had created an "acute climate of fear" amongst the civilians and had contributed to the growing alienation of the people from the state and hatred towards the security forces and intelligence agencies under the control of the Pakistan military.

"Young men between 16 to 25 years of age were being particularly targeted. Many of them were either students or unemployed youth. Some of the incidents indicated random picking up of young men, for example, from picnic spots and markets," reported the HRCP after conducting extensive field research in the conflict-stricken province.

Pakistani authorities have remained engaged since 2004 in brutally suppressing an indigenous uprising, led by the native Balochs, which calls for an end to exploitation and manipulation of their mineral wealth by the dominant Punjabis. What began as a mere demand for maximum internal autonomy until recently, brutal state violence has taken the movement to a point of no-return where the irreconcilable young Balochs seek absolute independence.

The Congressional sub-committee hearing flabbergasted Pakistan by fully backing the Baloch right to self-determination arguing that people had a right to liberate themselves from abusive governments such as Pakistan's vis-a-vis the Baloch.

"Balochistan deserves our attention because it is a turbulent land marked by human rights violations committed by regimes that are hostile to America's interests and values," said GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who chaired the hearing which was attended by another four Congressmen.

In the aftermath of the hearing, which spotted the loopholes in Pakistan's justice and governance system, Islamabad -- Washington's inconsistent ally in the war on terror -- has not made any promises to work with the international community to steadily halt arbitrary disappearances, torture and targeted killings of political opponents. Instead, diplomats, politicians and even the media in Pakistan have joined hands in calling brutalities against the Baloch as "Pakistan's internal matter."

Ironically, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan's leader of the opposition, moved a resolution in the parliament on Feb. 13 against the hearing where Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International representatives also testified and confirmed the misuse of state power against innocent civilians.

Describing the congressional hearing as "totally unacceptable" and "ill-informed," the Pakistani parliament urged the U.S. Administration to play "a more proactive role" to discourage such events in the future.

"This House strongly condemns the blatant interference in Pakistan's internal affairs evidenced by U.S. Congressional Foreign Relations Sub-Committee hearing on Balochistan on 8th February, 2012... the holding of such a hearing... cannot but jeopardize the healing process and further inflame public opinion against the U.S. by adding to the prevailing sense of mistrust and suspicion regarding U.S. intentions towards Pakistan," the resolution warned.

Despite Pakistan's condemnation of the congressional hearing, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, has repeatedly expressed concern over human rights issues in Balochistan.

"There is no doubt that people in Balochistan are facing human rights abuses," he said in a fresh interview with a Pakistani newspaper. "U.S. administration should take up the 'alarming issue' [of Balochistan] with Pakistani leaders. This is an important issue for us to be discussing with the Pakistani government."

Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director at the Asia Division of the Human Rights Watch, who also testified on Feb. 8, takes a blunt position against Pakistan's objections. He says certain human rights violations, such as torture, do not fall in the category of nations' "internal matter." According to him, Pakistan, in spite of being a signatory of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Convention Against Torture, is not fulfilling its obligations in Balochistan.

"We do not subscribe to the argument that criticizing human rights abusers is interference in internal affairs," he says, "Torture is a very serious crime which falls under universal jurisdiction ... any act of torture or torturer can be held accountable anywhere in the world."

Mr. Hasan warns Islamabad, "You can't kill your own people and then call it an internal affair. As long as there is no reaction on the part of the Pakistani government to our reports and recommendations, we will continue to highlight human rights abuses because this is our job and mandate."

While the Congressional hearing has helped to bring the Balochistan conflict in spotlight, it has also increased the risk of more state-sponsored violence and torture against the Balochs. Seen in the backdrop of the post-hearing killings, the future in Balochistan looks bloody and murky. The congressional event and official expression of deep concern have, unfortunately, generated false but extremely unrealistic expectations among the Baloch youth who have hastily concluded that the U.S. has probably made up its mind to support their "freedom struggle" against Pakistan.

Given the complicated and unmanageable relationship the United States has had with Pakistan, it is clear that Washington enjoys very limited influence on Pakistan. For instance, it has failed to press Pakistan to act like a responsible partner in the War on Terror by cutting links with Islamic terrorist groups. Therefore, it is too naive to hope that the U.S. can truly play a crucial role in ending human rights violations in Balochistan.

Having said that, the U.S. congressional committee, which began the hearing, should now take more responsibility by advancing this initiative to its logical destination by discussing the issue with a broader community of policymakers, defenders of democracy and human rights activists. Dropping the Balochistan issue by the U.S. Congress will remarkably hurt the Baloch who will bear the brunt of what Georgetown University's C. Christine Fair billed as a "congressional stunt."

The Obama administration should not suffice with expressing 'concern' over the situation in Balochistan. With the testimonies provided by the HRW and Amnesty International, the administration should seriously see what it can do, considering its own limited influence on Pakistan, to stop rights violations and help find out a peaceful political solution to the Balochistan imbroglio.

The administration must not ignore the Baloch because they matter in the region due to their geo-strategic position. After all, they are a secular people surrounded by three countries -- Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- with a staunch inclination toward radical Islam. By weakening the secular Balochs, Pakistan wants to convert Balochistan into a rich soil and a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalists from all over the world.