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Pakistan's Colonial State of Mind Keeps Baloch in Chains

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A U.S. House Foreign Affairs committee hearing held last week on human rights violations in Balochistan elicited predictably defensive reactions from Pakistan after the proceedings exposed the brutality of the sub-colonial racist ethos the country's Punjabi elite inherited from their British overlords. According to Pakistan's rulers and right-wing media, the state's oppression of a subject race is an internal affair and, most importantly, none of Washington's business.

As a result of "kill and dump" operations along with enforced disappearances at a clip that rivals Pinochet's Chile, over 10,000 Baloch have gone missing who are either dead or holed up in Pakistani detention centers in locations unknown, in what historian Selig Harrison described as "slow-motion genocide." Balochistan has also been economically deprived by Islamabad. Though most of Pakistan's natural resources are located in Balochistan -- including natural gas, oil and minerals -- the Baloch see a mere fraction of it.

Balochistan was an independent nation for more than 1,000 years before Great Britain invaded and annexed it in 1839. In 1948 it was forcefully incorporated by the Punjabi military into the Pakistani state, which six months prior had been fabricated by imperial Britain. Haphazardly cobbling together disparate ethnic groups that had never coexisted, the British formed Pakistan as a strategic bulwark against communist expansion.

The Baloch have yearned for independence for over 60 years now but have been entirely ignored by the world community despite the fact Balochistan qualifies for secession by every international measure available. The Baloch at one point achieved autonomous status within the Pakistani state but it was short-lived. Attempts at domestic remedies have amounted to exercises in futility so the Baloch have been forced to lobby the international community and the U.S. for assistance in their quest for self-determination.

Pakistani leaders have been quick to brand the congressional hearing as nothing more than a U.S. imperialist charade which is quite ironic considering the Pakistanis involved with the founding of the country were nothing more than corrupt Western lackeys. London, enraged by India's recalcitrance and lack of support during WWII, decided to reward Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his founding Muslim League for their loyalty by giving them Pakistan as a big "thank you", according to Pakistani journalist Tariq Ali in his book The Duel, which served the dying empire's goal of destabilizing a subcontinent it could no longer rule directly.

Ever since the country's establishment the Punjabi elite, in viceregal tradition, have ruled Pakistan's provinces as if they were colonies while undermining ethnic identity and nationalist sentiment by using Islam as a unifying element. Ali explains why this misguided strategy backfired:

It takes decades for most modern states to acquire an identity. Pakistan's rulers, attempting to stamp one by force, downgraded the existing identities of the regions comprised within the new state. Punjabis, Pashtuns, Bengalis, Sindhis, and Baluchis were, in the main, Muslims, but religion, while important culturally, was but one aspect of their overall identity.

Hence, international support for an independent Balochistan isn't some neoconservative conspiracy to carve a sphere of influence in the region -- it is more about reversing the iniquities of British imperialism and the Crown's "divide and rule" partition strategy.

The U.S. is not without sin in this sordid history considering in 1958 it encouraged a military takeover because a democratic Pakistan conflicted with America's Cold War objectives as the masses began demanding an independent foreign policy. The U.S. took the baton from England and the subservient Pakistan became a CIA subsidiary in the 1980s and helped the U.S. groom violent Islamic fanatics as a tool in an obsessive drive to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan.

Today the U.S. and Pakistan's "special relationship" has enabled Islamabad and Rawalpindi to continue repressing the Baloch. During last week's hearing Amnesty International Director Mr. T. Kumar reported that weapons the U.S. provided Pakistan to fight the war against the Taliban were being used to crush the Baloch movement.

It seems Washington continues to suffer from what psychologists call path dependency as the Obama administration persists in subscribing to the belief that the Pakistanis are part of the solution in the war on terror despite the fact they are a state sponsor of it. Washington has failed to envision how an independent Balochistan could act as a secular counterweight to the Islamic extremism run amok in Central Asia and even help stabilize Afghanistan. Supporting the Baloch cause would be an opportunity for America to right its own past transgressions.

American politicians were quick to condemn monsters like Gaddafi for human rights atrocities but are still reluctant to do the same with Pakistan. There isn't a military solution to this crisis but the State Department's vapid response represents a glaring double standard and a total lack of geopolitical and diplomatic imagination that will only prolong the suffering of the Baloch people as they remain Pakistani colonists. Dr. Wahid Baloch, President of the Baloch Society of North America, summed up the hypocrisy of American foreign policy within testimony he distributed during the hearing:

"If we [the U.S.] can stand up for Libyans, Egyptians, Syrians, Bosnians and Sudanese people for their freedom, why not for Baloch people?"