US Congress zeroes in on flashpoint Balochistan
February 17, 2012
The volatile Balochistan has gained importance in the US, and in this regard the United States Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a congressional meeting for an exclusive discussion on the situation in Balochistan.
The subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Republican from California, Dana Rohrabacher, held a session to discuss the target killings and human rights situation in Balochistan, and termed it a matter requiring urgent attention.
In the last many years, particularly last few months, the Balochistan issue has been a focus of US media, think tanks and policy makers. The concern of US over this issue also echoed when last month, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nauland was asked about Balochistan issue and the missing persons, and she replied, US is deeply concerned over violence in Balochistan and violation of human rights.
During the session of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Rohrabacher, in his opening remarks, said that Balochistan is a turbulent land marred by human rights violations "by regimes that are against US values".
Dana Rohrabacher further said that human rights violation is also there in Balochistan, adding that this province has vital strategic importance.
Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, in his submitted remarks, said that cases documented by the HRW show that Pakistan's security forces and its intelligence agencies were involved in the enforced disappearance of ethnic Baloch. The HRW representative asked the US government in his recommendations to "communicate directly to the agencies responsible for disappearances and other abuses, to demand an end to abuses and facilitate criminal inquiries to hold perpetrators accountable." He clarified that the HRW took no position on the issue of the independence of Balochistan. He argued that the US and the UK had made enforced disappearances possible by allowing them during the war on terror, which has led to the military doing the same. Christine Fair added that Pakistan's abuse of human rights has served the US interests.
The hearing, which lasted a little over an hour, came to an end as congressmen decided to go to the floor for a vote. In his closing remarks, Rep. Rohrabacher declared that the hearing was no stunt, and that they wanted to start a national dialogue on what US policy should be in that part of the world.
Addressing a news briefing, US State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said her country is not in support of independent Balochistan.
A Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who recently co-authored an article with Congressman Louie Gohmert expressing support for an independent Balochistan, held the province a strategically vital but, turbulence and insurgency-hit area.
Nuland confirmed the meeting on Balochistan; but said the US position on Balochistan has not changed, adding her country encourages all the factions involved in the province to tackle all their differences peacefully and under political process.
Meanwhile, Balochistan National Party (BNP) President Sardar Akhtar Mengal has applauded the US Congressional hearing on the Balochistan issue and the house subcommittees' concerns regarding appalling human rights emergency in Balochistan and endorsing Baloch people's right to self-determination.
A BNP delegation also attended the hearing and handed over a letter of thanks on behalf of the people of Balochistan.
Addressing the chair and members of the committee, Sardar Mengal wrote: "On behalf of my party and the people of Balochistan, let me sincerely thank you and members of the committee for the timely attention and understanding of human rights situation in Balochistan. Taking notice of the plight of the Baloch people by civilised world is need of the hour as situation for them is grave and serious."
Mengal further said that Baloch were living a life at gunpoint in the shadows of inhuman atrocities and their very survival as a nation had been threatened by the distortion of their history, culture and moderate social fabric. He said that their survival was at stake with organised acts of genocide.
He said that since the conflict was the direct result of oppression, the only way out was that the products of oppressions were removed, and that was to stop the oppression and the settlement of the dispute through a fair process involving the international community. The Baloch people will welcome any effort from the government and people of the United States and the civilised world for an amicable settlement of the Baloch issue, he added.
Mengal further mentioned that in any conflict resolution process, it was imperative to take into consideration the essence of the conflict. The Baloch conflict was historical, cultural, economical and political in nature. It was obvious that in any conflict resolution process, the agenda should encompass all those issues, he added.
He said that before initiating a meaningful process of conflict resolution, it was imperative that the Pakistan government took and practically implemented some measures which were must to build a conducive atmosphere for a reconciliation process.
The measures he suggested were that all covert and overt military operations should immediately be suspended in Balochistan; all missing persons should be produced before a court of law; all proxy death squads operating under the supervision of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) should be disbanded; Baloch political parties should be allowed to function and resume their political activities without any interference from intelligence agencies; persons responsible for inhuman torture; killing and dumping of dead bodies of the Baloch political leaders and activists should be brought to justice; measures should be taken for the rehabilitation of the displaced people from conflict-stricken areas of Balochistan.
The Baloch will welcome any mediation efforts from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations, he added in the letter.
The discussion of Balochistan issue in the US did not sit well with Pakistan, which said that it has conveyed its concerns to America about a discussion on Balochistan by a US Senate Committee.
"We have conveyed our concern in Islamabad and Washington on the issue of discussion on Balochistan by US Senate Foreign Relations' Committee and expressed our feelings," Foreign Office Spokesman Abdul Basit said.
The spokesman, while referring to the statement of the US State Department, said that it had explained that the US government had nothing to do with this briefing.
"We believe that Washington fully understands our position on this issue," he said.
The Balochistan situation also dominated the National Assembly and the Senate as the lawmakers from the province felt uneasy over the situation in their province amid assurance from the government that they would be given an in-house briefing next week.
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) MNA Humayun Aziz Kurd continued to draw the attention of the House towards the worsening law and order situation in the province. However, it was, otherwise usually silent spectator, Yaqoob Bazenjo, who in an emotional tone urged Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to stand and speak on the issue.
Though the prime minister did not respond to Bazenjo's appeal, he asked Interior Minister Rehman Malik to respond while leaving the session after a brief stint in the House.
Malik, on the ruling of Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, who was chairing the session, pledged to give the members a detailed in-house briefing over the Balochistan situation.
He also clarified a statement when he stated that in order to talk with Baloch militants, some of them should publicly surrender their weapons, and by sticking to his stance, he believed it was meant to send a positive message.
Earlier, Yaqoob Bazenjo said that Balochistan was burning as the killing of Balochs, Sindhis, Punjabis and Pakhtuns have been continuing unabated in the province, and deplored that the government was not taking the matter seriously.
"Every child of the province is looking towards the prime minister for justice," Bazenjo said, urging the prime minister and interior minister to give a solution to the insecure conditions in the province.
He regretted that political parties unite over constitutional amendments, but there was no unity among them on the issue of Balochistan.
Humayun Aziz Kurd said that he had been continuously saying for the last four years that US was working on a plan to axe Balochistan from Pakistan, and pointed out that the US Congressional hearing on Balochistan was a testimony to that fact. "An international game is being played in Balochistan," Kurd noted.
Kurd felt that the country might face a big disaster if the role of the FC and secrete agencies in Balochistan's affairs did not end.
Awami National Party's Bushra Gohar expressed concern over the US Congress' hearing on Balochistan and felt that this should have been done by the Pakistan's parliamentary committee. She sought a timeframe for presentation of the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Balochistan headed by Syed Khursheed Shah that was formed in August last year.
Rehman Malik also told the Upper House that several countries were involved in illegal activities in Balochistan and want to detach it from Pakistan. The militants were using foreign-made heavy weapons, expensive vehicles, he said.
"There is a need to expose such faces before the nation. The bullets used in killing of two Baloch women in Karachi, were foreign-made and banned in the country, which clearly indicates involvement of foreign hands in Balochistan," he said.
According to analysts, due to ignorance and indifferent attitude of the rulers towards the Balochistan issue, the world community has taken notice of the issue. If the self centred rulers, who dub this issue as an internal issue of Pakistan, do not take stock of the issue, than it could prove detrimental to the already sour relationship between Pakistan and Balochistan.