Crisis in Baluchistan and the US-Pakistan Relations

US Congressional hearing may spell trouble for Pakistan
Malik Siraj Akbar, Dawn, February 6, 2012

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC and the author of The Redefined Dimensions of the Baloch Nationalist Movement

The United States (US) Committee on Foreign Affairs is set to convene a congressional hearing on Wednesday (February 8), for an exclusive discussion on Balochistan.

The extraordinary event has generated great interest among followers of Pakistan-US relations, as the allies’ mutual relationship seems to be deteriorating. The powerful House of Representatives committee oversees America’s foreign assistance programs and experts believe it can recommend halting US assistance to Pakistan over human rights violation in Balochistan.

Calls for ‘independence’While Islamabad has strictly treated Balochistan as an internal matter, the debate on such a divisive topic by the powerful committee has highlighted the level of American interest in Balochistan and its support, if any, for the nationalist movement. On its part, Pakistan has kept Washington at arm’s length on the Balochistan issue, by refusing to grant it permission to open a consulate in Quetta.

A Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who recently co-authored an article with Congressman Louie Gohmert expressing support for an independent Balochistan, will chair the hearing.
“Perhaps we should even consider support for a Balochistan carved out of Pakistan to diminish radical power there (in Pakistan),” Rohrabacher wrote in his piece.

According to Asia-Pacific Reporting Blog, “it is expected that the hearing will tackle issues related to whether or not the US Congress should tie human rights issues in Balochistan to Pakistani aid.”

Witness box
Another area of interest is of the controversial witnesses who will testify before the committee. The three-member panel comprises of defence analyst Ralph Peters, Georgetown assistant professor, C. Christine Fair and Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch.
Ironically, the panel on Balochistan does not include a Baloch representative, an issue which has disappointed the Baloch diaspora in the United States, who fear the misinterpretation of their stance by people they view as unfamiliar with the Baloch conflict.


Routine matter
Hassan Abbas, a scholar based in Washington DC who until recently was Quaid-i-Azam Chair Professor at Columbia University in New York, seriously doubts if the US will officially support Baloch nationalists at this time as this will complicate US-Pakistan relations.

“I think the hearing is a routine matter as all security related issues in Pakistan are being analysed in the policy world with keen interest as well as concern. The hearing will discuss human rights issue as well as politics,” says Abbas, who is also a Senior Advisor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, “but the hearing itself will not create any serious diplomatic row. The US Congress must listen and understand that there is a variety of perspectives on the subject.”

Dr Ahmed, meanwhile, attributes the deepening crisis in Balochistan to Islamabad’s failure to understand that time is running out for it.

“The leaders of Pakistan are so focussed on the power struggles in Islamabad that they seem to have little will or imagination to deal with the urgent issues that concern the country’s largest province of Balochistan.”

How will Islamabad respond to the hearing?
“Pakistan’s establishment is quite sensitive about the Balochistan crisis and they will follow the hearings closely and sceptically,” says Hassan Abbas, whose book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism was published in 2005.

According to Abbas, hawkish elements in Pakistani media are likely to create a lot of hue and cry over the hearing. Yet he cautions, “They will serve Pakistan better by focussing on projecting the concerns of the ordinary Baloch people, who are disenfranchised, distressed and increasingly getting disenchanted.” ......

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