Editorial: Congress’s Landmark Balochistan Hearing

Wednesday’s hearing on Balochistan of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs was a spectacular success under every standard for the Baloch nationalist movement. Chaired by Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, the hearing was attended by four more congressmen, bringing together members of America’s two most important political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, to discuss the important issue of Balochistan. A very learned audience, comprising of policymakers, lobbyists, diplomats, intellectuals, defenders of human rights, journalists, and researchers of leading think-tanks attentively heard the proceedings.

The hearing was convened at a very critical juncture not only because of the volatile situation that exists in Balochsitan but also because of increasing breach of trust between the United States of America and Pakistan. It has assured the Baloch that members of the US Congress, who have spent all their lives guarding and promoting democratic values, stand with the people of Balochistan. Given the ideas shared by members of the Congress, it was very clear that they already had an implicit sense of Balochistan’s history, geo-strategic significance, federal government’s discriminatory and exploitative policies toward Balochistan but they had been kept in dark about the current state of affairs.

It was the highest democratic institution in the world where the issue of Balochistan was discussed at length. Members of the Baloch diaspora, who had traveled from all over North America to attend the event, said the program exceeded their expectations. They were jubilant as they left the hearing hall. In their remarks, Congressmen gave the impression that they cared for the people of Balochistan and were disturbed by human rights violations being committed by the Pakistan army in Balochistan. One analyst rightly observed that it was not only concern over human rights issues. Some Congressmen also proposed redrawing maps which were once drawn by the British but had eventually caused major wars in the world during the 20th century.

In spite of failed attempts by the government of Pakistan to hinder the debate on Balochistan, the US lawmakers did the right job by conveying to Islamabad, through Wednesday’s proceedings, that people’s right to self-determination and human rights cannot be overlooked by just describing them as one country’s “‘internal matter”. When states employ torture and abuse to their citizens then the international community does have an obligation to intervene in the greater interest of human lives. Many Americans who previously did not know much about Balochistan said they were startled about the tragedy of the Baloch region.

Some US legislators were absolutely perturbed to learn from Mr. T. Kumar, Amnesty International’s Director for International Advocacy that Balochistan’s former governor Awais Ahmed Ghani had confirmed to him that American weapons, which were supplied to Pakistan to fight the war on terrorism, were actually used against the Baloch. Also, Ali Dayan Hassan, the Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch, also traced the origin of enforced disappearances. According to him, the Pakistani military exploited the context of the war on terrorism to subject Baloch political opponents to enforced disappearance. Many of these facts were not fully known to some educated Americans because Islamabad has endeavored its level best to kill every Balochistan-related important news story which concerns American and global interest in order to keep the world in oblivion.

In what can now be expected from lawmakers of the United States, a country known as the engine of democracy and freedom, is further debating the issue of disappearances, torture, murder and misuse of American weapons on the floor of the US House of Representatives.  The US government should take an interest in resolving Balochistan’s political dispute. In this regard, the US should facilitate an international conference on Balochistan at a neutral venue to chalk out a road map for peace. Dr. C. Christine Fair of Georgetown University, who also testified on Wednesday at the Congressional hearing, is underestimating the seriousness of the conflict  by calling it Pakistan’s internal matter. The  debate at this point should not  revolve around the argument whether or not Balochistan is an internal or external matter.  What is merits attention is the fact that no Baloch leader is today prepared to trust the Pakistani army, which is the real center of real political and of course military power, and to negotiate with it on gunpoint.

Thus, in the midst of a deadlock like this, human rights will continue to be violated and political space will further shrink and get replaced by violence and madness. Amid these odds, we highly congratulate all five members of the US Congress for convening such a  historic event, whose success could easily be judged by the overwhelming number of people who showed up to learn more about Balochistan. Also, the panel of five witnesses also deserve plaudits for their highly professional and insightful testimonies.

We truly hope that Dana Rohrabacher’s caravan of friends of Balochistan will be joined by more Congressmen and lead to the  formation of a Baloch-America congressional caucus.