Editorial: DHS and Baloch Visa Issue

US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has continued to support the Baloch cause in a number of ways months after the landmark congressional hearing on Balochistan. After the hearing, Mr. Rohrabacher, on March 27th, addressed a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC to articulate full support for the Baloch right to self-determination; wrote a letter to the head of Radio Free Asia asking for launching a Balochi language service; sent a scolding letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani rebuking him for failing to protect the lives of the Baloch civilians. In addition, he wrote an editorial in the Washington Post explaining, “Why I support Balochistan”.

Mr. Rohrabacher’s engagement with Balochistan has gone a step further with his fresh letter to the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano inquiring about a 2008 case when a Baloch activist Nooruddin Mengal, a British citizen, was denied entry inside the United States. Mr. Rorahacher has urged the Department of Homeland Security not to use American visas as a weapon against the Baloch.

“The people of Baluchistan are not the enemy of the US; they are our allies in the region,” said Rohrabacher. “We should not be throwing roadblocks against the enemies of our enemies by denying them entry in the United States.”

This is a significant issue which has been brought into the attention of the DHS. However, it needs to be put into right context. The DHS does not provide visas nor do the Balochs look at it as an hostile organization. There is only a need to understand and respect mutual needs. The DHS is a premier institution responsible for guarding the United States of American from all possible terrorist attacks. On the other hand, the Balochs are a secular and liberal people with no links whatsoever with Islamic fundamentalists.

They face horrible treatment inside Pakistan by the central government. Many of Baloch political leaders and activists have been killed, tortured and disappeared. The remaining Balochs are compelled to flee their country. Likewise, members of the Baloch diaspora, such as Mr. Nooruddin Mengal, are peaceful human rights activists who seek to highlight the plight of the Baloch people through democratic engagements such as conferences and seminars.

Instead of writing to the DHS, Mr. Rohrabacher should have actually written to President Barrack Obama urging his administration to change its  policy toward the Baloch. US consulates in Pakistan have been denying visas to peaceful Baloch political leaders, intellectuals and journalists presumably on the basis of misleading ‘background information’ provided by their anti-Baloch local staff members.

One such classic example is the American government’s decision to revoke the visa of former senator Sanaullah Baloch who was awarded the prestigious Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an organization that is funded by the US Congress. Obviously, NED does not offer fellowships to the enemies of America but to those who have a meritorious commitment to democracy and human rights in their respective countries.

The Obama administration should open the doors of America for Baloch asylum-seekers whose lives are in jeopardy inside Pakistan.  We expect the US government to assert more support for the Baloch who are in a critical need for help and rescue. Mr. Rohrabacher has rightly insisted that the Balochs are friends of America and they do not pose any kind of threats to American interests. In fact, they are a natural ally of Washington.

Published in The Baloch Hal on May 13, 2012