Editorial: The London Baloch Conference: From Rohrabacher to Tatchell

danajeeThe Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) organized an important conference in London on February 23 in order to deliberate over the future of Balochistan. The conference was addressed by important Baloch nationalist leaders, intellectuals and international supporters of the Baloch liberation movement. There are three immediate takeaways from the London moot. 

First, U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who spoke at the conference,  continues to remain committed to the Baloch right to self-determination. His last year’s historic congressional hearing in Washington D.C. on Balochistan was not a mere accident.

One year later, he still asserts the Baloch people’s right to statehood as he called for a referendum in Balochistan to see whether or not the Baloch people wanted to live with Pakistan. In his remarks, he referred to Pakistan’s claims in a sarcastic tone:

“The Pakistanis, who keep saying, “Oh, the Baloch people really want to be part of Pakistan, they love us, that’s why we’re killing their children”.

Second, the Baloch nationalists are not prepared to participate in the upcoming general elections nor should one attach high expectations from the polls scheduled for May as the London Conference showed that the Balochs continue to look outward (toward the international community through conferences and seminars) to gain support for an independent Baloch state.

Third, Pakistani diplomats, even those belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party, would continue to condemn any peaceful event overseas that brings international attention to the rights of the Baloch people. Pakistan’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, described the conference and its demands as, “unacceptable and nonsense” . Ironically, the same diplomat would have probably lost his job if he had said so about the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination.

The UNPO’s efforts to provide the Baloch people an international platform to assert their wishes and aspirations is deeply commendable. Also those who spoke and expressed support for the Baloch people equally deserve praise. Mr. Nooruddin Mengal, Balochistan’s representative at UNPO, played an instrumental role in organizing the conference and inviting a number of important speakers.

The London Conference leaves the Baloch with two future road-maps which we would classify as the Dana Rohrabacher and Peter Tatchell road-maps and it is for the people of Balochistan to decide which road-map is acceptable to them. Let’s explain the difference between the two.

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher dramatically raised Baloch expectations last year by convening a high-profile congressional hearing which was soon followed by a Congressional resolution that called for the Baloch right to self-determination. Some Balochs mistakenly thought the hearing was actually backed by the U.S. government which was absolutely untrue.

Mr. Rohrabacher’s support for the Baloch actually stemmed more from his anger toward Pakistan than his love for the Baloch because he felt betrayed by the Pakistanis after Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan. His knowledge for the Baloch is very limited but passion is unquestionable. He is a man who wants to quickly achieve independence for Balochistan through a referendum (apparently in order to embarrass Pakistan).

A referendum in Balochistan in current circumstances  is going to be catastrophic for the Baloch nationalists considering Pakistan’s six-decade old policies of divide and rule, populating new settlements from other ethnic communities and the deep-rooted influence of the Pakistani intelligence agencies in Balochistan’s society and politics. In the current situation, Baloch nationalists can hardly win more than ten seats in the 65-member Balochistan Assembly given the adverse ground realities which do not favor the Baloch at all. Hence, Mr. Rohrabacher’s road-map for Balochistan is unrealistic and disastrous. The Baloch nationalists should understand that support from one or a few members of the U.S. Congress does not necessarily mean support for their movement at an official or a (Democratic or Republican) party level.

On the other hand, Peter Tatchell of U.K’s Green Party delivered a very convincing three-point speech which merits serious attention from the Baloch leadership. He drew attention toward three important elements that the Baloch needed to work on. First, internal unity; second, the role of women in the freedom movement and, third, a clear road-map from the Baloch.

Mr. Tatchell is a longstanding supporter of the Baloch people and it appears he knows there are no shortcuts for the success of any liberation movement. He also seems to realize that rhetoric helps to galvanize public support for a freedom movement but it does not take them to their destination.

Mr. Tatchell rightly said that divisions among the Baloch leaders were the main obstacle in their way to achieve success. He went on to say that for the Baloch movement, unity was “so, so, so important”. He cited the consequences of disunity among the liberation forces in Angola in 1970s and said how disunity had delayed their success and eventually led to a major bloodbath among three major factions after gaining independence  because they all fought over the control of the new country.

Secondly, he mentioned the inadequate participation of Baloch women as one of the major weaknesses of the current movement.

“We have had a catastrophic under-representation of women in the Baloch movement…the protests in London and Geneva were 95% men and even look at this conference,” he said while referring to his second important point that he said undermined the Baloch movement.

“No people anywhere in the world have won their freedom if they keep their women behind. From Vietnam to South Africa, women helped to win the movements.”  He acknowledged the fact that some Baloch women had played a key role in the movement but insisted that more representation was very important.

Lastly, Mr. Tatchell said the absence of a Baloch road-map as to how they intended to achieve independence put them in ‘a position of extraordinary weakness.”

“The Baloch people should give a series of plans to the government of Pakistan to say this is what we want. The international community also wants to see what you [the Baloch] stand for. If you don’t have a plan, then the Baloch people are not going to be taken seriously. The Baloch movement should produce some credible, practical program in order to be taken seriously and to unite the Baloch people. Without a program, the Pakistanis and the Iranians would not be under pressure,” he concluded.

Both Rohrabacher to Tatchell are clearly mindful of the fact that they can only support the Baloch to a certain degree and at the end of the day it is for the Baloch themselves to unite and fight for their rights. The Baloch leadership should benefit from the recommendations provided to them by their international supporters at the London Conference. Mr. Rohrabacher’s way of struggle sounds very exciting but it is unlikely to help because it is very unrealistic while Mr. Tatchell’s three-point road-map sounds a little discouraging but it is a pragmatic set of recommendations for the Baloch leadership. Until, all Baloch political forces unite, as Mr. Tatchell, rightly argued, no one is going to take them seriously nor are their oppressors going to come under any pressure.



The Baloch Hal 

Published in The Baloch Hal on March 3, 2013