In what is obviously the beginning of a full-blown campaign, a Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives' Committee on Foreign Affairs convened a congressional hearing on Balochistan, complete with its hypocritical breast-beating over the human rights abuses in the province. Our Foreign Office conveyed its concerns to the US government and was apparently satisfied by its assurance that it had nothing to do with the hearing. Pakistan's Ambassador to the US termed it an ill-advised move that would be detrimental to building trust between Pakistan and the United States, and Pakistani Senators lambasted the US for meddling in our internal affairs. Meanwhile, as if on cue, the foot soldiers of US strategy infesting our civil society, media and so-called intelligentsia have gone into top gear to parrot and reinforce the narrative being pushed by the US establishment. Along with some Baloch militant groups, who have welcomed the dubious hearing, they think that their Uncle Sam will set things right. The question is: What can Pakistan do to stop this growing campaign?

Not many are fooled by the selective concern for human rights championed by the US, which is guided more by its global strategy than any real desire on its part to work for an end to the abuses. Not long ago, the badmash superpower was pressurising the Pakistan government to allow it to use its drones to bomb targets in Quetta, not some far-flung tribal area, but the capital of Balochistan. It has a track record of killing innocent civilians all over the world on the pretext of protecting them. Recently, we witnessed the US-led Nato masterminding and commandeering the massacre of innocent Libyans, avowedly to protect their human rights. Somehow, the conscience of the US is not even pricked by the far more blatant and persistent human rights abuses perpetrated by states that it favours, whether it is India, Israel or monarchies in the Middle East allied to it.

What is even more disgusting is the fact that the US actually funds and creates conditions in targeted countries that are conducive to human rights abuses, thus giving it an excuse to meddle in their affairs. The list of countries where it has funded and armed dissident groups, fomenting unrest and militancy, is long. This diminishes the chances of any political solution to the grievances of these dissident groups, forcing the targeted countries to tackle them militarily. In Balochistan's case, the Pakistan government has been protesting to the US over the support extended to militant groups from US-occupied Afghanistan. Activities of Mossad under CIA cover in Balochistan, involving the funding and arming of militant groups, have been reported. Militant Baloch nationalists have been given refuge by the US allies and moderate nationalists working for a political solution within the state of Pakistan eliminated.

The same US Congress that is now shedding crocodile tears about the woes of Balochistan allocated over $400 million for promoting freedom in Iranian Balochistan. One wonders, how much of it was used on our side of the border and what was it used for? Were some of those millions used for arming dissident groups and funding hyper-nationalism? Can we be sure that money was not paid to mercenaries to target the non-Baloch ethnic groups to create divisions, something that has been condemned by even the most diehard Baloch nationalists. The recent campaign is clearly the phase two of a strategy that has been in place for years. After all, Balochistan is not only important for its treasure of natural resources. Fomenting unrest in the province would also stop China from using Gwadar and bury the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project that the US can't stand.

While there should be no doubt about the US game plan in Balochistan, that should be no excuse for not putting our own house in order. Successive governments have failed to address very real grievances of the people. The present government's initiative has been a non-starter and the law and order situation in the province has gone from bad to worse. The Interior Minister has been criticised by senior and respected PPP leaders from Balochistan for playing a sinister role in the province, but this criticism has fallen on deaf ears in the corridors of power. Instead of further curbing the US influence in the country, the government seems eager to normalise its relations with the two-faced badmash and reopening the Nato supply routes, providing it the foothold and the opportunity to further stoke the fire in Balochistan as in the rest of the country.

Members of the traditional provincial elite have exploited shortcomings on part of the government and put a nationalist spin on genuine grievances of the people. They would like to convince their poor people that they are poor because they are Baloch in a state that is against them. Of course, members of this traditionally privileged Baloch elite do not like to talk about the exploitation of Baloch people at their own hands, the rigid tribal hierarchical structure and the resistance of numerous tribal sardars to development in their areas. Like traditional elites elsewhere in the country, they would not like to talk about changing colonial power structures that are the biggest hurdle in pro-people governance, as that would result in sacrificing their own bloated privileges. They would not like their people to join the struggle of people from other provinces to change the status quo.

So how do we tackle the challenges in Balochistan? Disregarding the history of US intervention in other countries, the foot soldiers of the US in Pakistan look towards their Uncle Sam for the solutions. The same lot would like the badmash to save them from the extremists. They would like to choose the path to hell. What we need to do instead is to bring an end to its nefarious meddling and clandestine activities not just in Balochistan, but in the rest of the country as well. The government must replace its ineffective and shady point men for Balochistan with credible and sensible political leaders from the province to initiate a genuine political dialogue with the nationalists. Such leaders are there. All we need is sincerity on the part of the government.

    The writer is a freelance columnist.