While US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter is on a public relations campaign by showcasing his love for the restoration of our national heritage, back in Washington select American lawmakers’ meanness was clearly on display during a ‘stunt’ hearing on Balochistan. In the Rayburn Office Building, members of the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard human rights activists and scholars present their narrative of human rights abuses in Balochistan.

The event was chaired by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who has recently introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to confer Dr Shakil Afridi with the US citizenship. Needless to say, that the doctor had crossed all limits of unethical practices in his noble profession by running a fictitious vaccination campaign to help the Americans determine the DNA of Osama bin Laden. As a result, parents in Balochistan are hesitant to get their infant vaccinated that has resulted in a phenomenal rise in polio and other deadly diseases.

In his opening remarks, Rohrabacher spitted the venom that Balochistan is a turbulent land marred by human rights violations “by regimes that are against US values.” However, he forgot to mention that the present miseries in the province are a result of the policies followed by America’s darling Pervez Musharraf. After his ouster from power, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry estimated that about 1,100 Baloch had disappeared during his rule. He had earned notoriety for handing over a number of Pakistan nationals to the Americans in a series of proxy arrests and renditions, in exchange for money. So far, the present government has only uncovered the fate of a handful of these people, while many could be in American jails sprinkled all over the world.

A selected group of people were cherry picked apparently to create a narrative to pressurise Pakistan, since the termination of logistics flow to the Isaf/Nato troops in Afghanistan is about to enter the biting phase as the 100-day stocking is running out and the bluff of much touted Northern Distribution Network (NDN) has been called.

All the five lawmakers, who attended the hearing, overstepped even the legitimate mandate of the Committee by showing overenthusiasm towards the Baloch people’s right to self-determination. It was certainly a score-settling saga, particularly from the US lawmakers who were upset with Pakistan over Osama’s discovery in Abbottabad and with Islamabad’s decision to close Nato’s supply lines to Afghanistan. “They sheltered the man who masterminded the slaughter of 3,000 Americans. Those who still believe Pakistan is a friend need to wake up,” said Rohrabacher. Ralph Peters, a retired US military officer, also joined the chorus by urging the US administration to sever its ties with Pakistan and support the Baloch struggle for freedom.

Though this session drew warm applause from Baloch nationalists, it hardy focused on how to resolve this difficult issue. That was, indeed, not the intention of those who had organised the drama. They wanted to highlight Balochistan as a potential hotspot, create a sphere of influence in the estranged Baloch diaspora and cultivate them for furthering American strategic interests.

It was interesting to hear Dr M. Hosseinbor, a Baloch nationalist, who assured the Americans that the Balochs were natural US allies and would like to share the Gwadar Port with it, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and will fight the Taliban. He claimed that, according to Baloch sources, nearly 4,000 people have disappeared in the province since 2001. He called on the US to support an independent Balochistan “in case Pakistan or Iran or both collapsed from within.” Rohrabacher, while outlining the history of Pakistan’s creation and highlighting Balochistan’s grievances vis-à-vis natural resources, said: “The province’s wealth was being taken by dominant Punjabi elite.” In the same vein, Analyst Ralph Peters called Pakistan a supporter of terrorism and said: “Pakistan had made the US complicit too by launching attacks against India, such as the Mumbai attack.”

But there were saner voices too. Christine Fair, in her written statement, said that given the ethnic diversity of the province, its complicated history, and the existing geographic constraints, an independent Balochistan was untenable. She also pointed out that target killings were also being carried out by the Baloch dissident entities. Armed Baloch groups were responsible for the killings, ethnic cleansing and systematic destruction of private property. In the past several years, they have increasingly targeted non-Baloch civilians and their businesses, as well as major gas installations and infrastructure. They have killed teachers, physicians and lawyers, and struck police and military bases throughout the province. Ms Fair rightly added that “Pakistan’s abuse of human rights have served the US’ interests.”

Amnesty International’s Advocacy Director T. Kumar called on the US to “apply the Leahy Amendment without waivers to all Pakistani military units in Balochistan” to prevent it from using US-made weapons against the Baloch people. Hopefully, one day Kumar would dare tell the Indian government to repeal the draconian laws in Kashmir.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: “Pakistan’s security forces and its intelligence agencies were involved in the enforced disappearance of Baloch nationalists.” He appealed to the US administration to “communicate directly to the agencies responsible for the disappearances and other abuses including the army, ISI, IB, Frontier Corps, police, to demand an end to abuses and facilitate criminal inquiries to hold perpetrators accountable.” But he clarified that the HRW took no position on the issue of Balochistan’s independence. Also, he argued that the US and the UK had made the disappearances possible by allowing them during the war on terror that has led to the military doing the same.

As usual, Pakistan’s Foreign Office showed a rather muted reaction: “We have conveyed our concern to Washington on the issue of discussion on Balochistan by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and expressed our feelings.” The Spokesman, while referring to the statement of the US State Department, said: “It explains that the US administration has nothing to do with this briefing. We believe that Washington fully understands our position on this issue.”

Earlier, the State Department had distanced itself from the hearing. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that their view on Balochistan remains unchanged. “Congress holds hearings on many foreign affairs topics. These hearings don’t necessarily imply that the US government endorses one view or another view. I’d underscore that the State Department is not participating or involved in this hearing today.” Referring to her comments posted on Twitter, she maintained: “We emphasise that the US engages with Pakistan on a whole range of issues, including ways to foster economic development and expand opportunity in Balochistan.” In a query to whether the US supports a demand for an independent Balochistan, she said: “Our view on this has not changed, and you know where we’ve been on Balochistan. We encourage all the parties……..to work out their differences peacefully and through a valid political process.”

The Subcommittee’s hearing, which lasted over an hour, came to an early and somewhat abrupt end like a ‘stunt’. Pakistan’s Senate has expressed its unease over the hearing and has termed it as interference in the country’s internal affairs. It would be appropriate if the Parliamentary Committee on National Security also holds an early hearing on human rights violations of innocent people affected by drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.

Email:khalid3408@gmail.com