Rohrabacher & Balochistan
IF any evidence was required that as a nation generally and as the so-called educated intellectual class particularly we have succumbed to mass hysteria and paranoia, we need go no further than the reaction to the hearing that Congressman Dana Rohrabacher conducted on Balochistan and the subsequent resolution he presented in the US House of Representatives supporting Balochistan’s right to independence.
Driven by public furore, the Foreign Office and our embassy had to set aside what they knew about Rohrabacher and the resolution and lodge a protest with the Americans. What did the Foreign Office and our embassy know and what is it that we should have known, given the fundamental importance of the US-Pakistan relationship?
First, that in the American system every congressman and senator thinks of himself as qualified to be the secretary of state. The standard joke is that other countries have one foreign minister but the Americans have 536 — one secretary of state, 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators. They can and do act as though they have decision-making powers, which they do not.
Second, presenting resolutions is the right of every congressman just as in our system every member of parliament can present a private member’s bill. At last count, Congressman Rohrabacher had put forward seven resolutions/amendments for our region in 2011/2012. They ranged from amendments prohibiting assistance to Pakistan (this was the only one voted upon and defeated soundly last July) to awarding a medal to Dr Shakeel Afridi, involved in the US operation to track down Osama bin Laden.
More importantly, there were resolutions calling for the empowering of Afghan ethnic minorities by replacing the present ‘failed’ system of government in Afghanistan with a federal political structure and another that urged the United States not to release the Taliban prisoners “until Mullah Mohammad Omar had been turned over to United States custody”. All these resolutions have been referred to various committees/subcommittees and it can be assumed will not see the light of legislative day.
Third, Rohrabacher in an op-ed written some days before the Balochistan hearing, made the case for empowering Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, and having berated Pakistan for interference in Afghanistan concluded that “Perhaps we should even consider support for a Balochistan carved out of Pakistan to diminish radical power there also”.
His hearing was clearly designed to provide some intellectual support for this objective. Equally clearly, he failed: in the hearing the witnesses he had called certainly pointed out human rights violations and the Baloch sense of deprivation and alienation but offered no support for Baloch independence.
The most radical witness was Dr Hosseinbor and his recommendation was that the elected Baloch representatives should negotiate with the elected central government subject to the caveat that “there is no room or popular mandate for the army in such negotiations”.
Another witness, Christine Fair whose more recent writings have been, to say the least, rather critical of Pakistan also made it clear that she was opposed to any talk of Balochistan’s independence. In fact, in a piece written after the hearing Ms Fair disclosed that when she tried to ascertain what facet of Balochistan she should focus on she was told by Rohrabacher’s staff that the purpose of the hearing was to “stick it to the Pakistanis” because they had for the past decade been “killing us in Afghanistan”.
As regards the resolution presented by Rohrabacher, she says rightly “this non-binding resolution does not reflect the sense of Congress and no congressmen have embraced the measure.”
Fourth, Rohrabacher has had an interest in Afghanistan for the last 30 years. As part of president Reagan’s stable of speech writers he takes credit for having Reagan call the Afghan Mujahideen ‘freedom fighters’ and even for the parallel Reagan drew between America’s founding fathers and the Mujahideen. In those days, Pakistan was his favourite country.
Today his attitude towards Pakistan is coloured by what he believes Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan and not by his concern for the Baloch people. Had he been genuinely concerned about Balochistan his star witness should have been Selig Harrison who has long been regarded in the American security establishment as the foremost expert on Balochistan.
Following on a number of books and articles advocating Baloch independence and closer India-US relations Selig Harrison published in April 2009 a special report titled Pakistan: the State of the Union. For someone advocating Baloch independence this report has much to offer if read selectively. It has such gems as “ …an independent Balochistan would not be a threat to US interests, since Baloch leaders have often declared their support for US strategic objectives in the Persian Gulf and have offered assurances that the US Navy and US merchant shipping would have access to the modernised port facilities at Gwadar now being built for Pakistan with Chinese help”.
It adds: “Notwithstanding ISI efforts to depict them as terrorists, Baloch nationalist groups espouse secular values. They have avoided ties with Islamist forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan and have cooperated with secular Pakhtun elements in areas of northern Balochistan where there are Pakhtun enclaves.”
Our Balochistan problem is serious. We need to address it if we wish to survive as a united country. But we should do so without having to stoke anti-Americanism or attributing to the American government that which it has not advocated. We should recognise, however, that what Rohrabacher has done is to pinpoint our vulnerabilities and, in effect, to warn that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.