By Pervez Hoodbhoy
February 26, 2012
resolution in the US Congress states that the Baloch people have the right to
self-determination and to their own sovereign country”. Expectedly, this
unleashed a torrent of anger in Pakistan’s government and media which
overwhelmingly saw this as a conspiracy to break up the country. Pakistan-US
relations have descended another notch; attempts by the US State Department, as
well as the currently visiting group of Congressmen, to distance themselves
from the resolution have not worked.
Rohrabacher is easy to
criticise. This extremist Republican has defended the use of torture, advocated
the induction of warlords into the Afghan government, thinks trees cause global
warming, and wants subsidies for rain forests to be cut down. Last July, while
visiting Baghdad, he raised a storm by suggesting that Iraq pay back the United
States the billions it spent after the 2003 invasion.
But this right-wing
nut obviously motivated by domestic politics rather than human rights may
actually have done Pakistan a favour by focusing world attention upon the
horror of today’s Balochistan. Predictably, Baloch leaders are enthusiastically
endorsing Rohrabacher’s statement, The political and ethnic discrimination the
Baloch suffer is tragic and made more so because America is financing and
selling arms to their oppressors in Islamabad.
For decades, the
Baloch have complained of ill-treatment. They say their natural wealth has been
expropriated by Punjab and that Balochistan’s natural gas reached remote
Punjabi towns long before it was available in Quetta and then only because an
army cantonment needed it. Baloch representation in the civil and the military
bureaucracy remains close to zero.
But rather than
assuage national grievances, both real and imagined ones, the Pakistani
establishment used the iron fist. In 1972, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reinvigorated an
army defeated by India in 1971 by sending it to quell the Baloch uprising.
Thousands died. In 2006, under General Pervez Musharraf the Army claimed the
killing of 80-year old Nawab Akbar Bugti as yet another victory, saying this
would end the insurgency. But it turned out otherwise, and Bugti’s murder was
yet another thread torn loose from the unraveling national fabric. Vengeful
Baloch nationalists now target non-Baloch innocents and have murdered, among
others, Punjabi and Mohajir teachers.
forces deny any wrongdoing and General Kayani claims that military operations
are no longer being carried out against Baloch nationalists. But newspaper
accounts suggest that the abduct-torture-kill-dump formula may be officially
sanctioned from above. Mutilated bodies are strewn across roadsides and found
in garbage dumps.
Worried about further
internationalisation in the wake of Rohrabacher’s bill, Interior Minister
Rehman Malik is scurrying around offering palliatives and promises. But the
Baloch Republican Party’s exiled chief, Brahamdagh Bugti, whose sister and
niece were mysteriously murdered in Karachi earlier this month, says that
America must intervene in Balochistan and stop the ethnic cleansing of Baloch
Such open appeals, in
my opinion, are short-sighted because they invite heightened repression.
Moreover, America’s betrayal of Kurdish national self-determination should not
be forgotten. In 1975, the Kurdish Peshmerg discovered to its horror that
American support suddenly vanished after Richard Nixon chose to side with the
Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussain.
The official Pakistani
response to Rohrabacher is still more flawed. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani
Khar termed the tabling of his bill a violation of UN charter” and of
Pakistan’s sovereignty. But this line of defence could forfeit Pakistan’s moral
right to criticise other states, Syria and India included.
Consider the fact that
on February 17 Pakistan voted for an Arab League-sponsored resolution in the UN
General Assembly which calls upon Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to step
down. This surely constitutes interference in the internal matter of a
sovereign country. But Pakistan did well. In a civilised world national
sovereignty must come second, and human rights first.
Pakistan has also long
criticised India and justly so for its human rights abuses. But more people are
dying in Balochistan today than in Kashmir. For all their brutality against
stone-throwing Kashmiri boys, the Indians have not yet used helicopter gunships
and fighter jets against Kashmiris. Pakistan, on the other hand, uses airpower
as a matter of course in Balochistan and Fata.
Is there a way out?
Maybe so, but for that Pakistan must hear what Baloch nationalists are saying
and then act. In 2008, Sanaullah Baloch, who had then just quit the Pakistan
Senate, wrote that Islamabad’s recent move to grant religious self-rule to the
Taliban in Swat and the denial of political autonomy to the people of
Balochistan are beyond comprehension.
Sanaullah’s list of
demands still unmet today were not unreasonable: a) end the military operation
and halt construction of military and paramilitary cantonments; b) withdraw
security forces; c) repatriate and rehabilitate displaced persons; d) cancel
civil/military land allotments; e) demilitarise the area; f) ensure equal
wellhead prices for Baluchistan’s gas, and h) abandon torture camps and
establish a truth and reconciliation commission” for trying those involved in
killing Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balach Marri.
A similar list by Mir
Mohammad Ali Talpur was published in 2008 wherein he rhetorically asked: a)
Will the new airport in Gwadar be handed over to the CAA to ensure that a
military base is not established there? b) Will Saindak’s unjust income-sharing
formula be reversed to give Balochistan 48 per cent and the centre two per
cent? c) Will they refrain from using Hingol National Park as a testing ground
for the air force?
The Rohrabacher show
will roll off the stage soon but Balochistan’s situation shall remain. More
people will disappear, and the heap of mutilated corpses shall keep mounting.
For now, the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps can ensure that there is no
independent Balochistan. But their actions cannot lead to peace and
Men like Rohrabacher
are no friends of the Baloch. But what can stop their meddling? The answer can
only come once we dump the myth of Pakistan being one nation, one people. The
Baloch cannot agree with ‘what is yours is mine, what is mine is mine’. If
Pakistanis value the people of Balochistan rather than the wealth under their
ground, they must make every possible compromise to draw them into the
The writer teaches physics and political science at
LUMS. He holds a PhD from MIT and taught at Quaid-e-Azam University for 37
Source: The Express Tribune, Lahore