The US House Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs met last week to discuss the human rights abuses in Balochistan and the potential independence of the Baloch people. The Baloch have suffered utter manipulation and brutalization, but before they open their arms to American involvement, they should critically examine the short-sighted goals of their new-found allies. Further, the consequences of a potentially independant Balochistan must be examined from both an internal and external perspective.
US in Balochistan: Ironic and Short-Sighted
Before examining the role of the US in future of Balochistan, it is worthy to note that the Congressional hearing last week was not an indication of US foreign policy. This subcomittee will not individually determine foreign policy, since that is the collective right of Congress and the President. One would be naive to believe that the US will take action on Balochistan because of one hearing.
However, one should pause to consider the irony of the hearing, which focused on the brutal practice in Balochistan of abduction and torture. The Congressmen spoke with disdain at Pakistan's use of enforced disappearance when they themselves recently passed NDAA provisions that allow for the American president to do the same. Under this law, the military can indefinitely detain any American citizen and subject them to extra-judicial treatment if they are suspected of terrorism. Therefore, while the Congressmen should be lauded for exposing the brutal war being waged against the Baloch, they should also focus their indignation domestically to protect the constitutional rights of US citizens.
Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher chaired the committee hearing, and asserted that the Baloch had a right to self-determination, which was a sentiment echoed by many of the Congressmen present. However, the recognition of Baloch self-rule was conditioned on an expression of disfavor and distrust for Pakistan. Congressman Louis Gohmert claimed that Pakistan was the Benedict Arnold of international allies and that an independent Balochistan could help the US threaten Pakistan's ability to harm its interests abroad.
Mr Gohmert explained that Pakistan uses American aid to fund extremists who attack US soldiers in Afghanistan. Therefore, by supporting the Baloch movement, the Congressman is espousing the motto, "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Since the Baloch separatists have faced untold horrors at the hands of Pakistani Army, they will serve as natural allies to the US if they choose to confront or punish the military. If this sounds eerily like the US government sponsoring of the Taliban in the 1970's to remove the Soviets from Afghanistan, it's because it is.
The American government continues to believe it can manipulate its way out of South Asia, which is something the Baloch must be wary of as they receive greater attention from the US. If the US decides to assist a Baloch nationalist movement, it will be as a means to challenge and punish Pakistan, not for any democratic principle of self-determination. Therefore, when the US starts fading into the background from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the next few decades, the Baloch will be left on their own to defend their state against an aggressive Pakistani neighbor.
Balochistan: The Cost of Liberty
This leads to the issue of what self-determination means for the Baloch people. Many of the problems an independent Balochistan will face are the same crises the Pakistani state has undergone over the last few generations. Developing a national identity for a heterogenous population will be the first challenge, which Pakistan constantly grapples with to this day, as a state created for Muslims but composed of differing religious and ethnic groups. This enigma has drawn Pakistan into sectarianism and popularized xenophobia, which is a poor example for the Baloch to learn from.
One cannot forget that Balochistan itself is a heterogonous place like Pakistan: a great number of minorities including Pashtuns, Shias, Hazras, and Punjabi immigrants live in the province. Professor C Christine Fair, who presented her testimony to the Congressional panel, wrote: "given the ethnic diversity of the province, its complicated history, and the existing geographic constraints, an independent Balochistan is untenable and proposals on this point will not be entertained by this author." Both Professor Fair and her co-presenter Ali Dayan, of Human Rights Watch, offered evidence that Baloch nationalists had also been responsible for human rights violations, and that sectarian violence continually threatened the Shia Muslims living in the province.
The United States at one time faced a similar internal division, and President Abraham Lincoln advised against secession by explaining, "if a minority... will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority." Following this advice, Balochistan will have to develop constitutional and institutional protections for the minorities, like Shias, unless it wishes to dissolve further.
Pakistan: The Humpty-Dumpty State
On the other hand, the prospect of Balochistan to becoming an independent state is unfathomable and reminiscent of the loss of East Pakistan for the Pakistani establishment. Ali Dayan, through his testimony, described Balochistan as a province facing a "military occupation." As such, if the Pakistani military views its control over Balochistan loosening, it will exercise more brutal tactics against the inhabitants. This will inspire more Baloch to join nationalist guerilla groups and fight against the military's oppression, and the cycle of violence will worsen.
The only way to stop this violence would be if the military could be inhibited from enacting such self-destructive behavior by elected leaders and the nation's courts. Conditions could improve if a constitutional amendment was passed to give the Baloch access to federal funds to build basic infrastructure like schools and a sovereign control over their natural resources.
Further, a law must be passed that prohibits enforced dissappearance, holding military officers liable for both abducting indivuals as well as falsy denying knowledge as to their whereabouts. Monetary compensation must also be offered to the victims of this brutal practice and their families. Lastly, the Pakistani high courts, and perhaps the apex court, should take notice of the brutal occupation of Balochistan and imprison military officers who violate the constituonal rights of the Baloch.
It might be too late for all this considering many Baloch publicly rebuke the Pakistani state and say they have no stake its problems. After generations of abuse, this perspective is understandable, but it will not serve Balochistan's prospects. The future of Balochistan is indelibly tied to Pakistan, even if they seceed from the state. As such, reforms must be made to stop the Pakistani state's fragmentation due to the inability or unwillingness to protect its minorities, like the Baloch. And while many Baloch nationalists believe their problems will evaporate once they are free, there will be a long road ahead to develop a proper state and national identity. In this long journey, the Baloch should be weary of American allies, whose short-sighted goals will lead to devastation, rather than peace for a people who so desperatly deserve it.