A US consulate for Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
It is not known with certainty why the indigenous Baloch media was barred from meeting the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, during her latest visit to Balochistan. The visiting top diplomat did not meet the Baloch journalists, barring a few, to ascertain the actual state of affairs in Balochistan. Whether the government tired to prevent its critics in the media from meeting Patterson or the decision was made by the officials at the US embassy in Islamabad is anybody’s guess.
There is little information available about the details of Ambassador Patterson’s visit to Balochistan. She called on Balochistan Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, Corps Commander and Speaker of the provincial assembly Mohammad Aslam Bhoothani to discuss matters of mutual interests.
According to the available information, the US government intends to establish a “small consulate” in Balochistan in the coming days. This will mainly focus on the upcoming development works which will be carried out in Balochistan under the Kerry Lugar Bill. Besides this, there were no indications that the consulate would conduct some hardcore political business in Balochistan. Previously, the affairs of Balochistan were monitored by a consulate based in Karachi.
Washington’s decision to open up its consulate in Balochistan, an important province of Pakistan which shares borders with troubled Afghanistan and recalcitrant Iran, is a very positive development. The freedom loving people of Balochistan deeply welcome this move. The United States of America is a country that champions the cause of democracy, liberalism, pluralism and tolerance. It is, unfortunately, the most misunderstood country in the world. Consulates help to improve the image of a country. They do not only help the local communities to clearly understand the message of a country but also prove a great source of understanding the mindset and aspirations of the local people of an area where the consulate is established.
Ironically, the only two counties which have their full-fledged consulates in Quetta, the Baloch capital, are Afghanistan and Iran, which accommodate a chunk of population that deeply dislike Washington, its policies and its leaders. What one learns from the motives stated by the US ambassador, the US consulate in Quetta will predominantly serve as checks and balances on the development projects that will be executed in Balochistan. This is an admirable decision given the loss of confidence of the local people in the corrupt provincial government and the inefficient bureaucracy. Let’s hope, the consulate will expand its restricted role in the wake of monitoring the development works and provide the people of Balochistan a better chance to learn more about the US and its people.
While Islamabad continues to insist the US is a good ally of Pakistan, the people of this country often wonder what is it that the US has given to the people of this country in term of its amity. For instance, the Russians gave Pakistan the Steel Mills and the Chinese helped to build the Karakoram Highway and Gwadar Port. The US, on the other hand, has almost done nothing as such to establish an edifice of friendship with Pakistan.
Thus, Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest and most neglected province, should be chosen as the venue of a such a grand project that should epitomize US-Pak relations. This could come as a university of international standards of a world-class hospital so that it benefits the entire population of the area instead of the ruling elite only. Such a project, if ever offered by the US to Pakistan, is important in order to convince the people of Pakistan as well as that of Balochistan that Washington does not only build relations with the rulers of this country. There is a need to build relations with the people, not solely the rulers, of this country by building some mega projects that will help to reshape the destiny of the people in the health, economic and social spheres of life.
The Quetta Consulate will hopefully assist Washington to closely monitor the alleged Taliban activities in Quetta and observe the ongoing war against terror in Afghanistan. Previously, US Consul General in Karachi, Stephen G Fakan, had said it was unreasonable to say the Taliban do not exist in Quetta. A US foreign policy expert laughingly said in Washington recently while meeting a group of Pakistani journalists that everyone, except the CIA and FBI, knew where the Taliban in Quetta are hiding!
The willingness of the Americans to come to Balochistan at a time when several international organizations are either restricting their movements or shutting businesses from the province due to security problems is a matter of encouragement for Balochistan. This will boost the confidence of foreign companies and investors to come to Balochistan.
We hope that the US consulate in Quetta will remarkably help to make a distinction between the Taliban operations and the Baloch liberal and nationalistic movement which has been systematically crushed by Islamabad. All democratic people in Balochistan welcome the establishment of a US consulate in Balochistan. We hope it will be extended all kinds of support, if required, by the government of Balochistan and the local stakeholders.