Unreasonable Obstruction To A US Consulate In Balochistan
By Malik Siraj Akbar
If the United States of America, the leader of the international battle against global terrorism and a strategic partner of Pakistan, can have consulates in three provinces –Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pashtunkhawa –then what is wrong with establishing a consulate in secular Balochistan? Who are holding the strings of power in the province to resent a decision announced earlier this year by the US government about the establishment of a consulate in the country’s largest province?
Maulana Abdul Wasay, the parliamentary leader of pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-Fazal) who is also the senior provincial minister in the Balochistan government, has flabbergasted everyone with a public announcement that the government of Balochistan had refused to allot a piece of land to the US and UK governments to set up their consulates in Balochistan. Many people are still in a dilemma whether or not to take this as an official version of the government decision. Since the government of Balochistan has not issued a separate official statement to confirm what Wasay had to say or denied his assertions, we take this as a confirmation of the official stance.
The statement issued by the senior minister highlights a number of important issues.
First, the establishment of consulates is an issue that purely has to be dealt by the federal government. No provincial minister should be authorized to speak publicly on matters pertaining to the diplomatic relations between two strategic partners.
Second, the decision seems to have been taken after the pro-Taliban JUI, which is an important coalition partner in Nawab Raisani’s Balochistan government, mounted pressure on the provincial government. JUI fears America anywhere in the world because of latter’s commitment to freedom, democracy and pluralism. JUI supports religious fundamentalism and gives life to its politics on the basis of conspiracy theories and hatred against the United States of America.
Third, head of the province i.e. the governor, or head of the government viz the chief minister, should have taken the lead to make such a significant announcement. There are clear signs that the government in Quetta is heavily dominated by fundamentalist anti-America elements hailing from the JUI who have gained the capability of blackmailing the provincial government. There influence on the government is rightly a matter of grave concern for the liberals of Balochistan.
Fourth, US ambassador to Pakistan must have discussed in Islamabad the matter of establishing the consulate in Quetta with top, which we assume must have been approved before being publicized in the media. The unilateral announcement by the right wing leader comes as a pressure tactic to scare the Americans about possible security threats for their consulate, if ever established in Quetta. That is how enemies of democracy and freedom behave.
Fifth, the minister’s statement makes a deliberate attempt to portray Balochistan as the land of religious fundamentalists and hostile people who are averse to foreign countries’ developmental, cultural and economic activities in their province.
Sixth, a minister hailing from minority Pashtun population is making a desperate attempt to impose a decision on the behalf of the majority Balochs who, on the other hand, largely welcome the establishment of a US consulate in Balochistan.
The decision of the government, whether taken by Islamabad or the center, to refuse space for a US consulate in Balochistan is deeply regrettable. This sends a very rude and hostile message to the international community which is attempting to fight the war against terrorism and growing religious fundamentalism. The US government wanted to establish its consulate in Quetta apparently to execute the developmental projects in the province under the Kerry Lugar Bill. The consulate was also expected to take a look at the activities of Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership in the region which lies very close to the Afghan border. If the consulate is prevented from being established in Balochistan then there is also the possibility of developmental projects under the Kerry Lugar Bill being withdrawn by Washington. The American seemingly will not initiate a development project without being physically present to monitor its progress due to defective and corrupt apparatus Pakistan had had in the past to deal with such projects.
Denying a consulate to the US in Balochistan means to divert the developmental projects in the province under Kerry Lugar Bill. This, in the second place, translates into adding to Balochistan’s sense of deprivation and underdevelopment. The fundamentalists must be strongly discouraged to take the entire provincial government as well as the future of Balochistan hostage. Balochistan must benefit from all kind of progressive and healthy initiatives taken by the US government which are intended to ensure the uplift of the downtrodden masses.
As the hardliners in the government manage to discourage the US from establishing its diplomatic set-up in Balochistan, we believe it is the handiwork of the same elements in the government who want to keep Balochistan an inaccessible and under reported region for the rest of the world. They neither want the province to benefit from foreign-funded development projects nor do they want the rest of the world to learn about the actual ground situation in the country’s old and rich resources.
The Baloch nationalists and progressive parties and the liberal media should play their respective roles to make sure the US establishes its consulate in Balochistan, a step that will remarkably help to bring Balochistan under the radar of the international community. Right now, Balochistan is still a neglected part of the country which remains a mysterious place for the rest of the world. The presence of a US consulate in Quetta will significantly boost the confidence of the international investors, non-governmental organizations and foreign visitors to Balochistan.