Balochistan’s Big Washingtonian Day
Today’s congressional hearing at the US House of Representative Foreign Affairs Committee exclusively focusing on Balochistan is a big day in our history. The Baloch, unfortunately, may not be there on the panel to represent themselves in this historic hearing but they still have every reason to rejoice this moment which has come after a bloody journey of death and destruction.
Regardless of the outcome of the Committee’s hearing and the recommendations of witnesses, what matters, at the end of the day, is the admission and acceptability of the Baloch conflict at one of the world’s highest democratic bodies.
Balochs are surely not the only ones to observe the developments taking place in the US capital today. The Pakistan Foreign Office has, as expected, strongly reacted to this hearing. For the Baloch and the Pakistani government, before we offer a summary of how we got to this point, let’s offer our gratitude to General Pervez Musharraf whose belligerent policies accelerated the Baloch journey to the world’s most powerful capital. Otherwise, this would have taken them at least fifty more years to witness a Congressional committee hearing on Balochistan.
This journey of internationalizing the Baloch issue began when a young man from Quetta’s Sariab Road, Nasruallah Baloch, established a hunger strike camp in front of the Quetta Press Club in the summer of 2005 seeking the release of his missing uncle, Ali Asghar Bangulzai. Many of us, the journalists, literally had to walk to Nasrullah to inquire what the word ‘lapata‘ (disappeared) written on his banner actually meant. While elucidating the term, he also explained what other nasty “jobs” the intelligence agencies had begun to perform in Balochistan: Forcing people ot disappear.
Nasrullah was soon supported by a group of brave educated Baloch girls who formed the Baloch Women Panel which was headed by Shakar Bibi Advocate.
The Panel was joined and supported by the Baloch Bar Association of Sadiq Raisani who agreed to provide free legal counseling to the disappeared Balochs. Then came the eighty-year old mother of Mir Abdul Wadood Raisani to protest in the streets of Quetta against the military operation and extra-judicial disappearances. As hundreds of young Balochs were whisked away, thousands of youth and women, with least political experience, joined the movement.
Hence, the Baloch fought this battle more intelligently and consistently through dozens of platforms such as press conferences, protest rallies, newspaper articles, seminars, blogs, tweets, Facebook and Youtube until their voice was heard in London and Washington.
Instead of getting annoyed at the hearing, the Pakistani foreign office should review the army’s colonial policy toward Balochistan. A congressional committee is hearing Balochistan’s issue in Washington DC because Pakistan has run out of political space and respect for the Baloch. If the Pakistani parliament addressed the Baloch issue with absolute commitment, soldiers who torture and dump young men would fear the Pakistani parliament as much as the the Foreign Office fears the American parliament. Why is a nuclear armed state scared of three people’s testimony, which would even not be fully endorsed by the Baloch nationalists? Why does the Center get paranoid every time when it hears words like Baloch and Balochistan?
In 2004, when the Mushahid Hussain Syed-led Parliamentary Committee was formed on Balochistan, it was fully backed by all stakeholders in the province, including the Marri, Mengal, Bugti and the National Party. When the federal government miserably failed to provide a peaceful political solution to the conflict and recklessly applied force, subjugation and censorship, it backfired. Today, the Baloch no longer have faith in Pakistan’s parliament, army, judiciary and the media. If the Pakistani parliament could remedy the Baloch grievances, the latter would not have to come to the US parliament for justice.
Here is a quick word of caution: This not a hearing to assert support for an independent Balochistan. Those politicians who attach high expectations and blow it out of proportion, they will only be adding to the vulnerability of poor Baloch civilians who will be further subjected to brutalities. It is very easy for politicians and journalists, including this writer, living on political asylum overseas to provoke the young Baloch. This hearing should be given as much importance as its mandate and limitation. This is indeed the opening of a good chapter of US-Baloch engagement. Balochs are now officially tied to some influential congressmen who stand at their side.
At this point, the most urgent thing we wish this Congressional hearing should lead to is the immediate recovery of hundreds of disappeared Balochs and an end to the ‘kill and dump’ operations in Balochistan. The ordinary people of Balochistan have enormously suffered because of the prolonged conflict. The US administration should unplug Pakistan’s military assistance so that the powerful army does not have additional funds for its domestic misadventures against unarmed civilians. As luck would have it, US assistance provided to Pakistan is currently being misused to equip Islamists and crush secular Balochs.