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U.S. Hearing On Balochistan Raises Hackles, Awareness In Pakistan

Family members of missing Baluchs, mostly political activists, rally in protest on the eve of international Human Rights Day in Quetta, Balochistan, on December 10, 2011.

Family members of missing Baluchs, mostly political activists, rally in protest on the eve of international Human Rights Day in Quetta, Balochistan, on December 10, 2011.

The U.S. Congressional hearing last week on Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, though it was firmly rejected by Islamabad, is being seen in Pakistan as any eye-opener for the state and its security agencies.

Pakistan's newly appointed envoy to Washington and onetime champion of freedom of expression and human rights, Sherry Rehman, in an official reaction called the hearing an "ill-advised and ill-considered" move that will have serious repercussions for Pakistani-U.S. relations.

Calling Balochistan an integral part of Pakistan, Rehman did not mention the security situation in the province, which is now more regularly and more openly being discussed in the Pakistani print and electronic media.

Joining the Pakistani government in its anger over the U.S. hearing on Balochistan, Pakistani lawmakers also expressed their reservations, but took it a step further, calling the situation far from satisfactory and asking for immediate redressal of the demands of Baluch nationalists.

Three senators, Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party, Ibrahim Khan of Jamat-e Islami, and Iqbal Zafar Jhagra of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, who talked to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal a day after the U.S. hearing, described the Balochistan situation as a grim reality, though they also accused the U.S. Congress of interference in Pakistan's internal affairs.

At the same time, the Pakistani media, apart from its typical anti-Americanism, criticized at the state and its security agencies for pushing the situation to an extent where the disgruntled Baluch, who once demanded greater autonomy inside the Pakistani federation, are now fighting for independence.

Bangladesh All Over Again?

Eminent columnist and television anchor Hamid Mir, writing in Pakistan's largest Urdu-language newspaper, "Jang," under the title "Wake Up, Wake Up And Raise Your Voice," argues that the Baluch have been deceived for a long time.

Recounting the five phases of Baluch struggle from greater autonomy up to the ongoing armed struggle for independence, Mir says that if Pakistan is really interested in keeping the Baluch as part of the federation, it should talk to them, ensure honorable release of the missing Baluch youth, arrest the killers of Baluch chieftain Akbar Khan Bugti, and put an end to the Pervez Musharraf-era state polices regarding that neglected and backward province.

While some lawmakers and political leaders from Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan are calling for a judicial inquiry into what the New York-based group Human Rights Watch called "forced disappearances," Pakistani political leaders, particularly those from the province, are calling the situation a wake-up call for the Pakistani state and comparing it with then-East Pakistan, which later emerged as the independent state of Bangladesh.

Sanaullah Baloch, a former senator writing in the "Express Tribune," believes that the use of force failed to suppress the Bangladeshis and that history will repeat itself if the state continues with the same policy regarding Balochistan.

In its editorial on February 11 discussing the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on Balochistan, the "Express Tribune" newspaper says it is encouraging that the international community has taken notice of the human rights violations in Balochistan. But it also describes the sudden attention from the U.S. Congress as cynical.

Like Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani senators and politicians "condemned" the hearing on Balochistan, but unlike previously, they did not spare the state and its security agencies either, which in itself alludes to the grim situation in the country's southern province -- the largest in area and the richest in natural resources, but the most backward and poorest from a human-development-index point of view.

Most Pakistani politicians, intellectuals, writers, and journalists agreed on a single point -- that the government should reach out to the Baluch leadership and address their genuine demands and grievances. At the same time, they call for an end to assassinations by Baluch militants in the province.

-- Daud Khattak

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