The Balochistan issue is making headlines again. But this time with a new and unexpected twist. The US Congress hearing and subsequent resolution are generating waves in the Pakistani media. So what is new with that? The Congress foreign affairs committees regularly conduct hearings on several issues. What shook me was that Dana Rohrabacher, the conservative Republican who tabled the resolution, went as far as demanding a separate Baloch state. The resolution may be termed as a ‘stunt’ and a futile attempt to gain political points, but this may spark a debate among opponents of the US-Pakistan aid programme in the Congress and in the administration. If it happens, it will be largely in the favour of Baloch activists in the US. In order to assess the dynamics of the entire situation, we need to understand the extent of Baloch activism in the US.
The Baloch diaspora is politically active in the US; it engages in efforts to promote the Baloch cause among US politicians and policymakers. Unsurprisingly, such “activism” serves the self-proclaimed “leaders” of the Baloch separatist movement which organizes its efforts through NGOs, think-tanks, interest groups and media outlets in order to gain US support in Balochistan’s bid for independence. However, the movement is still in its nascency; financial problems aside, it seems to suffer from infighting which is indubitably connected to its weak leadership. A combination of these factors – foremost the US’s reliance on Pakistan as an ally in combating terrorists – and the current political climate in connection with Iran – make the possibility of strong American support for the cause, highly unlikely.
Similar to the Sikh bankrollers of the Khalistan Movement, the Baloch community in the US is under the impression that certain actions of the US State Department confirm American support for the Baloch cause. These actions include an ongoing effort by the State Department to open a consulate in Quetta and Victoria Nuland’s remarks regarding human rights concerns in Balochistan. But is this true? I don’t think so. I believe that the American efforts to open a consulate in Quetta have other important reasons like spying on Iran and monitoring China’s aspirations in the province. Regarding Nuland’s statement, I am of the opinion that her remarks carefully, selectively, and opportunistically, focused on the killings and other human rights violations in Balochistan. Moreover, the State Department’s attempt to distance itself from the congressional hearing confirms my analysis.
Still, the Congress option remains. This involves building up enough support in the Congress to pass legislation in order to pressurize the Obama administration to change its policy or at least create a Congressional Caucus on the issue. And according to Dr. Wahid Baloch, President of the Baloch Society of North America, the Baloch have made significant progress on this front. In a recent blog post, Representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Louie Gohmert have stated, “Perhaps we should even consider support for a Balochistan carved out of Pakistan to diminish radical power there also”. Baloch activists have also gained support of Andrew Eiva, a prominent Washington lobbyist, who is of the opinion that America should support freedom and resistance movements all over the world.
According to Eiva:
The Baloch need to pull together 2-3 times more money than they have already raised. They then need to hire a professional lobbyist and draft a legislative mechanism that ties the Baloch cause to five or six other American interests in South Asia. These interests could include the prevention of genocide, stopping the spread of Islamic extremism, promoting an independent and economically viable Afghanistan, mitigating the threat of the Pakistan nuclear program, and countering Pakistani efforts which undermine counter-terrorism cooperation.
However, in my opinion, these goals seem pretty distant and hard to achieve given the current circumstances.
The success of the Baloch activists to garner US support for the cause depends on how well they can unify, mobilize and act in a coordinated manner to achieve their goals. The most uphill task they are facing is that of convincing the Americans that an independent Balochistan is in accordance with their larger interests in the region. This, according to my view, is impossible. The US would never jeopardize its relations with Pakistan to support the Baloch cause. And even if the Baloch are able to blow enough smoke so as to gain support in the Congress, the prospects of any legislation or major American policy shifts in the near future are remote.
In this blog post, I have tried to briefly present the situation in connection to Baloch activism in the US. Similarly, I have concluded that US interests in the region dictate that America’s “special relationship” with Pakistan will trump “Baloch independence”.
However, I do not consider my opinion to be axiomatic and hence I want my readers to consider the important question:
We have Baloch leaders in Pakistan and all over the world but where are their followers?
The author, Umair Khalil, is a researcher at PIIA and a student of Department of International Relations, University of Karachi