By Arab News
By S. Tausief Ausaf
Reasons behind a resolution moved in the US House of Representatives by lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher seeking sovereignty for Balochistan may be many, but the immediate provocation seems to be the pledges of cooperation by the presidents of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan in their summit in Islamabad.
A front-page photo of Asif Ali Zardari in the middle holding the hands of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamid Karzai in an expression of unity would have caused a lot of heartburn in the Pentagon and White House as Washington currently has serious problems with Tehran, Kabul and Islamabad.
The move by Rohrabacher, a California Republican, was meant to send out a tough message from neoconservatives — the authors of the Afghan war — that any course adopted by the three countries that is not in line with the American (read Republican) policy would be dealt with severely. The resolution also outlines Republican designs for the region if the likes of Dick Cheney, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz come to power again. Otherwise what took them 60 years to wake up to the pain of Balochistan and advocate the Balochis’ “historic right to self-determination?”
Zardari did not mince words when he said Pakistan would never provide Americans with an airbase to launch an attack on Iran. He added that Pakistan’s relationship with “brotherly countries cannot be undermined by international pressures of any kind.” He pointed out that Pakistan and Iran need each other and “no foreign pressure can hinder their ties.”
The three leaders agreed to commence a process of trilateral consultations for an agreement pledging not to allow any threat emanating from their respective territories against each other.
The Americans were obviously shocked as this was the first categorical declaration of support to Iran by Pakistan, whose own relations with the US came under a severe strain in November last year after unprovoked NATO airstrikes on two Pakistani Army check posts in Mohmand Agency killed over 24 soldiers prompting Islamabad to suspend NATO supplies through the country and boycott an international conference on Afghanistan in Germany.
Although Rohrabacher’s resolution was concurrent — a legislative proposal that requires the approval of both the House and the Senate in the same language but does not require the signature of the president and does not have the force of law — it was indicative of the level of American animosity and distrust toward Pakistan.
Pakistan, which is currently facing chronic power and energy shortages, has been eyeing success in the planned project of the 2,700-km long gas pipeline that will begin from Iran’s Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the south and stretch over 1,100 km through Iran. In Pakistan, it will pass through Balochistan and Sindh. In order to keep Iran isolated, unsustainable and financially weak for not stopping nuclear progress, the US has been throwing a spanner in the works of the pipeline for a long time.
Karzai, a highly unpopular CIA-installed leader whose only contribution to Afghanistan is promotion of corruption and nepotism, has his reasons for pledging that if the US went to war against Pakistan, Afghanistan would take the side of Islamabad. A decade after decimating the Taleban and bombing Afghanistan into stone age, Washington has realized that Taleban are uncrushable and that sharing power with them has no alternative. Karzai, who last year lost his brother and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani to two Taleban suicide attacks, is obviously uneasy with US peace efforts with the hard-line religious group. During the Islamabad summit, he made it clear that “Americans cannot negotiate on our behalf with the Taleban and with us on behalf of the Taleban.”
America’s Qatar initiative reeks of selfishness and inconsistency in its foreign policy. As the time nears to pull out of the war-wrecked country, which is far from stable after 1,738 US and 200,000 Afghan fatalities, the self-styled world policeman is open to any compromise for face-saving. The fact that George W. Bush’s project of fixing Afghanistan with Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s help miserably failed haunts the Republicans.
Since the 1970 revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran, with its nuclear work that supposedly poses a threat to Israel, has been a deep thorn in America’s side. Although US-led sanctions, trade barriers and suspension of Iranian banks from the SWIFT network have weakened Tehran to a noticeable extent, Iran is not only sustaining itself, it is also keeping its nuclear morale high to the utter chagrin of Tel Aviv and its master on the other side of the Atlantic. Slightly digressing, Iran’s bellicose attitude toward its Gulf neighbors, its refusal to return the islands of Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb to the UAE and its unflinching support to rebelling Bahrainis against King Hamad bin Isa are reasons for the absence of support it expects from Arabs at international forums.
Coming back to the resolution, Pakistan is hardest among the three “problem kids” for the US to deal with. And unfortunately the country has to blame no one but itself for the quagmire it finds itself in today. Rohrabacher used Balochistan because it is a weak spot. It is divided between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan with no sovereign rights of its own. The resolution, being seen as a part of conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan and create chaos, claims that the Baloch people are subjected to violence and extrajudicial killing. The resolution also strangely supports India’s silent campaign for the self-determination right for the Baloch nation in reply to Pakistan’s unwavering armed support to the armed struggle for freedom of some Indian Kashmiris.
The Baloch are up in arms against the federal government for a long time. To quote Sanaullah Baloch, a politician from the Balochistan National Party, the Baloch have mentally not accepted Pakistan’s forced merger and have risen up in arms five times during the last six decades. The current uprising that started in 2005 is on-going and Pakistan military and intelligence services have come down heavily even on unarmed civilian political activists.
Nearly 250 activists, who have disappeared and at least four tribal heavyweights are in self-exile now, he says adding some of them having spent decades behind bars.
Gen. Musharraf, who took refuge in the West after his US-backed dictatorship crumbled, takes full credit for the current turmoil of Balochistan. It was him who had ordered the extrajudicial killing of Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. Before having Bugti blown up to pieces on Aug. 26, 2006 and his remains secretly buried, the military ruler had infamously said on TV that Bugti wouldn’t even know what came from where to hit him. Such talk from a head of state for their leader left the Baloch livid and it is hardly surprising that following the sad episode, Bugti’s son offered a bounty of 1 billion rupees (SR41,291,709 approximately) and 1,000 acres of land to any person who kills Musharraf. Talal Akbar Bugti, chief of the Jamhoori Watan Party, says Musharraf also deserves a death sentence for overthrowing an elected government elected with a large mandate in 1999.
Even after several sops dished out to the Baloch by different governments in Islamabad, Balochis today feel marginalized. Natural resources, mainly gas, the province possesses are mainly used up by the Punjab and Sindh. The neglected province is deprived of industries, good infrastructure and educational institutions. Balochis feel alienated because the general perception is that Punjabis, who dominate every sphere of life in Pakistan, are top beneficiaries of Baloch riches. In military, they are 90 percent.
Pakistan can rescue itself by showing the nation it has a spine and it can survive without bending to please the US. The NATO supplies that had been suspended following the deadly attack on Pakistani soldiers have partially resumed after two months. According to a reported agreement, Islamabad would resume “regular” supplies in the first week of March while the US would not offer an official apology.
Following the attack, a full-house Parliament session, also attended by the top brass, had passed a resolution stating that the country would immediately halt cooperation with the US and any drone attack on its soil would be considered a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Shockingly, the drone attacks have resumed and the government and the army are silent.
The strength and will to stand up to American antics can only be possible if the whole nation is united. Today all Balochis and Pathans are not with the current setup in Islamabad. Application of true democracy, dialogue and respect for people’s genuine demands and concerns can make a difference. Pakistan’s neighbor has, after all, ridden out of similar crises in Assam, Punjab and to some extent Jammu and Kashmir.