A provocative resolution by an American congressman calling for the secession of Pakistan’s largest province has gone virtually unnoticed by much of the international media, but it has caused an uproar in Pakistan. The controversy caused by a resolution that had virtually no support in the U.S. Congress reflects the tense state of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
After conducting a congressional hearing on human rights violations in Baluchistan, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a non-binding resolution calling for the Baluch people to have the right of self-determination.
A non-binding resolution in the U.S. Congress cannot become law, and Rohrabacher’s resolution on Baluchistan is not supported by the Obama administration and has little chance of passage. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad also rejected the resolution, saying the United States respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan.
Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Shaikh said he immediately saw the inflammatory resolution as reflecting the views of just one congressman, and not as a reflection of U.S. foreign policy.
“The value of which is, by my reckoning, in terms of the political scenario in Washington or in terms of the impact it will have, almost zero,” said Shaikh.
Still, the resolution provoked a furious reaction from Pakistani politicians and media. Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called it an attack on Pakistani sovereignty, while Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, warned it could seriously impact Pakistan-U.S. relations.
The Pakistani press has gone further, accusing the U.S. of having a hidden agenda to impose an American-friendly government in an independent greater Baluchistan that would encompass not only Pakistan's largest province, but also parts of southern Afghanistan and Iran, where many Baluch people live.
Shaikh says the hysteria and paranoia that has erupted in reaction to the resolution reflects the strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. Reports of U.S. drone strikes killing Pakistanis and the covert U.S. military operation on Pakistani soil that killed Osama bin Laden are viewed by many in Pakistan as violations of the country's territorial integrity and have increased anti-American sentiment.
With tensions already high, Shaikh says responsible leaders and the media need to be careful not to overreact.
“I think that whatever the state of relations, it is necessary for both the Foreign Office and for a free and responsible media to be slightly more circumspect and [refrain from] drawing conclusions until it knows all the facts,” added Shaikh.
Also lost in the controversy over territorial integrity are real concerns about human right violations in the province, which have received little international attention. Amnesty International says Baluchistan is one of the most militarized regions of Pakistan, where armed sectarian groups, government security forces and criminal gangs operate with impunity.
I. A. Rehman, the secretary general of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, says there has been a surge in accusations that state security agencies in the region have engaged in murder, kidnapping and torture.
“Quite a substantive number of people from Baluchistan have disappeared over the last couple of years," said Rehman. "And the families insist that they have been picked up by security agencies. And what is worse, for about a year the missing persons have been appearing dead.”
He says making the issue about national integrity and pride serves only to keep serious human rights issues off the agenda and makes it more difficult for the U.S. and Pakistan to renew normal diplomatic relations.