On February 8, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) held a hearing on Balochistan, which he followed up on February 17 with a resolution calling for an independent Balochistan. As I reported on the hearing, Rohrabacher mispronounced Balochistan so badly during the hearing that one Pakistani newspaper referred to him as “Donna Rohrbacher”. As might be expected, having a minor congressman meddle so clumsily in foreign affairs had a horrible immediate fallout, with large anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan developing in response to the independence resolution.
The fact that Rohrabacher is playing petty politics with the fate of a large number of people has not been overlooked in Pakistan. Former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Najmuddin A. Shaikh, writing yesterday in Dawn, had this to say in an opinion piece:
Rohrabacher has had an interest in Afghanistan for the last 30 years. As part of president Reagan’s stable of speech writers he takes credit for having Reagan call the Afghan Mujahideen ‘freedom fighters’ and even for the parallel Reagan drew between America’s founding fathers and the Mujahideen. In those days, Pakistan was his favourite country.
Today his attitude towards Pakistan is coloured by what he believes Pakistan is doing in Afghanistan and not by his concern for the Baloch people. Had he been genuinely concerned about Balochistan his star witness should have been Selig Harrison who has long been regarded in the American security establishment as the foremost expert on Balochistan.
That has been my concern as well. Rohrabacher’s professed support for the Balochs seems strikingly like the support the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans displayed for the Kurds after the first Gulf War, where the Kurds were encouraged to take on Saddam Hussein, only for the Republicans to then stand by idly while Hussein massacred them. In this case, it appears that Rohrabacher is professing support for the Baloch, but mainly for the way in which this support can weaken the Pakistani government, which he blames for sheltering Taliban insurgents who carry out attacks in Afghanistan and for hiding Osama bin Laden (who was no longer a Freedom Fighter, I guess).
Despite this cyncial background, however, the attention generated by Rohrabacher’s stunts is having some distinctly positive effects. Writing yesterday at BBC.com, Ahmed Rashid notes:
It took an obscure United States congressman holding a controversial hearing in Washington on the civil war in Balochistan to awaken the conscience of the Pakistani government, military and public. Read more