The US Congressional hearing on Balochistan, which was held on Wednesday February 08 , somewhat delighted the Baloch nationalists while creating a lot of hue and cry in the Pakistani media which seldom discuss human rights violations, forced disappearances and targeted killings in the largest province of Pakistan.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations was chaired by A Republican Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, who had already expressed support for Balochistan’s self determination in one of his previous articles. There was also a panel of three witnesses namely Ali Dayan Hassan (director of the Human Rights Watch), Ralph Peters (Defense analyst) and C. Christine Fair (Georgetown assistant professor) to testify before the committee on Balochistan issues.
While not all Baloch nationalists were wholeheartedly pleased with the hearing due to absence of Baloch voice but a delegation of Balochistan National Party attended the hearing and handed over a letter of thanks on behalf of the people of Balochistan. On the other hand the government of Pakistan expressed strong concerns over the hearing and considered this “ill-advised and ill-considered”. Both the Upper House and the Lower House of parliament voiced vociferous protests against the hearing on Balochistan.
Meanwhile, it provided a golden chance for the Pakistani media to burst out against the US and tried to prove that the law and order situations in Balochistan is fermented by foreign elements aimed at defaming and destabilizing the Land of the Pure. Pak media called it ‘bizarre and public demonstration of US interference in Pak affairs’. From the Interior Minister, Rahman Malik, to Chief Minister Balochistan, Nawab Raisani, expressed disdain over the hearing with assertions that only a handful of terrorists, supported by some hostile foreign agencies, are involved in law and order issues.
In spite of the fact that such hearings are vital in attracting world attentions towards the human rights violations and law and order issues in Balochistan but the timing of this hearing is definitely of a great importance. Taking notice of Balochistan situations and talks about its ‘self-determination’ and ‘independence’ amidst the Pak-US tensions raise a million dollar question: Is the US sincere with Balochistan? Not indeed. The US had kept mum over Balochistan issues for many decades due its close ties with Islamabad. But the Salala check post attack which resulted to the closure of NATO supply routes coupled with Pakistan’s refusal to grant permission to US for opening a consulate in Quetta along with Pakistan’s assertion that it will go on with Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project in spite of the sanctions changed the scenario. Therefore, the Congressional hearing seems to be more of a political stunt to pressurize Pakistan to mend it’s ways.
Moreover, the Congressional silence over Hazara genocide in Balochistan at the hands of extremist militant outfits linked with Quetta Shura and Al-Qaeda is a matter of great concern and a proof that the US is not actually worried about the human rights violations. The fact that the Hazaras of Pakistan are Shia Muslims creates a false assumption that they are pro-Iran and therefore their genocide is not apparently a matter of grief. After all, the US is befriending the Taliban once again and raising voice against the systemic killings of members of the Hazara community may anger the members of the Quetta Shura.
When you discuss human rights violations in Balochistan while ignoring genocide of a particular community at the hands of Jihado-sectarian allies of Taliban, one would definitely doubt your sincerity. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that The US will forget the human rights abuses once its relation is normalized with Islamabad.
Below are the scripts of testimonies about the Hazara genocide in Balochistan submitted by the witnesses to The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations which were ignored by Pakistani and as well as international media such as BBC-Urdu which misreported the event.
Statement of Ali Dayan Hasan Pakistan Director, Human Rights Watch:
Attacks by Sectarian Groups:
The second distinct conflict is a sectarian one, in which militant Sunni Muslim groups have attacked members of the Shia community, especially members of the Persian-speaking Hazara community. Such sectarian attacks appeared to have increased since 2009, and occur mainly in Quetta and its neighboring districts. Further, armed Islamist groups are also attacking those who act contrary to their interpretation of Islam.
Human Rights Watch has documented over 300 killings of members of the Shia community, mostly from the Hazara community that have taken place since 2008. For example, on October 4, 2011, gunmen riding on motorbikes stopped a bus carrying mostly Hazara Shia Muslims who were headed to work at a vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta, the provincial capital. The attackers forced the passengers off the bus, made them stand in a row, and opened fire, killing 13 and wounding six others.
On September 19, near the town of Mastung, gunmen forced about 40 Hazara who had been traveling by bus to Iran to visit Shia holy sites to disembark, shot 26 dead, and wounded six. Although some Hazara managed to escape, another three were killed as they tried to bring victims to a hospital in Quetta. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group, claimed responsibility for the September 19 attack.
Pakistani and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have made numerous calls to Pakistan’s authorities to hold those responsible for the attacks to account. While authorities claim to have arrested dozens of suspects, no one has been charged in these attacks. While sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia militant groups has been a persistent problem in Pakistan, more recent attacks have primarily targeted ordinary Shia going about their daily lives. Despite Pakistan’s return to constitutional rule in 2008, scores of unarmed Shia have been killed across Pakistan by Sunni extremists, particularly around the Islamic month of Moharram, which is of particular significance to the Shia.
Sectarian attacks have occurred across Pakistan for some years now but have increased in
Balochistan since at least 2010. These are not random killings but demonstrate the deliberate targeting of minority Shi’a Muslims by militant groups including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others. Balochistan’s Hazara Shi’a community claims that Taleban and Sunni extremists have murdered hundreds of their members since 2004. Routine targeted killings against the Hazara and other groups because of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliations raises serious questions about the willingness or ability of Pakistan security forces to protect the people of Balochistan. Continued failure to address sectarian violence will only exacerbate the general breakdown in law and order in Balochistan.
C. Christine Fair’s Testimony:
A second conflict, largely distinct from the ethnically-based tension, is the continuing problem of sectarian violence. In Pakistan, this almost always takes the form of Deobandi Sunni extremist violence against Pakistan’s minority Shia community. In recent years, these Deobandi Sunni militant groups (e.g. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan, etc.) have also taken up arms against other Sunnis (e.g. Barelvis) whom they deride as being apostates or hypocrites (Fair, 2011). In Balochistan, the group most vulnerable to such attacks, which tend to be concentrated in Quetta and environs, is the Persian-speaking Hazaras.