This article appeared in Daily Times on Monday February 13, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI
While the reports released by the US State Department kept indicting China, Iran and other ‘rogue’ countries in the ‘axis of evil’ for human rights violations, similar reports kept sprouting from China and Russia against the US. More so, international rights watchers like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused the US of “practices that grossly violate human rights, like the death penalty, poor prison conditions and sentencing youth offenders to life without parole”.The Apologetic Index, which deals with the cults, sects, religious freedom and other human rights, records that the US government “generally fails to acknowledge, let alone address, America’s own human rights violations (e.g. use and promotion of the death penalty, a faulty ‘justice’ system, multiple violations of international treaties, export of torture equipment, continuing trade war on Cuba, failing to curb hate groups, support of extremist groups such as the Church of Scientology, and so on).”
Why is it that the US continues to judge other countries but when others try to judge it on similar counts, its attitude is ‘who are you to judge us’ and ‘how dare you meddle in our internal affairs’. The question got an answer when Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast censured a UN General Assembly resolution against his country for human rights violations in November last year. “Unfortunately, human rights has turned into a political issue and a tool in the hands of the western hegemonic and bullying countries,” said Mehmanparast.
Human rights have indeed become a tool for conducting international diplomacy and pursuing big powers’ own global interests. For instance, one would not see any big power having an iota of conscience pangs for human rights violations perpetrated by its strategic allies as long as they keep producing results for those powers. Examples are as few as there are sand grains in the Sahara Desert. Saddam’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya (in his life and his death), Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Kashmir (sounds rhetorical? Yes, it is), and most of all, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — all were and are bastions of human rights until they serve their purpose.
Pakistan, being a rapidly unallied ally, has recently started getting the heat. The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a special hearing on what they know as ‘Baluchistan’ on February 8. The hearing started with an introduction to ‘Baluchistan’ and its history by the chairman, Dana Rohrabacher. The introductory two minutes were quite heavy with jumbled-up facts and one-sided views on the history of this region. There were five presentations covering different aspects of the conflict going on in Balochistan, by five witnesses of sound professional experience, the analyses of whose arguments is not possible in this place. The witnesses were followed by remarks from the committee members, displaying their shock, displeasure and…self-righteousness.
Nonetheless, despite all the human rights politics in play on what Rohrabacher kept calling ‘Balookistan’, Pakistan should not let it go under the fog of the US’s “ill-advised move” to “intrude in our internal affairs”. Issues that came up during the hearing need serious self-evaluation if another 1971 is to be avoided. Putting everything down to ‘international conspiracies’ and the over-defined ‘enemies’ of Pakistan and adopting a sense of victimhood so popular among us would only damage our own selves. The ‘difa’ (defence) of sovereignty is in appraising ourselves and taking corrective measures, not in prompting civil disorder by instigative rallies in big urban centres.
When Ralph Peters, a military analyst, said in his testimony, “Pakistan is not an integrated state, but a miniature empire that inherited its dysfunctional and unjust boundaries from Britain’s greater, now-defunct empire,” it demanded serious introspection. Peters might have been a bit liberal in using the term ‘empire’, but it should still concern us for the way we have been conducting ourselves offers little material for defence. It might be hinting at the future course of US policy towards Pakistan when Peters said, “We must set aside our lazy Cold War era assumption that Pakistan is a necessary ally and recognise that the various insurgent movements challenging the Islamabad government are engaged in liberation struggles against an occupier.” Pakistan might have become a soiled diaper for the US, but this must not blind us to what we have been doing with Balochistan and to all the territories that acceded to Pakistan in 1947-8.
We can keep screaming about human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir but it must not be used to camouflage our own atrocities in our own courtyard. That our citizens in Balochistan have been victims of most brutal subjugation, suppression, abuse, violence and rights violations at the hands of our own state is a fact that must shame us and activate us for immediate reaction. But the fact that the civil and political society in Pakistan are suffering from a general ignorance about and insensitivity towards Balochistan’s plight is something extremely disturbing.
Pakistan’s mainstream TV channels seldom broadcast anything about the issues and problems of the people in Balochistan. The general ‘opinion atmosphere’ is completely devoid of an inclusive narrative that speaks of the Baloch problem. Amidst all this prevalent callousness towards Balochistan, where all the efforts of the Balochistanis (the Baloch and the Pakhtuns of Balochistan) to make their voices heard are being sabotaged by the state of Pakistan, they have started reaching out to international bodies who watch human rights violations. Would you blame them? When the Baloch nationalists, intellectuals, professionals and opinion makers are target killed, which go unnoticed by an otherwise ‘vigilant’ civil society and media, what options are we leaving for the oppressed Baloch?
The executive and the judicial branches of the state of the Islamic Republic have to be accountable for the criminal miscarriage of state writ and justice in Balochistan. The case of 11 missing persons being heard by the Supreme Court against the premier intelligence agencies of Pakistan might be a good omen but it demands similar, in fact more forceful, action on Baloch missing persons and mutilated bodies that they find on a daily basis in Balochistan’s streets. Those ranting about our sovereignty being hurt by drones must also shed at least a few tears, whatever their worth, for the absence of state writ in most of Balochistan.
In an extremely dreadful situation we have created for our fellow citizens in Balochistan, the Baloch nationalists have reverted to counter-violence and aggression, the solution of which does not lie in further incriminating and criminalising their actions but in addressing their legitimate concerns. Reminding the US of its failure to notice human rights violations even-handedly might be a reflex action; it certainly is not something that would prove useful to Pakistan’s own interest, which is in self-assessment and taking remedial measures. When Hazara Shias are killed en masse, Baloch youth are regularly kidnapped by state agencies, mutilated bodies of Baloch nationalists become the order of the day, Baloch intellectuals and professionals are target killed, hue and cry over the US’s double standard is not only unnecessary but dishonest too. Complacency is the worst enemy of Pakistan.