Since the 2012 Congressional hearing on Balochistan, Washington D.C. has become a new hub of Baloch activism. 2016 clearly saw a dramatic rise in the number of events and activities related to Balochistan in Washington. Given Pakistan’s allegations that India is supporting the Baloch nationalist movement, events on Balochistan steadily draw a lot of attention from the Indian and the Pakistani media and often fuel controversy.
When 2016 began, Mama Qadeer Baloch and Farzana Majeed, two prominent campaigners for the recovery of the missing Baloch persons, had already arrived in the United States. They had gained tremendous respect in Pakistan for holding a peaceful long march from Quetta to Karachi and then from Karachi to Islamabad to raise awareness about the disappeared Baloch. Their long march embarrassed the Pakistani government as it created widespread awareness about the conflict in Balochistan and generated sympathies for the families of the missing persons.
Qadeer’s son, Jalil Reki, the former secretary information of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP), had been whisked away in 2009 reportedly by government agencies and subsequently killed in 2011 in government custody while Farzana’s brother Zakir Majeed, an eminent leader of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO), disappeared in 2009. Qadeer and Farzana gathered on the platform of the Voice for Missing Baloch Persons (VMBP) and became the icons of a peaceful movement seeking justice for all missing persons of Balochistan.
In March 2015, the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) had prevented both the activists from leaving Pakistan and coming to the United States. Officials had stopped them at the Karachi Jinnah International Airport saying that the government believed that they had engaged in ‘anti-state’ activities and they were, therefore, not permitted to leave Pakistan. The government’s decision to stop the Baloch activists received much criticism from human rights bodies, such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Baloch political groups. In September 2015, a division bench of the Sindh High Court comprising of Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh and Farooq Ali Shah, while hearing the petition filed by the two rights activists, lifted the travel ban on Qadeer and Farzana. Hence, when they finally arrived in the United States, this was seen as a victory for human rights champions in Pakistan.
On their arrival in the United States, the Baloch activists claimed that they had been invited by the United Nations. They announced to launch a long march from Washington to New York to raise awareness about human rights violations in Balochistan. They spoke to several news organizations, including the BBC and Voice of America. However, they failed to organize a long-march in the United States seemingly because of lack of support from any local organization. Insisting that there was a need for him to continue his work inside Balochistan, Qadeer decided to return to Pakistan while his colleague Farzana chose to stay back in the U.S. and continue with her work over here.
Then, something completely unexpected happened.
Qadeer, who by then had enjoyed the respect of all actors of the Baloch conflict, released an unanticipated 19-minute video on his return to Balochistan. In the video, he read out a statement which he claimed was a message the veteran Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Khair Baksh Marri had wanted him to read out to the Baloch masses after his death. Contents of Qadeer’s video were so ridiculous that it seemed that he had been forced to make those statements on someone’s behalf. For example, he said Nawab Marri had told him that he believed his son Hyrbyair Marri, not government security forces, were responsible for the killing of his other son Balaach Marri. The video also indicated rifts between him and Farzana who had decided to stay back in the United States. Baloch nationalists, including family members of Nawab Marri, questioned the authenticity of Qadeer’s statement saying that the Nawab would never confide to Qadeer, who did not hold an important tribal or political position in Balochistan. The Voice for Missing Baloch Persons said Qadeer’s video did not represent the organization’s stance and the organization was not responsible for whatever he had stated in a personal capacity.
After the video statement, Qadeer, once the most prominent face of Baloch activism inside Pakistan, went in complete isolation and silence. While he had previously been condemned and discredited by the Pakistani government, now some sections of the Baloch nationalists also began to question Qadeer’s motives and integrity.
On February 12, members of the Baloch community staged a protest outside the White House to condemn the killing of Dr. Manan Baloch, the Secretary General of the Baloch National Movement (BNM). Former Speaker of the Balochistan Assembly Waheed Baloch and several other activists attended the protest, calling upon the U.S. government to take action against the extrajudicial killing of Baloch citizens by the Pakistani authorities.
On May 1o, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) organized a one-day long seminar on Balochistan at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) which was attended by Senator Paul Strauss of Washington D.C., Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament and representatives from Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and several other experts on Balochistan.
On the same day, the UNPO also organized a congressional briefing on Balochistan. The Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who had attended the hearing on Balochistan in 2012, reiterated his support for an independent Balochistan. “An independent Balochistan,” he said, “will dramatically change everything in the [Af-Pak] region and bring an end to Pakistan’s arrogance and hostility toward the United States and the Baloch people.”
Unlike the 2012 hearing, this time Gohmert was not joined by other members of Congress. The briefing, therefore, did not receive a severe reaction from Islamabad.
On June 27, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), which regularly hosts Pakistani officials, published a rare report about the conflict in the province called Balochistan: Caught in the Fragility Trap. The study, which had been written by former Pakistan Director of the Human Rights Watch Ali Dayan Hasan, noted “improvement” in the overall security situation in Balochistan but stated: “Balochistan remains the most fragile province in contemporary Pakistan… the rights and needs of Balochistan’s people, and the underlying fault lines that trigger conflict, remain unaddressed.”
An event on August 26 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on the death anniversary of Nawab Akbar Bugti could not have come at a better time than days after the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s explosive comments on Balochistan. The event drew a big audience both from India and Pakistan.
Ironically, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, also spoke at the event.
Since his ouster as Pakistan’s envoy because of the Memogate scandal, Haqqani, a staunch critic of the Pakistani establishment, had even become more vocal in his criticism of the Pakistani military. Top Pakistani officials believe he is behind alienating the Americans from Pakistan and persuading them to stop U.S. assistance to the Pakistani military. He had probably intentionally chosen to speak at the Balochistan event to upset the Pakistani establishment and voice support for the Baloch. However, he soon found out that the event was too ‘anti-Pakistan’ for him and intervened to remind the Baloch that they would not benefit by inviting foreign powers (i.e. India) to their rescue. Frequently described as a ‘traitor’ in the Pakistani media, Haqqani was immediately depicted by the ARY News as a patriotic Pakistani who elegantly countered “the poisonous anti-Pakistan propaganda of the Indian lobby.”
In September, Baloch nationalists staged protests outside the United Nations Headquarters when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif delivered his speech while another such protest was held outside the Pakistani mission in Washington D.C.
Throughout the year, the UNPO remained more active than any other organization in advancing the Baloch issue in Washington. In September, Nasser Boladai, UNPO’s President and the Spokesperson for the Balochistan’s Peoples Party, made a five-day visit to Washington D.C. where he, according to the UNPO, met with met with Members of Congress and the US Senate, experts of various think tanks, US Department of Defense staff, as well as USAID officials.
The UNPO president spoke at about Balochistan and its geopolitics at a roundtable discussion at the Hudson Institute, a prestigious think-tank. The UNPO claimed to have made “further headway towards the establishment of Baloch language broadcasting with Voice of America.”
Since 2016 was an election year in the United States, activities related to Balochistan did not get much attention in the media but this year was certainly the most hectic in terms of Baloch activism in America. The future of Baloch activism will significantly depend on President-elect Donald Trump’s policy toward Pakistan.
P.s: Baloch activism faced ups and downs in neighboring Canada where the Chairperson of the Baloch Students Organization (BSO-Azad) Karima Baloch arrived in November 2015. Throughout the year, she, along with Latif Johar, a senior BSO activist, raised awareness about Balochistan at different events and meetings with the media, politicians, and policymakers. A proud moment for Karima and the Baloch people came in November when the BBC listed her in its prestigious “the 100 Women 2016″ list. This was the first time a Baloch woman had been recognized on such an influential global platform. The sad news came for her in December when the Canadian authorities suspended the hearing of her asylum application deeming her “inadmissible to Canada“. Now she awaits an inadmissibility hearing in 2017. (The Baloch Hal)