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Hon. Dana Rohrabacher on Balochistan

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2012 House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Washington, DC. The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:30 p.m., in room 2200, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Dana Rohrabacher (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.

Mr. Rohrabacher.

I call this hearing of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to order. Today's hearing is about a part of the world and a people that most Americans know nothing about, Baluchistan, an area inhabited by the Baluch people who trace their history back for centuries. Baluchistan deserves our attention because it is a turbulent land marked by human rights' violations committed by regimes that are hostile to America's interests and values. It holds a very strategic location in an area of intense international rivalries. Baluchistan comprises about 800 miles of coast at the head of the Arabian Sea between Iran and India and runs inland to southern Afghanistan. The Baluchs are a fiercely independent warrior people who have made their land a perilous land to invade--until natural gas and other mineral wealth was discovered there in this last century. During the 17th century the tribes were united in a loose confederation until the British incorporated the area into the Indian empire in the 19th century. The British, however, ruled the area with a light touch, leaving tribal chiefs in control of their everyday affairs. At the time of the partition of the British Raj into contemporary Pakistan and India back in 1947, the Baluch leaders voiced a desire for independence, but the Pakistan army took control of the area and forced the Baluch tribal chiefs to submit to the rule from Islamabad. The partition was based on religion, that partition between India and Pakistan, it was based on religion, rather than ethnic identity. The Baluchs are Sunni Muslims; and Pakistan, which was founded as an Islamic state, sees itself as the rightful ruler of all Muslims of the subcontinent. Pakistani ideology holds Islam as the first identity, but other people identify themselves and their interests in many different ways. In practice, Pakistan does not treat all Muslims equally. The Baluch have seen little benefit from the development of the natural gas, coal, gold, uranium, and copper that is produced in their province. Instead, the wealth is taken for the benefit of the dominant Punjabi elite that runs the country from Islamabad. Baluchistan remains the poorest province in Pakistan, even though it is the richest in natural resources. Attacks against natural gas installations and pipelines by Baluch insurgents are steadily increasing, and there have been assassinations of Chinese engineers who are helping Pakistan develop resources that will be shipped out of the province to benefit Islamabad and, of course, Beijing. The province's major port--let me pronounce it--Gwadar--the port of Gwadar has also been developed with the help of China and may become a naval base as well as a trade and energy transit center. Pakistan, however, is using this development to attract Punjabis into the province with the aim perhaps of outnumbering the local native Baluch. There was a major uprising in Baluchistan that ran from 1973 to 1977, and the Baluch nationalists were inspired by the independence of Bangladesh, which was won in 1971. The Baluch insurgency, however, was ruthlessly crushed by Pakistani forces. After two decades of relative calm, insurgency broke out again in 2005. Islamabad has refused to concede any legitimacy to Baluch nationalism or to engage the Baluch leadership in serious negotiations. Its response has been based on brute force, including extrajudicial killings. The State Department and Amnesty International have condemned Pakistan for these murderous acts in Baluchistan. Across the border in Iran, there is a province, Sistan- Baluchistan, which is dominated by the ethnic Baluchs. The mullah regime there has denied them their basic human rights; and, as in Pakistan, the Baluchs are denied proper education and economic opportunities. As in Pakistan, the resources of Sistan-Baluchistan are often used to support an elite in a distant capital, leaving the local Baluchs in both countries impoverished. The Governor of Sistan-Baluchistan is appointed by the mullah regime in Tehran. The Governor of Pakistan's Baluchistan is determined by a very complicated process which has some democratic elements, but the nationalist parties thought the system was so corrupt that they boycotted the elections in 2008. I hope our witnesses can shed some light on how free and fair a political process in that area could be and give us some insights into what is going on there in terms of the political process. A low-level insurgency is in progress in Iran, as it is in Pakistan, with both countries reacting with the same brutal way of stamping out resistance. The Baluch in Iran are even more oppressed than those in Pakistan because Tehran is run by Shia theocrats who consider Sunni Muslims to be worse than heretics. Sunni Baluch clerics have been killed as part of an Iranian counterinsurgency campaign. South Asia cannot be understood purely in religious terms, as Muslim versus non-Muslim or Sunni versus Shiite. Group identities there are rooted in deeper tribal and village allegiances, with cultural attributes and historical experiences that go back for centuries. This hearing will explore what these mean and what they mean to the United States, what are the geopolitics of the region, the security of Pakistan, Iran, and their neighbors, how these things are being affected as well as the stability of that whole area. Also, we are looking at finding out about those things and how all of these factors and the dynamics that are at work play into the existing borders and aspirations of self-determination from all the perspectives that Americans hold and value. We believe in self-determination and democracy, believe the people have a right to speak up, but we are also very concerned about the stability of that part of the world and what this means to America and to the people there. So, as I say, this hearing, although I know that a lot of people saw this with trepidations, we are trying to understand something that I think we as American people have not paid attention to. So we need to learn things, like how to pronounce the port there and things like that. But even more than that, how to identify what forces are at work and who has some legitimate complaints and what America should be doing in reaction to the events there with the people there. So we are not here to--we are here to learn, and that is what this hearing is all about.

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