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Baloch separatist cry reaches US


CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA Musings on life, politics and economics from TOI's Washington correspondent

Given my modest reading of subcontinental history, I would have never been up to speed about the Khanate of Kalat and its history but for a chance meeting with Gaby Darbyshire, an executive with Gawker Media, a blog-oriented new media company. We met in New York City a couple of years back to talk about blogs and stuff, and in course of our conversation, she disclosed that she was British (no surprise) and had some subcontinental connection (no surprise, again): Her grandfather had been prime minister or chief of staff to the Khan of Kalat. "Isn't Kalat somewhere in the tribal regions of Pakistan?" I asked, cranking up the memory cells. "Indeed, " she said, "It's a part of what is now Balochistan. " After a few desultory exchanges, the topic receded. Considering that a couple of years before that I'd met a US Senate staffer whose great-grandfather was a chief inspector of police in the "United Provinces" (today's UP), the Darbyshire-Kalat connection wasn't a big deal.

At that time, Balochistan and its bloody uprising was just about making the briefs column in newspapers in the region (willful suppression, the secular Baloch say), and it wasn't even a blip in the West. The only time the issue surfaced in India was when Islamabad accused New Delhi of feeding the insurgency, a charge that was never substantiated with any proof - and was dismissed contemptuously by India - and therefore did not stick. In Washington, DC, home to endless causes and lobbies, including some espousing secession and self-determination for new territories from old countries, the Baloch had no takers. A couple of commentators with some understanding of regional history and Partition (most notably Selig Harrison, a former South Asia correspondent of the Washington Post) suggested independence for Balochistan (which he argued would serve US strategic interests by countering Islamist forces and denying China the port of Gwadar), but his views got little traction in a town where many policymakers have little idea of how Pakistan came about but worry about where it is going.

Even before Harrison's thrust, a hardline commentator named Ralph Peters had written an essay titled 'Blood Borders' in which he visualised redrawn boundaries in the Middle East, including creating a Free Kurdistan and a Free Balochistan. Although many Pakistanis reacted sharply to the essay (and the accompanying map), the Pakistani establishment held back from commenting officially on it (although the essay appeared in a US military journal), and the provocation receded. The conspiracy theorists though seized on it as proof of a US plot and perfidy aimed at balkanising Pakistan, but no one really took it seriously.

In fact, as recently as a few months back, Pakistanis were secure enough to celebrate the success of an outstanding Baloch song recorded by Coke Studio, Dane pe Dana, arguably the best song recorded in the series, which not only invokes pastoral romance to honour a shepherd's love for his beloved, but is also a powerful reminder of Baloch nationalism, with laudatory references to Kalat, the Khan's country, and its "hills of Harboi and Marja, Kachchi and Khurasan ... Chiltan and Shashan ... and the rivers Mula and Bolan". These were the areas from which British expeditionary forces were routed, and the Baloch have never let anyone forget it, as Pakistanis are finding to their horror these days.

Still, it takes more than bombs and bullets to forge a new nation, especially in an age when separatist violence can easily be given the hue of terrorism. The Baloch have discovered that it is not enough - and perhaps not possible - to counter the Pakistanis eye-for-an-eye, but if they succeed in opening enough eyes in the West to the excesses of a rapacious military that escaped being punished for the biggest genocide after World War II, it's a good start. Ergo, a flanking move in Washington, DC that has caught the Pakistani establishment completely flatfooted.

It doesn't take much to get US lawmakers on board a worthy cause, especially one that generates some headlines and lolly, but in this case Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has made no secret of the fact that his heart does not bleed so much for the Baloch as it is filled with rage against Pakistani perfidy. A self-confessed former best friend of Pakistan who has at various times dallied with the Taliban, Khalistan etc, the California surfer dude reflects growing anger in America against a country that has lost its marbles and become completely neurotic on account of its grievance-laden narrative of denial and defiance. The Baloch may or may not get their country, but Pakistanis will find it hard to keep theirs if they don't read the writing on the wall.

Reader's opinion (1)

Karwanyun.surendranath Feb 25th, 2012 at 19:45 PM

It is surprising that this article only skims the surface of Balochi unrest. It doesn't delve deeper. Talking about somebody's relationship with this sub-continent is irrelevant

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