The western province, Pakistan’s largest and poorest, blazed into the headlines here when, to the surprise of regional experts, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced in the House a non-binding resolution advocating sovereignty for Baluchistan, where separatists have mounted several insurrections over the decades.
Pakistani leaders and the public exploded with anger, street protests and claims that the United States wants to dismember Pakistan. The resolution, though it had no force of law, stirred traumatic memories here of the 1971 secessionist uprising that led to the loss of East Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh.
It also stoked suspicions about why Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) and three other members of Congress came to Islamabad for meetings with top officials on Thursday and Friday.
“It will further harm the already strained ties,” an unnamed Pakistani official was quoted as telling the newspaper Pakistan Today.
The visit was part of an exchange program called the House Democracy Partnership, which brings together U.S. lawmakers and those from countries with less-established democratic traditions. As they met with their counterparts, the Americans realized that even senior Pakistani lawmakers had no clue that a resolution such as Rohrabacher’s did not equate to a law or in any way dictate U.S. foreign policy.
Initally the meetings “were very tense,” Dreier said Friday, but the anti-U.S. rhetoric moderated after the visitors swore they did not support a breakaway Baluchistan.
“I want to convey to the people, and the government of Pakistan, that the U.S. is committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan,” Dreier told the local media after the group met Thursday with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and offered him similar assurances.
Since Pakistan’s creation in 1948, Baluch nationalists have waged five insurgencies seeking greater autonomy and control over the province’s considerable natural resources, most significantly its natural gas. The latest rebellion, launched in 2003, has included fierce clashes between the Pakistani military and the underground Baluchistan Liberation Army.
Twice in seven days, Pakistan’s Foreign Office summoned Richard Hoagland, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Islamabad, to convey its strong protests over perceived U.S. support for Baluch separatists — first after a hearing held by Rohrabacher and then over last week’s resolution.
The measure has two co-sponsors — Republicans Louie Gohmert of Texas and Steve King of Iowa — and is among thousands of bills and resolutions introduced so far in the 212th Congress.