COMMENT: Balochistan’s Ho Chi Minh moment -Dr MohammadTaqi
No state today may embark upon an ethnic cleansing of a people and then invoke sovereignty as a shield against international scorn or humanitarian intervention
In his book, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism, Professor Erez Manela records a fascinating story. He writes, “In June 1919, Nguyen Tat Thanh, a 28-year old kitchen assistant from French Indochina, set out to present a petition to the world leaders then assembled in Paris for the peace conference. The document, entitled ‘The claims of the People of Annam’, echoed the rhetoric of the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, who had recently emerged in the international arena as a champion of the right of all peoples to self-determination.”
Professor Manela goes on to note: “The young man from Indochina, who signed the petition as Nguyen Ai Quoc or Nguyen the Patriot, had sought a personal audience with the American president to plead his people’s case before Wilson.” The young Nguyen had even rented appropriate attire for the proposed meeting with the president, which, as luck would have it, was not meant to be. But, after adopting the Leninist model of struggle for self-determination, the young patriot went on become Ho Chi Minh!
Uncle Ho was not the only one enamoured of Wilson’s vision of a new world order that would undo the ‘traditional’ imperialism through liberal reform and deliver a world where the human, political and territorial rights of the peoples would be respected and upheld. From the Egyptian nationalist leader Sa’ad Zaghlul to the Korean March 1 “Samil” Movement against the Japanese occupation, all were inspired by Wilson’s self-determination discourse and sought his personal, and the US’s assistance in their quest for freedom.
Many who sought such help were disappointed. For example, the Korean delegation that wanted to address the Paris Peace Conference was blocked from doing so by Japan, which occupied Korea — and also by the US. Nonetheless, the freedom fighters saw an opportunity in a world then undergoing geopolitical tectonic shifts and tried to make their case in the most forceful manner they could.
The Baloch nationalists lobbying the US Congress for support and the Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s concurrent resolution number 104 in support of the Baloch right of self-determination was thus, not really unprecedented. Sensing an opportunity in the emerging geopolitical scenario played out between the US, Iran, Pakistan and China, the Baloch resolution timing is spot-on. A loose cannon perhaps, and certainly no Wilson he, but Rohrabacher has managed to send Pakistani state apparatchiks and intellectuals scurrying for a response and damage control.
The anxiety of the so-called Pakistani foreign policy elite is indeed palpable now and their response has ranged from the standard party line that ‘Balochistan is an integral part of Pakistan’ to really a horrendously revisionist approach to history — and the future. Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Ms Sherry Rehman, has reportedly written a letter to the US House of Representatives speaker John Boehner about the Rohrabacher resolution saying, “Statements and resolutions in contravention of the UN charter and international norms could undermine Pakistan-US relations.”
The full text of the letter has not been shared by the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C. yet. It would be interesting to see which part of the UN charter Madam Ambassador has invoked. Suffice it to say that sovereignty and territorial integrity have never been and certainly are not today a defence for gross violations of fundamental human rights and absolutely not for the systemic genocide underway in Balochistan.
State sovereignty is not independent of the broader principles of international law and norms, including the universal proscription of abuses of fundamental rights. No state today may embark upon an ethnic cleansing of a people and then invoke sovereignty as a shield against international scorn or humanitarian intervention.
In the post-colonial world, the principle of self–determination of peoples versus the territorial integrity and/or sovereignty of a state is certainly a complicated legal debate and hard to resolve practically. While territory and sovereignty over it are considered to be the sine qua non of a state, one of the stated purposes of the UN, enunciated clearly in its charter, is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”.
For the most part, the nation state and its sovereignty have been able to trump — except in cases of massive human rights violations — the self-determination principle and the thrust of the Pakistani strategy will be to continue trying to undermine the latter in the Baloch context. Diverting attention to internal sovereignty and ‘democratic’ means will remain the state mantra.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, some of the Pakistani liberal elite not only parrot the official line but go a step further. The novelist Mohsin Hamid, writing recently in an English contemporary, first defaces history through his preposterous assertion that Pakistan was created to protect the rights of the minorities. That piece needs to be dealt with separately but one line is worth mentioning. Hamid says: “Yet an independent Balochistan would in itself solve little. Balochistan is almost half non-Baloch. What of the rights of the non-Baloch in Balochistan?”
One has to have grown up on nothing but a steady diet of the Pakistan Studies textbooks to be so ignorant of Baloch history, grievances and demands. Hamid has retrofitted the Pakistan movement as the minorities’ champion but does not extend this courtesy to the future Baloch state. He also appears to presume that the Baloch claim to self-determination and their irredentism, and the resulting state, are anchored in the principle of uti possidetis juris, which implies that the new sovereign states preserve and retain the same boundaries as their predecessor colonial structures.
For starters, the Baloch have not had an irredentist claim on Pashtun territories as such and never did propose a greater Balochistan inheriting the present borders. In addition, going by the 1998 census, Balochi is the mother language of the majority — 54.76 percent — in present-day Balochistan (Pakistani census data does not list ethnicity). Moreover, the Brahui today identify themselves as Baloch, making Baloch the clear majority in what would be the greater Balochistan. Hamid’s fantastic account is not just a fallacist’s fallacy but also a very dangerous manoeuvre with the potential to set two peoples on a collision course.
The Baloch resistance leaders and especially the Baloch diaspora should swiftly counter the rhetoric — no matter how incoherent and absurd — unleashed by the Pakistani state and its fellow travelers rattled by the international attention in the wake of Balochistan’s Ho Chi Minh moment.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki