ISLAMABAD // Pakistan officials have condmened a US legislative effort supporting independence for Baluchistan, the resource-rich province bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
US diplomats in Islamabad were summoned twice to the foreign ministry in the past week to hear objections to a bill introduced in the US House of Representatives that says ethnic Baluch people, living in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, should "have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country and they should be afforded an opportunity to choose their own status".
Pakistan's prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, told reporters on Saturday that the "resolution is a violation of our sovereignty and we condemn it".
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who introduced the bill in the House, singled out Pakistan for criticism over its treatment of the Baluchi people, saying they were subjected to extra-judicial killings and other violence by Pakistani security forces.
"The political and ethnic discrimination they suffer is tragic and made more so because America is financing and selling arms to their oppressors in Islamabad," a statement posted on Mr Rohrabacher's website said. Mr Rohrabacher is chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigation, which held hearings on Baluchistan this month.
Baluchistan has for decades been mired in an insurgency by Baluch separatists who have been fighting for more autonomy and control of the natural resources, including natural gas, gold, copper, coal and marble, of their province, They say those resources are unfairly exploited to benefit other parts of the country, particularly Punjab, the most populous and politically influential province which dominates country's civil and military establishment.
Baluchistan is home to Pakistan's biggest natural gas field. The province produces more than 19 per cent of country's natural gas but consumes only 9 per cent of it. Punjab consumes 45 per cent but produces only 5 per cent.
Richard Hoagland, the US charge d'affaires in Pakistan, was summoned to the foreign office yesterday to convey Pakistan's concerns over the bill.
"Ambassador Hoagland was told in clear terms that the move in the US Congress was contrary to the spirit of friendly relations and violative of the principles of the United Nations charter, international law and recognised norms of the interstate conduct," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Analysts say the bill could be aimed at extracting maximum cooperation from Pakistan as the US intensifies its efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
US officials have also long suspected that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, is hiding somewhere in Pakistan's south-west where he leads the Quetta shura, the militant leadership council named after the capital of the Baluchistan.
The United States has long sought Pakistan's help to rein in Afghan militant groups, particularly the Haqqani network - based in Pakistan's north-west - which is now seen as the gravest threat to Nato and Afghan forces.
"This bill seems to be a pressure tactic to get more cooperation from Pakistan on Afghanistan," Talat Masood, an analyst and former general, said last week.
Mr Masood and other analysts said that although the bill has little chance of passing the US House, the debate over it could exacerbate tensions in relations between Islamabad and Washington that erupted after US forces killed Osama bin Laden last May.
Pakistan's parliament last week passed a resolution condemning the debate on Baluchistan by the US House and said it amounted to interfering in the internal affairs of the country.
"This bill is a negative development for the efforts to patch-up ties," said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and security analyst based in Lahore.
He said the bill also could provide ammunition to hardline Islamist groups. In recent weeks, some of them have held large rallies across the country, warning authorities against reopening land routes for supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan that were shut after an air raid by Nato forces in Pakistan's north-west in November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
"Anti-American sentiments are being promoted in Pakistan and anti-Pakistan propaganda is also being promoted in the United States. This trend should be discouraged if both countries want to improve their relations," Mr Rizvi said.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press