Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R–Calif.) caused a diplomatic mess recently when he held a hearing about human rights in Balochistan and then introduced a bill supporting independence for the Pakistani province. While Balochistan is plagued with questions of serious human rights abuses, Rep. Rohrabacher’s actions are not an effective way of addressing these questions. The inappropriateness of his actions notwithstanding, though, Pakistan should not see Rohrabacher’s bill for more than it is. Just as the US should not treat the statements of a single Pakistani parliamentarian as indicative of national policy, Pakistan should not mistake the actions of one Congressman with official policy of the United States government.
Every year, Americans of varying political persuasions work themselves into a frenzy over one or another bill introduced in the House of Representatives that portends the end of our democracy. But whether it is a bill to allow children to carry guns or to forbid women from buying birth control, none of these bills ever has a chance of becoming law. A 2009 Sunlight Foundation report found that in any two-year session of Congress, only about 4 percent of introduced bills actually become law. This may seem like a failure of democracy, but it’s actually a function of it.
Each of the 535 members of Congress can propose any kind of bill they want. They don’t need consent or support from anyone – they just drop a piece of legislation in a box, called “the hopper,” and congressional workers assign it an official bill number and file it away with all the others bills. The only test a proposal has to pass before becoming a bill in Congress is the judgment of the individual member of Congress who introduced it.
In fact, the government issued a rare comment on Rep. Rohrabacher’s bill clarifying that it does not represent the official policy of the United States.
The United States respects the territorial integrity of Pakistan. Members of Congress introduce legislation on numerous foreign affairs topics and these bills do not in any way imply U.S. government endorsement of any particular policy. The Department of State does not typically comment on pending legislation, but it is not the policy of the Administration to support independence for Balochistan.
While the US and Pakistan are in the process of redefining the terms of bilateral relations, they don’t need unnecessary distractions. Though the US government has publicly distanced itself from Rep. Rohrabacher’s bill, it remains in the headlines of Pakistan’s media. Rep. Rohrabacher’s act has wasted the time of government officials in both countries, interfering with serious issues like improving trade. But let’s be realistic – the US is not going to support any policy that does not respect the territorial integrity of Pakistan.