Musharraf Must Apologize to Pakistani Women

Pakistani women on the streets. Below: Victim Mukhtaran Mai receives a donation

By Samuel Baid
Special to the South Asia Tribune

NEW DELHI, September 24(2005): No head of a country, no matter how backward, has ever fouled the image of his own country’s fair sex like General Musharraf has done in the eyes of the American public through the Washington Post this month.

He shocked the people at large when he told the newsaper, and later denied, that women in Pakistan get themselves raped to make money and go abroad. His exact words, when asked about the safety of women in Pakistan, were: “You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This has become a money spinning concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”

When faced with hostile reaction to this statement, he coolly denied he ever made it. “I am not a so silly and stupid to make comments of this sort,” he told CNN. General Musharraf should have known that Washington Post could not have taken this interview without recording it. It, therefore, countered his denial by saying that the Head of Pakistan made this statement about his country’s women in front of three other journalists and all that was recorded.

General Musharraf also made a puzzling statement to the effect that he gave $50,000 to Dr. Shazia Khalid to leave Pakistan for Canada. She was raped while on duty in the Sui Gas Plant in Balochistan by an Army officer. Before an inquiry commission could give its verdict General Musharraf pronounced the Army officer innocent.

While she was crying for justice intelligence agencies forced her to leave the country. She forcefully denies having received money from General Musharraf. But if we accept General Musharraf’s claim that he gave her 50,000 dollars to leave the country, the question arises why on earth should the Head of State pay a wronged person to disappear from the country when she and her sympathizers were demanding justice for her.

Baloch nationalists said dishonoring a woman on the soil of Balochistan violated their social norms. When they became violent demanding action against the rapists, the Head of State warned his Baloch countrymen that it was not 1973 when they went up the hills. This time they would not know what hit them, he said. Was he hinting at testing the efficacy of his missiles on Baluchis? In the past 58 years they have already faced twice the air power of the Army. In 1973 armed Baluchis had taken positions on mountains when the military began a crackdown on them on orders from then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Recently, General Musharraf told an international women conference in Islamabad that Pakistan should not be singled out for the crime of rape. This was happening in other countries including European countries as well. But only Pakistan was accused of it by NGOs, he bemoaned. He had told Washington Post “rape is happening everywhere.” He had seen figures about rape in the US, Canada, France and Britain, he said.

One cannot contest this statement. But what makes Pakistan different from other countries is the virtual institutionalization of rape through the controversial Hudood Ordinance and the indifference of the authorities to the victim’s plea for justice. Hudood Ordinance makes it near impossible for a raped woman to get the rapist punished because she is asked to produce four pious eyewitnesses.

Worse, she is herself punished for this rape because she cannot find four pious eyewitnesses. Since General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule, when this Ordinance was promulgated, thousands of women have suffered long jail terms for complaining to police about their rape.

General Musharraf cannot name any other country where the gang rape of an innocent woman (here Mukhtaran Mai) is ordered by a Panchayat. There is no civilized society in the world where (in Sahiwal) a woman’s leg is amputated on charges of illicit sex. Can General Musharraf name a country where a girl of a minority community is kidnapped and forcibly made a Muslim and married to an old man – as happened in Jacobabad in Sindh. Sapna is not the only non-Muslim girl to have been so snatched away from her helpless wailing parents and community.

One may not find another example of a case like that of Sonia Naz. This young lady entered the National Assembly to seek justice when she exhausted all efforts to get her husband released from the clutches of the police. The National Assembly called her a “stranger” and handed her to police. The police ravished her. The rapists were led by an SP who has a bad record but enjoys the patronage of Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi. Sonia’s trauma didn’t end there: her husband, for whom she underwent all this trouble, divorced her saying it was shameful for him to live with a gang-raped wife. But Sonia alleged the police forced him to divorce her.

Woman organizations have persistently demanded that General Musharraf prove his adherence to his highly publicized call for “enlightened moderation” by freeing women from the Hudood Ordinance. But even if he wants he cannot for the fear of Mullahs.

On the contrary, by his statement to Washington Post he has betrayed a mind set typical of male chauvinist semi-literate, anti-feminist tribal chiefs and feudals, who are responsible for killing of hundreds of women every year in the name of family honor.

Back home General Musharraf will have to do a lot of damage control. The best course will be an honest apology to the women of Pakistan.

The writer is Director, Institute for Media Studies & Information Technology, YMCA, New Delhi and a former Editor of UNI

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