Pakistan's self-proclaimed face of enlightenment and Bush Jnr poodle, Pervez Musharraf.... Print E-mail
.....  citing as the enemy and beating on the streets "Those who stand for the values of human rights and democracy that the Bush administration calls universal"
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 Pakistan -- Monday, December 19, 2005 -- Zeeqad'ad 16, 1426 A.H.

State of human rights

By Anwer Mooraj

THE Karachi chapter of the English Speaking Union of Pakistan was inaugurated over 40 years ago, presumably to further the spread of English. But for some inexplicable reason it ended up as the outdoor relief department of the foreign diplomatic corps.

Members of this elite union watched with weary resignation, as a succession of ambassadors, consuls general and other visiting firemen were invited over the years to use the ESUP platform to do a bit of political marketing.

Listening to these speakers one got the distinct impression that Pakistan was not only highly rated in the comity of nations, but that Ian Botham's quip about Pakistan being the sort of place to which a man should send his mother-in-law was in very bad taste. Diplomats are trained not to offend host countries, and so issues like child labour, tribal justice and killing in the name of honour are given a wide berth.

Ambassadors won't touch them with a barge pole. Instead they praise the Pakistani sense of hospitality, focus on the high industrial growth rate by tossing glowing statistics into the air and commend Pakistan for becoming America?s front line state in the war on terror. It is all very civilized, friendly and...boring.

Occasionally, the ESUP president invites a speaker who manages to jolt the audience out of its stupor. One such person who performed this rare feat recently was Asma Jehangir, lawyer and activist, who heads the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. This is a courageous and determined woman in whose office a mother shot her own daughter to uphold what is commonly referred to as the family honour. In 60 minutes she chronicled man?s inhumanity to man and demolished many of the hallowed myths that the government is propagating about the virtues of enlightened moderation.

Each offence and official transgression was loaded with moment and simmering undertones. It was in many ways a distillation of the numerous injustices that have collectively contributed to the harsh image foreigners have of this country. While many of these stem from the male attitude towards members of the opposite sex, there are other issues that are not necessarily associated with crimes against women, like the unspecified number of students that have recently disappeared from Balochistan, the unspecified number of people who have simply vanished from the tiny hamlets of Gilgit, and the number of women and children who have been killed in north and south Waziristan in the counter-terrorism measures adopted by the government.

The latest episode, which has all the ingredients of an Earle Stanley Gardner thriller, and could be entitled 'The case of the missing female suicide bombers' has certainly pricked the imaginative curiosity of human rights watchers. Two Pakistani sisters from Islamabad just vanished into thin air. A habeas corpus petition was filed on behalf of the father of the alleged bombers, as has been done in numerous other cases where victims were in the custody of intelligence agencies. The spokesmen of the government at first maintained a stony silence and then stated they had absolutely no knowledge of the whereabouts of the two girls. For all practical purposes the girls never existed.

A number of vignettes and wry observations followed. The government has no proper records of the number of women who get raped in this country because many cases are filed under the heading 'Abduction.' Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto didn?t exactly bend over backwards to defend the rights of their citizens and end gender bias. But when there was a civilian president in harness the courts were freer to act than now. One has to only look at the composition of the cabinet to realize what the culture of immunity means. Muslim women in India have fewer rights than Muslim women in Pakistan.

The Mukhtaran Mai case is, if one can borrow a phrase from Alice in Wonderland, becoming curiouser and curiouser. Though the prime minister, the governor of the Punjab and Nilofer Bakhtiar had trekked to the poor woman?s modest hovel and placed a hand on her head and said that the government would see to it that justice would be done, Mukhtaran Mai has now been told that she will get justice if she behaves herself. What is that supposed to mean?

Regrettably, in spite of the fact that Asma Jahangir has faced numerous death threats, and been physically beaten, there is a lobby consisting of misguided middle class women that is accusing this brave woman of deliberately projecting an unfavourable image of this country abroad. Before they spread their venom they should read a report entitled 'Pakistan?s moderates are beaten in public' published in The International Herald Tribune on June 15 and carries a Lahore date line. A few excerpts follow.

'Strip her in public.' As one of the police officers said, these were the orders issued by their bosses. The police beat the woman with batons in the full glare of the news media... The ritual public humiliation over, she and others - some bloodied - were dragged screaming and protesting to police vans and taken away to police stations.

"This didn't happen to some unknown student or impoverished villager. This happened to Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country's largest such nongovernmental group. The setting: a glitzy thoroughfare in Lahore's up market Gulberg neighbourhood. The crime: attempting to organize a symbolic mixed-gender mini-marathon on May 14.

"The stated aim of the marathon was to highlight violence against women and to promote 'enlightened moderation' ? a reference to President Pervez Musharraf's constant refrain describing the Pakistani military's ostensible shift from state-sponsored Islamist militancy and religious orthodoxy to something else (just what is not entirely clear).

Others arrested included Hina Jilani, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and 40 others, this writer included (an observer, not a runner - too many cigarettes). The police, faced with embarrassing media coverage, released us a few hours later.

"The marathon was organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and affiliated nongovernmental organizations in the light of recent "marathon politics" in Pakistan. Until early April, it was government policy to encourage sporting events for women, so Punjab province organized a series of marathons in which men and women could compete. The brief experiment ended abruptly on April 3, when 900 activists of the Islamist alliance, the Muttaheda Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA - which was effectively created as a serious political force by Musharraf and is backed by the military - attacked the participants of a race in the town of Gujranwala.

"According to a government statement at the time, the MMA activists were armed with firearms, batons and Molotov cocktails. Yet within days the activists were released without charge and Musharraf's government had reversed its policy of allowing mixed-gender sporting activities in public.

"The public beating of Pakistan's most high-profile human rights defenders highlights what most Pakistanis have known all along: 'Enlightened moderation' is a hoax perpetrated by Musharraf for international consumption. What is known in Pakistan as the 'mullah-military alliance' remains deeply rooted, and the Pakistani military and Musharraf continue to view 'moderate' and 'liberal' forces in politics and society as their principal adversaries.

"The reason is simple: Democracy, human rights and meaningful civil liberties are anathema to a hyper militarized state. Pakistan's voters consistently vote overwhelmingly for moderate, secular-oriented parties and reject religious extremists, so the military must rely on the most retrogressive elements in society to preserve its hold on power. Jahangir and others were beaten because they tried " in a symbolic but crucial way " to challenge the mullah-military alliance on the streets of Lahore.

"In Washington and London, Musharraf presents himself as the face of enlightenment; in Pakistan there is another face. The Bush administration, Musharraf's chief backer, should realize that its friend in the war on terror came to power in a coup, continues to hold office without facing Pakistani voters, refuses to schedule a vote, and bans women from running in mixed-gender races. Those who stand for the values of human rights and democracy that the Bush administration calls universal are seen as the enemy within and are beaten on the streets."