The woman doctor employed by Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) at Sui in Balochistan, Pakistan's oldest and largest gas field, discovered and operated by PPL, was raped recently in her room at the hostel where she lived. PPL high-ups hushed the issue as did the local police. There is deafening silence from President Musharraf and his junta on this issue that has triggered a low level insurgency among the locals who are already seething at the discriminatory treatment that has always been meted to Balochistan - the richest province in mineral resources, yet the poorest. Armed tribals launched missile attacks on gas pipelines, electric supply and railway lines in Balochistan, causing a big dent in the kitty of the national government. The tense situation has now been brought under control with the help of the Pakistan Army.
More alarming is the callous way in which the Pakistan government has chosen to ignore it. Also, eerily prophetic is the Human Rights Watch Report 2005 on the pathetic state of women Pakistan, announced a week before the Sui incident, that outlines the plight of rape victims and other rights violations against women.
On every media buff's lips is Pakistan. And for all the wrong reasons too.
Repeating the word 'freedom' 27 times and 'liberty' 15 in his re-inaugural address last month, the world's most powerful man went into an overdrive against tyrannical leaders who denied democracy, human rights and justice to their people. President Bush made a sweeping promise to support the oppressed in their fight against shogunate governments.
"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you," he vowed in freezing temperatures under an American flag.
Nanosecond had these words left the President; TV commentators began finger-pointing Pakistan, infamously bracketing it with Saudi Arabia and Egypt for their authoritarian regimes, lack of women's rights and a poor human rights record.
Today President Musharraf of Pakistan has become the defiler of democracy. Yesterday, he was the architect of 'enlightened moderation' bringing his country back from the brink of terrorism as Condi Rice testified in her confirmation hearings recently.
A banter of think tanks, newspapers and TV pundits now orchestrate that Musharraf is a trampler of human rights, likening him to the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a ranking member of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee comments: " while everybody can agree with Bush's desire to promote democracy, freedom of expression and diversity of thought, his speech might alarm some allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that don't follow such principles." "How hard will President Bush press for women's rights and free elections in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt?" is on everyone's lips. Wondering how Bush will break bread with Musharraf, backslapping and barbequing at the former's Crawford ranch (sometime in the future) are the analysts at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. Why this sudden impugning of Musharraf? It's not rocket science! In truth, the brutalization at Sui in Balochistan of Dr Shazia Khalid is the last straw to irk the West. Shocked beyond belief that Musharraf, who heads the Army, is loath to name the rapists in uniform, the western media's amour with our affable General, adored for his plain speak in the past, has gone awry. "Why is Pakistan Army considered the holy cow?" ask many Pakistani-Americans, incensed with the shabby way the government has tried to shield the rapists. "Why is Musharraf so scared to bring to justice the men who broke into the woman's room and in the darkness of the night gang raped her?" The fickle and lackadaisal response of the federal cabinet - the largest in history - under the beady eyed prime minister Shaukat Aziz, after the locals opted to take the law in their own hands and torch Sui only reinforces the male chauvinism and an utter disregard for women. "Blown out of proportion" - yes, this is what the cabinet called the Shazia Khalid rape case. How droll and comic can these ministers get? Not only has the government of Pakistan suffered millions in getting the Sui gas plant working again, it has invited the wrath of the world - nay not wrath but utter disgust. It's many steps backwards for professional women, wanting to work outside their homes - that option has now been snatched away from them. Additionally it has deprived thousands, nay millions of rural folks of getting specialists' attention. Tell me, which family, in its right mind, will have the heart and courage to send its girls away from home to face unknown monsters? Who then is the loser? Not Musharraf, nor his henchmen, nor the army - but the women of Pakistan in particular and the populace in general all across our hinterlands. Only a week before Balochistan rose up in arms, the Human Rights Watch, headquartered at New York sounded warning sirens about Pakistan's deplorable treatment of its women.
Eerily prophetic, the 2005 Report spoke of "rampant" violence against women and girls, including rape, "honor killings," acid attacks, and trafficking.
" The existing legal code discriminates against women and girls and creates major obstacles to seeking redress in cases of violence. Survivors of violence encounter unresponsiveness and hostility at each level of the criminal justice system, from police who fail to register or investigate cases of gender-based violence to judges with little training or commitment to women's equal rights."
Is this not exactly what happened to Shazia Khalid or are we all, including our 'benefactors' - Musharraf and company - living in a cloud-cuckoo- land?
Why is there a deafening silence against the law enforcing officials who refused to hear the victim's cry for justice?
Shame on everyone.
"Under Pakistan's existing Hudood Ordinance, proof of rape generally requires the confession of the accused or the testimony of four adult Muslim men who witnessed the assault. If a woman cannot prove her rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence and public whipping, or, though rare, death by stoning. The testimony of women carries half the weight of a man's testimony under this ordinance," says the Human Rights Watch Report.
So don't be surprised if you wake up one day to find Shazia Khalid in jail! Nothing new, actually, she would have merely swelled the number, estimated at 200,000 women incriminated under the Hudood laws to date!
Not to mention that a gathering of tribe elders in Sindh, spearheaded by Khalid's own grandfather, has called for the 'karo kari' (honor killing) of the woman physician because she has brought dishonor to her tribe by being raped! "
"The grandfather should go and hang himself, if he's so ashamed!" say many women activists who fear for Khalid's life.
The nation, specifically the leaders of this Islamic republic, owe an apology to Shazia Khalid and her brave husband, who have had the courage to go public in the face of societal stigma that rape victims carry for life.
The young couple are our heroes and not the endless lines of emasculated 'democratic' leaders, most of them turncoats, corrupt and without a shred of shame.
"Musharraf has successfully convinced the United States - and other countries - that he is Pakistan's indispensable man. Claiming that only he can save what he destroyed - Pakistan's fragile democracy - Musharraf has essentially been given a pass on the exile and jailing of opposition political leaders and serious human rights abuses by the Pakistani Army," writes Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.