POSTCARD USA: Mukhtar Mai proves Manto right —Khalid Hasan
I compliment General Musharraf on having had the courage to say that it was he who decided that Mukhtar Mai should not go abroad. It is nice to see the buck stop where it never stops in our country
Saadat Hasan Manto, had he been alive, would have chuckled with satisfaction to see that yet again his classic observation that “Hakoomat himaqat ka doosra naam hai” had come true. Government, he wrote, is but another name for folly.
Much has been written about the case of Mukhtar Mai and more will be written about what has become another chapter of shame in our national life. I never had any illusions about “Enlightened Moderation”, the official credo of the regime, but the Mukhtar Mai case has proved that it is no more than a couple of pretty words.
Governments, like people, are to be judged, not by what they say, but what they do. The fact is that every time the Musharraf regime has faced a situation where its liberal professions were on test, it has failed abjectly. Never once has it stood its ground or shown the courage of the convictions it claims to have, be it the hated Hudood laws, the religion column in the passport, the mixed marathon or the Mukhtar Mai case. What hope can there be when the General is afraid even to be seen holding the dogs of whom he is said to be exceedingly fond.
Mukhtar Mai gave the regime an opportunity to redeem itself. It failed to do so, in the bargain earning universal condemnation for both itself and the country. Under the president’s orders, vast sums of money are being spent to sell a “softer image” of Pakistan abroad, but ironically when an opportunity came the government’s way to show that Pakistan is both enlightened and moderate, it was blown. Isn’t it obvious that the regime lacks conviction, except the conviction to stay in power as long as it can, regardless of what it takes!
The tremendous wave of international sympathy for Mukhtar Mai and the courage with which she has stood up for the persecuted and violated women of Pakistan, sadly enough, has brought the government of her country and the country itself much ridicule and contempt. Pakistan’s name, as it was, was mud anyway; but the mud is now even muddier. And while this sad drama has been in progress, the General is somewhere down under, though only he can tell what he is doing there.
However, I compliment him on having had the courage to say that it was he who decided that Mukhtar Mai should not go abroad. It is nice to see the buck stop where it never stops in our country.
I know the group of Pakistani doctors behind the invitation to Mukhtar Mai to speak at a symposium in Texas next month on violence against women. She was not the only one invited, Dr Nuzhat Ahmad of the Asian American Network against Abuse of Women said on Friday. Invitations had also gone out to Abid Hasan Manto, Anis Haroon of Aurat Foundation and even Liaquat Baloch. Mushahid Hussain was invited too, but in a rare show of modesty, he declined, saying it was not his area of expertise.
Dr Nuzhat Ahmad said she first spoke to Mukhtar Mai two months ago and found her simple, soft-spoken, committed, brave and clear-headed. She said it was regrettable that their network was being maligned as being intent on embarrassing Pakistan and giving it a bad name. “We are no less Pakistani than those who are trying to sit in judgment on us,” she said. “In fact, had Mukhtar Mai been permitted to come, it would have helped Pakistan stand tall,” she added.
Dr Ahmad said the group’s repeated attempts to get in touch with the ambassador in Washington had proved fruitless. She asked, “Why is it being presumed that we are not on the same side as the country’s official representatives? We are distressed by the present situation, but it is not of our making.”
She said inquiries were beginning to be made about those who organised the Mukhtar Mai visit. There had been calls made in an effort to ferret out information about the network’s members and their families back in Pakistan. She did not wish to say who was making the calls and on behalf of whom. However, it is not difficult to guess either the source of the calls or the reason they are being made. After all, it will be in keeping with the strategy adopted against Mukhtar Mai. If Ambassador Jehangir Karamat knows anything about this, it is not for me to spell out what he should do.
Meanwhile, the ambassador has vehemently denied that it was he or anyone from his embassy who advised Islamabad that Mukhtar Mai should be debarred from travel. I have no reason to doubt his word. A Pakistani who desired anonymity said, “First we make fools of ourselves. Having done that, we then turn on ourselves to wriggle out of the situation by starting a blame game. No one is taking charge and being bold. Mukhtar Mai’s passport should be returned to her and she should be allowed to travel.”
I asked my friend Shujaullah in Islamabad, who has been doing volunteer human rights work for the last 10 years, how he saw the situation. His answer: “The High Court lets off the rapists for want of adequate evidence; the government detains them under emergency laws; the Court refuses to extend their detention; and in cynical exploitation of an illiterate woman celebrity’s tragedy, lobbies at home and abroad move into action, playing on her paranoia. She is invited to ‘address’ seminars in London and the United States. The Establishment deals with the problem in a most ham-fisted way. It tightens Mukhtar Mai’s security (against the released rapists, it claims), puts her on the Exit Control List, while ministers run up and down reassuring the poor woman that she is not on the List. In the meanwhile, propagandists have a field day — to hell with the country!”
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is email@example.com