As the BCC's Karachi bureau chief Aamer Ahmed Khan noted in a tough, incisive article yesterday, the Pakistani goverment of General Musharraf faces a public relations nightmare over its detention and intimidation of international human rights hero Mukhtaran Bibi.
He is right. Musharraf's government, established by military coup over a democratically elected administration, has spent five long years attempting to achieve legitimacy on the international scene. Ironically, the attacks of 9/11 helped, because President Bush needed an ally with some muscle next-door to the al Quaeda camps in Afghanistan. Musharraf was at the right place at the right time, and has been embraced as an ally by the U.S. Administration. (For Americans who know little of the region's politics, this is essentially the dominant view of Pakistan). The firestorm over Mukhtar Mai's treatment by Pakistan - led by Nick Kristof at the Times, the British media, and a determined cadre of bloggers - is a real and present threat to Musharraf's prestige in the liberal, western world.
The trouble for Pakistan is this: Musharraf agrees.
That is to say, his government views Mukhtaran Bibi as a public relations problem - her speaking tour of the United States, organized by the ANAA, could only spell trouble for Musharraf. And Musharraf needs support in the State Department, at the White House, and on Capitol Hill. The simple solution was to take Mukhtar Mai into detention, intimidate her into retracting her visa request, and hold her passport indefinately.
But it was also the simpleton's solution in a freely-wired world that can easily route around Musharraf's uniforms and tell Mukhtar Mai's story to anyone with a connection.
Yet the apologists continue their braying about patriotism and PR. Their work in the pro-Musharraf Pakistani media is obvious and really not worth quoting; generally it goes like this: Musharraf is "on Mukhtar Mai's side, this is a Pakistani problem, we are handling it." More troubling are the views of the prominent social critic Dr. Aslam Abdullah, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is editor of the Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada, Las Vegas, as well as the director of the Muslim Electorates Council of America. Dr. Adbullah's work appears on sites like alt.muslim and Islamicity - sites that are inherently progressive because they allow many differing viewpoints of the modern Islamic world. In a nutshell, this is Dr. Abdullah's view of the case (from Islamicity):
This case exposes an aspect of Pakistan's social reality and must be condemned, but when such cases are selectively exploited by government officials and special interest groups for political purposes, it also exposes a hypocrisy that must also be taken to task.
Ah yes, I can see it now: from his perch in Vegas, Dr. Abdullah is going the "special interest group" route or the well-worn "outside agitators" route used for so long in the old segregationist South. Here's more:
It is not their concern for the victims of rape as their commitment to their own agenda that has brought them in the forefront. If they were serious about her case, they would have allowed the judicial process to take its full course before deciding any action specially in a situation when the highest executive authority of the country himself stood by her and assured the nation that justice shall be done.
By bringing her to the US or to the UN, they were not helping Mukhtaran but promoting their own agendas. What was done to her was inhumane and Un-Islamic? The feudal and tribal system that promotes this kind of action must be challenged because who knows how many Mukhtarans have been living in the agony of harm done to them. By exposing her to a society where there is a growing anti-Islamic environment the activists are primarily serving their agenda to humiliate those who stand for Islam or Pakistan.
What a load of dung. Sure, my agenda is to "humiliate those who stand for Islam or Pakistan." That's clearly Nick Kristof's agenda. And it's the agenda of the 100 bloggers who have sounded the call in Mukhtaran Bibi's defense. Throw in the Guardian, the Independent, and the BBC - all of which have been all over the story. It's the ANAA's agenda, alright. And that of MercyCorps and Amnesty International. And it's surely a goal of the U.S. State Department, which lodged a needed but too-mild (in my view) protest of Ms. Mai's treatment by Pakistan.
Read this well Dr. Abdullah, and you agents of President Musharraf, and everyone else who would see Mukhtaran Bibi and her supporters as just another public relations problem in the cause of power and regional hegemony - as somehow disloyal to state and religion:
It is Mukhtaran Bibi who stands for Pakistan and for Islam. She is clearly a patriot and a Muslim.
UPDATE: The ANAA, which had sponsored Mukhtar Mai's trip, has organized two protest meetings this coming week in New York and in Washington, DC. I will try to attend the New York conference. Please turn out and pass this along. Here is the info:
1. NY PRESS CONFERENCE:
Date: Wednesday, 22nd June 2005
Time: 10:30-12:30 PM
Location: 65th Street, Fifth Ave
New York, NY 10021
Directions by subway: Take the N/R train to Fifth Ave.
Open to Public. Please bring your friends.
2. WASHINGTON DC Protest Rally:
Date: Thursday, 23rd June 2005
Location: Outside the EMBASSY OF PAKISTAN-WASHINGTON DC
3517 International Court, NW
Washington DC, 20008
Open to Public. Please bring your friends.