Wednesday, February 23, 2005

War, Crimes, Rape, Honor and Being "Pure"

Published online in Al-Mizaan, February 23, 2005.

"War is coming to Balochistan," says Ali Ahsan Halai.

Now, even most Pakistani readers will not know that name. Ali Ahsan is a Pakistani journalist who was writing in this month's Herald, the older of the two major English monthlies in Pakistan. So why should anyone besides Balochis, or Pakistanis in general, care?

Balochistan is a province of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. And Pakistan is the seventh largest nation in the world. And, depending on how you look at it and who you believe, Pakistan is also the 2nd or 3rd most populous Muslim nation in the world. Oh, and did I mention it is the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons?

As for Balochistan, well, amongst other things, Balochistan borders Afghanistan. Balochistan is where China is helping Pakistan build a second warm water port. This is the point at which a pipeline from Central Asia would most probably bring natural gas to be shipped to the rest of the world. Oh, and did I mention that it straddles the border with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

So, to this wonderfully strategic point on the world map, Mr. Halai tells us, war is coming. Why, you ask? Well here's the view of a prince of the people, so to speak, the son of a major Baloch leader:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4243129.stm

And to pick up the theme of what is happening in this current conflagration in Balochistan, here's how Herald's lead story starts:
Battlefront SUI
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
It was a "chhoti si baat" or a minor matter, as Inter-Services Public Relations spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan put it on television. But the Baloch saw it as an affront to their honour which, in the words of Bugti chief and nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti "must be avenged at all costs." Despite such widely divergent views, the rape of Dr Shazia Khalid of Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) brought the Pakistan Army into a dangerous confrontation with the Baloch nationalists that threatens to destabilise the whole country.

Dr Khalid was raped in the confines of the maximum-security Sui gas refinery compound on the night between January 2 and 3, allegedly by four persons including an army captain belonging to the Defence Security Guards (DSG). The incident itself did not rankle as much as the subsequent cover-up by the military authorities and the PPL management, who tried to paint the event as a robbery and prevented police officials from meeting the victim. When the tribesmen reacted, the government responded by turning on the heat on the nationalists instead of arresting the suspects. Although there have been attempts by the political forces to broker a truce, the two sides have stuck to their positions, thereby turning Dera Bugti into a virtual battle zone....
So, in a lot of ways, it is the same story that has played out since time immemorial, one of...how does that quaint old document from the 18th century read? "... a long train of abuses and usurpations..." Whether the litany of abuse and usurpation is real, or perceived, in my humble opinion, doesn't really matter; when a nation or people feel that they have been abused and their rights and resources usurped, then, to them, that is their reality. And the government cover up hurts more than the offense.

But is that the whole story? There's an angle that caught my eye. But first, a couple of words by way of background. Readers that are familiar with happenings in Pakistan will know that there are laws currently in force in that country that, to put is simply, set up a Catch 22 situation: A person alleging rape has to produce 4 witnesses to the act. And if she (and as far as I know, it has always been a she) cannot prove that the act of adultery (zina) was under duress (bil jabar), the admission of having been involved in zina (or being pregnant outside wedlock) leads to a conviction for that act. All this in the name of religion and God.

Overlay on this a country of 150 million with a society that is in large parts still feudal--and I do mean that word in it's literal, historical meaning--and where "honor" is a big factor, and you have the fact that Balochistan is the province that brought the concept of "karo kari", or "honor killing" into our news bulletins and our everyday conversation. Saying any more about that topic would be restating reams and reams of the obvious, serving only to make any self-respecting human rights activist froth at the mouth. And if you have a single feminist bone in your body, then God help you.

So what's the angle I was talking about? What's my point? Well, read the following; it's a short story from the news site of a Pakistani 24-hour news channel:
Rape suspect influential: Bugti
http://www.geo.tv/main_files/pick_prog.cfm?page=pakistan.aspx&id=63983

DERA BUGTI: Tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti claimed on Tuesday that the accused of raping a female doctor in Sui has not been arrested because he has influential and brother of a DCO in Punjab. Speaking to journalists at Dera Bugti, Akbar Bugti said tribesmen were being threatened with military action if they did not give up their protests at the alleged gangrape.

“But this is not possible,” he added. Akbar Bugti said the female doctor was not a “kari” but the victim of a heinous crime. He said tribals considered her to be “pure”.
What we have is one of the last absolute feudal lords on the face of the earth (again, as I said, in the classic sense of the word) going on the record as saying that a rape victim is "Pak", or pure. And call me a hopeless sentimentalist, but that can't be a small matter in Pakistan, The Land of the Pure...
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