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Musharraf’s Rape Cover-Up

How did notions of tribal loyalty and Pakistan’s military might come into conflict over the rape of Shazia Khalid?

June 14, 2007

How did notions of tribal loyalty and Pakistan's military might come into conflict over the rape of Shazia Khalid?

While the Mukhtaran story was making international headlines, another story of rape involving tribes, notions of tribal hospitality and honor and the clash with modern systems was developing around thirty-two-year-old Shazia Khalid.

Crisis of Civilization
by Akbar Ahmed
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On the face of it, Shazia seemed not at all like Mukhtaran.

She was an educated woman with a medical degree who wished to serve in the more remote parts of Pakistan where doctors are few and far between, particularly female doctors. She had been posted to the headquarters of the Pakistan Petroleum Plant in Sui in Baluchistan, the heartland of the famous Bugti tribe.

In the middle of the night on January 2, 2005, Shazia awakened to a nightmare. A man was attempting to strangle her: "He started pressing on my throat so I couldn't breathe. He tied the telephone cord around my throat. He beat me on the head with the telephone receiver. Then he took my prayer scarf and he blindfolded me with it and he took the telephone cord and he tied my wrists and he laid me down on the bed. I tried hard to fight, but he raped me."

Throughout the night, the man casually watched television between bouts of assaulting her and boasting about his powerful connections in the army.

The next morning, Shazia staggered to the nurses' quarters. Officials from the Pakistan Petroleum Plant rushed across when they heard about the incident.

They warned her not to talk about the matter with anyone, for it would not only ruin her reputation but she could be arrested and tried under Pakistan's notorious adultery laws — which are heavily weighted against the female. She was quickly drugged and in a stupor removed to a psychiatric hospital in Karachi.

When Shazia Khalid's story began to filter outside official circles, Musharraf's challenge was to prevent it from connecting up with Mukhtaran's story, which had already become international news. Musharraf's officials put Shazia and her husband under house arrest for two months.

A campaign was launched to smear her character, with rumors of her being a loose woman and perhaps even a prostitute. To make matters worse, her husband's father gathered a mob threatening to kill her because she had dishonored the family name.

Desperate and dejected, Shazia tried to commit suicide.

Finding Shazia's story beginning to leak to the press, the government encouraged her to leave the country, threatening that she and her husband would disappear and no one would even find their bodies if she spoke up.

Shazia and her husband flew to London, unable to bring their son, whom the authorities held back as insurance. She found a one-room flat in a poor neighborhood in London and applied for asylum in Canada, where she has relatives and friends.

Canada turned down her request for a visa. Shazia's nightmare has still not ended: "I stay awake at night, thinking, 'Why me?' My career is ruined. My husband's career is ruined. I cannot see my son. If I had died then, it would have been better."

While Shazia remained in a state of limbo, contemplating the ruins of her life, men of honor back in Baluchistan were taking up her cause. Although she herself was not from the province, the elders of the Bugti tribe dominating the Sui region of Baluchistan believed that she had been their special guest and had intended to serve Bugti women.

They were therefore obliged to protect her under their idea of honor and hospitality, reminiscent of the chivalrous and gentlemanly behavior in the romantic days of yore depicted in Western literature and history books.

The elders of the Bugti tribe pressed for justice in Shazia's case, demanding that the rapist be punished according to tribal law. Because the alleged criminal belonged to the Pakistan army — and was rumored to have connections at the highest levels, as he had boasted to Shazia — important officials helped to stall the case.

An important detail in the background to this incident was a long-standing dispute between the Bugti demanding a bigger share of the oil and gas revenues produced from their land and the government of Pakistan.

Thus, when the Bugti began agitating for justice, local authorities deliberately misrepresented their demands as an excuse to challenge the government.

With negotiations between the local authorities and the Bugti faltering, the head of the tribe, Nawab Akbar Bugti, decided to take matters into his own hands.

The nawab demanded that justice be done and that the rapist who had dishonored the tradition of the tribe be punished. The government took strong action to contain the nawab's intervention by "capturing his house and issuing warrants for his arrest. The nawab then fled to the remote hills to escape arrest.

As Pakistani authorities attacked the Bugti, President Musharraf promised that the tribesmen would "not know what hit them." He planned to unleash on them the latest weapons he had acquired from the United States for the war on terror.

In retaliation, the Bugti attacked trains, railway lines, and cantonments. But Musharraf kept his promise. The Bugti did not know what hit them when their nawab was killed along with members of his family and tribe in an army strike in August 2006. U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter planes and helicopter gunships, raining down cluster bombs, phosphorous and other chemicals, had found the nawab through an intercepted satellite phone call.

In the end, the technology of globalization had caught up with the man who, in his behavior, values and appearance, represented the pride and identity of the tribe more than anyone else: the man once called the Tiger of Baluchistan.

In the ensuing protests, riots and inflammatory speeches, Baluch leaders were quick to connect the use of U.S. weapons with their plight: "All those weapons and aid that the U.S. has given to Pakistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Pakistan army is using against the nationalists in Baluchistan," complained Mengal, a member of the Baluchistan provincial assembly.

Further violence was assured as tribesmen prepared to intensify their quest for revenge. The scale of the reaction baffled Pakistan's military rulers.

Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from JOURNEY INTO ISLAM: THE CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION by Akbar Ahmed, copyright 2007. Published with permission of Brookings Institution Press.