Demolishes Musharraf as US Policy Changes under Condi Rice
June 24: A straw breaking the camel's back, a pebble triggering
the avalanche, a drop causing the cup to overflow: Choose your
own image for Mukhtar Mai and the troubles she creates for her
country's frightened and duplicitous leadership. If there is justice,
any of those images will fit.
is the courageous Pakistani woman who has refused to be silenced
after being gang-raped as a tribal "punishment." She
has also refused to knuckle under to the unconscionable shut-up-or-else
treatment inflicted on her by President Pervez Musharraf's government.
By standing up and getting her story noticed at this particular
moment, Mai may have dealt a crippling blow to the credibility
of Musharraf, who has buffaloed the Bush administration into deluging
him with fulsome praise, money and arms in return for Pakistan's
incomplete help in fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The sordid details of the campaign
to break Mai's will are emerging at a moment of strategic change
in South Asia. The Bush administration is greatly expanding the
bet it initially put down on India, while beginning to hedge its
investment in Islamabad's military-dominated regime. The effect
is to free US relations with India from decades of "tilt"
So the ears of Bush officials
are more open to hearing about the limitations of Pakistan as
an ally. It may also count that Musharraf no longer deals with
a fellow career military officer, retired Gen. Colin Powell, as
US secretary of state. Instead, Condoleezza Rice, a woman sensitive
to the humiliations and personal destruction aimed at Mai, who
is in her early thirties, now runs US diplomacy.
In this easily understood case,
Musharraf's eagerness to cover up the reprehensible behavior of
other officials cannot be escaped or glossed over, even in Washington.
Bush has decided not to call Musharraf on his fairy tales about
Pakistan's reckless nuclear proliferation being the work of one
man -- scientist AQ Khan -- or to press the general publicly on
Pakistan's support for terrorism in Kashmir or its manifest unwillingness
to do everything it can to capture Osama bin Laden and his Taliban
What Bush would not do in those
cases, Mai has done in hers. She has spoken truth to power and
let the consequences fall where they may. Aided by Pakistani reformers
in her village and abroad, she has challenged the inhuman conventions
of her country's misogynist rural society, forcing Musharraf to
take sides. To his eternal shame, he backed the primitive conventions
instead of her.
In June 2002 Mai -- whose name
is rendered Mukhtaran Bibi in the outstanding, detailed opinion
columns on this case by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times
-- was raped by four men. They had been given license to assault
her sexually by a tribal council charged with retaliating against
an alleged social infraction by her brother. In the normal course
of things, Mai would have been murdered by her family as a matter
of "honor" or expected to commit suicide.
Instead she went to court and
secured the conviction of her rapists. They were briefly imprisoned,
then freed after Mai accepted an invitation to speak in the United
States this month. When this intimidation did not work, the central
government put Mai on a restricted travel list and confiscated
Musharraf acknowledged his involvement
in blocking the trip to reporters on Friday, two days after the
Pakistani Embassy in Washington implausibly denied that and much
more. Rice authorized a tough scolding of Pakistan by the State
Department's spokesman, and other officials finally began to speak
critically of Pakistan's tolerating al Qaeda's presence in its
border regions with Afghanistan.
These are signs that the State
Department is breaking out of an old pattern. It no longer holds
US policy in South Asia hostage to the Indo-Pakistani confrontation
and a perceived need to cater to Islamabad. The Bush administration
seeks a strategic partnership with India independent of what the
United States does or does not do with Pakistan.
Pakistan is the ultimate hard
case for US strategy: As a persistent critic of the Bush team's
hype about Musharraf and of the general's own shortcomings, I
have to acknowledge that the Pakistani leader is less corrupt
and more courageous than the weak civilian governments that preceded
him, including the one that forced him to take power in 1999 to
save his own life.
Musharraf does put limits on the extremists who control Pakistan's
malignant intelligence services. A new and revealing-if-true account
of Pakistan's active role in jihadist terrorism is contained in
an interview with former intelligence officer Khalid Khawaja that
is posted on the Asian Times Online site. But one Pakistani
woman has shown that, like all autocrats, the general needs to
be constantly monitored and challenged, not conspired with and
consoled with rewards. Getting Pakistan to face and change its
own grim reality should be an urgent American priority.
writer is a well known columnist for the Washington Post. This
column appeared on June 23, 2005 when a demonstration was held
in front of the Pakistan Embassy to support Mukhtaran Mai. Email: