Between sardar and sarkar

All for the want of a horseshoe nail?

The trigger was the gang-rape of a Baloch doctor by members of a Pakistani military unit and the rather brazen attempts to cover this up by the authorities, who whisked the victim away to an undisclosed ‘location’ in Karachi. That was the sarkari contribution to the mischief.

But the rape and subsequent injustice triggered off a violent reaction from a Baloch community that has been nursing a long-held grudge against the Pakistani army. The feudal lords were quick to use the incident to bolster their own agenda against the Pakistani army. The sardars may be up to mischief of their own, but they are on the popular side of the divide.

Musharraf’s stern warnings failed to find purchase. The Pakistani government now has announced a judicial commission to investigate the incident; which is quite unprecedented in Pakistan (although they are dime a dozen in neighbouring India, and remain the politicians’ favourite way to store a problem for future partisan exploitation).

The Pakistani military establishment, for its part, has dispatched more troops to Balochistan, and continues to block real attempts to investigate the allegations of rape. According the the military spokesman, its officers have become pawns in a political game, and for good measure blamed the foreign hand. The accused officer has offered to submit to a DNA test to prove his innocence — almost two weeks after the incident. A provincial minister has grandly asked the victim to stand up and identify her attackers and clear up the matter. That’s quite a reasonable thing to say. But Pakistan is a country where the victims of rape are not only ostracised by society (even killed in the name of honour) but can also end up in jail for adultery.

Under Pakistan’s existing Hudood Ordinance, proof of rape generally requires the confession of the accused or the testimony of four adult Muslim men who witnessed the assault. If a woman cannot prove her rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence and public whipping, or, though rare, death by stoning. The testimony of women carries half the weight of a man’s testimony under this ordinance. The government has yet to repeal or reform the Hudood Ordinance, despite repeated calls for its repeal by the government-run National Commission on the Status of Women, as well as women’s rights and human rights groups. Informed estimates suggest that over 200,000 cases under the Hudood laws are under process at various levels in Pakistan’s legal system. [HRW 2004]

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