Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Interview with Asma Jahangir

"Who dares?", Pakistan's Independence day wallpaper, Tribute to Pakistan's Armed Forces.  (Ĵǡƕǻǹžəβ/Flickr)

"Who dares?", Pakistan's Independence day wallpaper, Tribute to Pakistan's Armed Forces. (Ĵǡƕǻǹžəβ/Flickr)

It is also generally believed that President Musharraf is helping women and minorities in Pakistan. Could you comment on how his government responded to the widely publicized gang rape of Mukhtar Mai and the events that followed?

Well, in the beginning, the government was very positive about the case of Mukhtar Mai. But you must recognize that one cannot take out the rights of women and minorities from the whole system of governance in Pakistan. It would be a folly to think that a few people will get their rights while others remain suppressed because there have to be mechanisms that address these questions. There have to be democratic institutions that take care of the rule of law. When these are completely absent and work at the whims of one individual, then things become very difficult, and also have a different meaning. Take the case of Mukhtar Mai: as long as the government thought that she was their protégée, she was helped to "get justice", but once they felt that she was not towing their line, they were not willing to give her justice. Well, in this case, justice only means a form of charity coming from the highest person in authority. This obviously has nothing to do with justice. So there is no system in Pakistan. Minorities, in the beginning, thought that this government may protect their rights, but have now come to realize that nothing has changed for them. On the contrary, the government is too busy making and projecting what they call a "soft image" abroad to bother about institutional changes within the country, or to pay heed to what people are suffering at home.

How could Mukhtar Mai have ever been good for the government? Why did they support her initially?

Well, because they did benefit in the beginning. There were photographs that were taken with the Governor, with the Prime Minister, which were shown everywhere to prove that this government is very pro-women, etc. It is President Musharraf who has given instructions that justice must be done immediately. The government gave her money, the government gave her a lawyer, the government instructed courts quite openly, and this really upsets me because rule of law must be for everyone. And in this case, again, it was because of the whims of the highest person in authority.