Ayaz Amir

We can be so dumb, at the highest levels of government too, that it is not even funny. In the Mukhtaran Mai case the generalissimo’s government of “enlightened moderation” has made a complete ass of itself, and in the process spreading the impression around the world that a woman who is raped in Pakistan stands the additional risk of having her passport confiscated.

Of course rapes happen everywhere, certainly more in the US than in Pakistan. But is that the issue here? Rapes happen but they are usually not sanctioned by village councils which is what happened with Mukhtaran Mai and which is the single most important factor which has lent her case international publicity.

This and the added factor of police incompetence. Mukhtaran’s case having hit international headlines, shouldn’t the Multan police have shown extra care in investigating it and making the prosecution case stick? Apparently, however, large enough holes were left for an elephant to walk through. Little wonder if the high court threw the case out. This may have been strictly in accordance with the tenets of justice — a court handing out a verdict on the basis of the evidence before it. But what does it do for Pakistan’s image? Well, from here to Topeka, Kansas, the impression spreads that in Pakistan you can subject a woman to collective rape and then walk away free.

Considering that all this is happening in Punjab, has Chief Minister Chaudry Pervez Ellahi thought fit to ask his chief secretary, the inspector general of the Punjab police, the district police officer, Multan, why such a mess has been made of Mukhtaran Mai’s case? Some do-good NGO invites Mukhtaran to the US and someone in government has an apop-lectic fit. As Mukht-aran was sure to give Pakistan bad publicity, she shou-ldn’t be allowed to go to the US. The government goes into overdrive, virtually arresting Mukhtaran, confiscating her passport, putting her name on the Exit Control List.

As anyone but the government of Pakistan might have guessed, the dirt hits the ceiling. The New York Times pummels Pakistan editorially. The State Department says it will look into the matter. Columns are written, emails sent. As outrage spreads and Pakistan becomes a laughing stock, from overdrive the government jumps to damage-control mode. What is its idea of damage-control? Parading Mai on television in the company of prime ministerial adviser, Neelofar Bakhtiyar.

Obviously, the government of Pakistan thinks that everyone else is as dumb as itself. Trying to be charitable, you think some over-zealous official must be responsible for this fiasco. But, no, the generalissimo on one of his frequent flyer programs — at the rate he is going, he is sure to clock up more air travel time than anyone else in history—declares that it was he who ordered the ban on Mai’s going abroad. For good measure, he denounces NGOs for working against the country’s interests.

Know what this whole fiasco underlines? The perils of one-man rule. The nation then has to live with the consequences.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad