Mukhtar Mai and Dr Shazia Khalid have been invited by a Pakistani-dominated
group to speak at a protest rally in New York around the time
of President Pervez Musharraf's visit to New York next month.
The protest is being mounted by the Asian American Network against
Abuse of Women (AANA), the organisation led in the main by several
Pakistani doctors. AANA it was that invited Mukhtar Mai to the
United States, a visit she was unable to make because of restrictions
placed on her travel by the government. Those restrictions have
since been lifted and she is said to be free to travel. Dr Shazia
Khalid is already in London with her husband. Her case is
bound to gain new notoriety with the appearance in the New York
Times of a hard-hitting column by Nicholas Kristof on Sunday.
A second instalment will follow, according to the columnist. Kristof
earlier wrote two columns highlighting Mukhtar Mai's plight. The
New York Times columnist was refused a visa by the Pakistani authorities
when he applied for one in March this year. Daily Times has learnt
that the decision to deny him the visa was taken at a low official
level in Islamabad in the Interior Division of the Home ministry.
While it cannot be said that Kristof's
writings on the Mukhtar Mai issue have been affected by the refusal,
at the same time, it could only have
caused annoyance. It is not clear if Kristof still wishes to go
to Pakistan or whether the decision not
to grant him a visa has been rescinded.
The AANA protest between 20 and 22 September is to be joined by
Amnesty International, a role the organisation was not founded
to play, its area of work being prisoners of conscience. The protest
organised by AANA outside the embassy of Pakistan in Washington
earlier this year in favour of Mukhtar Mai included a representative
of Amnesty. At a time when Pakistan is trying to sell a "soft
image" of the country abroad, such protests are obviously
not going to be of help Islamabad's effort.
Information provided by AANA says that the organisation is "determined
to bring to (the) fore victims of human rights abuses in Pakistan"
which is why it has invited Mukhtar Mai, and Dr Shazia Khalid
to speak at the New York rally. Dr Shazia Khalid, says the group,
also "gives a voice to thousands of women in Pakistan who
live daily with the fear of violence and torture." The group
adds, "Mukhtar Mai gave inspiration to Dr Shazia Khalid to
speak out." AANA fears that the passage of the Hasba Bill
in the NWFP Assembly is a forerunner to the establishment of "a
moral police that in Taliban fashion will patrol the streets and
punish people who fail to follow proper Islamic practices."
The group accuses the federal government in Islamabad of having
passed no more than a "lip-service bill" against honour
According to AANA, "The Government of Pakistan has one of
the worst human rights records in the world: at
least three 'honour killings' occur each day and a woman raped
once every two and a half hours."