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Program 0004
January 25, 2000

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

ANJUM SIDDIQUI: Well, General Musharraf, he has a lot on his hands. In fact, his hands are full. The country has a lot of problems: corruption problems; management problems; and then a very severe economic problem.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the daily struggles of life in Pakistan.

SIMI KAMAL: Honor killing are the most prevalent in those parts of societies where there are either big lands involved or a lot of power through tribal ties. And so women become part of the whole system of power and the exchange of power.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. For years Pakistan has been one of the world’s economic basket cases. The country suffers from lack of foreign investment and economic stagnation. Last October the military overthrew the elected government and promised major economic reforms. Common Ground special correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Karachi that while Pakistanis are cautiously optimistic about change, the new regime faces some tough hurdles.

[sound of children playing in the street]

REESE EHRLICH: Along a dusty dirt road here in the Orangi District of Karachi, kids play while their mothers stand patiently in a long queue Many homes have no pipes, so the women are waiting to fill buckets with drinking water.

[sound of water coming from a pump]

EHRLICH: Nearby stands Mustafa Mushtak, who works at a local school. He earns the equivalent of fifty dollars a month to support his family of five. He says the economic policies of the previous government of Nawaz Sharif were disastrous for ordinary Pakistanis.

MUSTAFA MUSHTAK: [speaking via a translator] The price of flour is three times greater today than a few years ago. It’s hard to save any money because inflation is high. Sometimes I take loans from friends and relatives to survive. The economy was getting so bad that sometimes people couldn’t even get their salaries from the factories where they worked.

EHRLICH: Mushtak and his friends are not alone. An estimated 35% of Pakistanis live below the official poverty line. Foreign investment has declined 40% since 1997. The rupee has been devalued 12% annually for the past five years. When the military overthrew the government last October, coup leaders promised to end economic inequities. They immediately took populist measures such as lowering some taxes.

[sound of people talking at the pump]

EHRLICH: Some of that populism is seeping down to this fishing village outside of Karachi. Fisherman unload their catch from small boats. They’ve rowed out to sea for five days. Now they’re emptying gunny sacks filled with squirming fish into a dump truck.

[sound of truck motor and people talking]

EHRLICH: A fisherman named Omar talks about his life.

OMAR: [via a translator] I’ve always been a fisherman. I started when I was eight. I’m the youngest in my family. Today I’m 40. Here are my sons. They come out to fish with me. They’re eight and nine. We didn’t like the Sharif government. We weren’t happy. The tax on fish was very high. We were paying eight percent tax on gross sales. Now it’s been lowered to six percent. We are satisfied with the military coup.

EHRLICH: In the months since the coup many Pakistanis are expressing cautious optimism that the economy will improve. But that’s mainly because Sharif’s policies were so bad. Almost any alternative is seen as an improvement. Anjum Siddiqui, an executive with Hubco??, the country’s private power company, says coup leader General Pervaiz Musharraf has a reputation for honesty and will fight corruption.

ANJUM SIDDIQUI: Well, General Musharraf, he has a lot on his hands. In fact, his hands are full. The country has a lot of problems: corruption problems; management problems; and then a very severe economic problem. How he handles this, obviously it will take him some time to grapple with the issues. But as far as he is concerned, what kind of success rate could we see in him? It all depends on his will to carry out what he believes are correct policies. This is a time in history perhaps for the new government to make a break from the past and show some results in terms of recovery. I am quite hopeful that they would. Let’s see.

EHRLICH: However, the military regime faces a daunting task. Pakistan’s economy has spiraled downward for years, though problems got much worse in the 1980s when the US used Pakistan as a surrogate to arm Afghan mujhadeen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Mairaj Mohammed Khan heads a center-left party called the Pakistan Movement for Justice.

MAIRAJ MOHAMMED KHAN [via a translator] In our long relationship with the West we’ve had military pacts with them, but at every step our allies have let us down. During the Afghan war the dictator Mohammed Zia Al-Haq allowed the US to carry out it’s policies against the USSR. The US used Afghanistan and they used Pakistan. They gave us the arms and drug trade and they tore the fabric of our society apart. They destabilized our society. The minute they achieved their objectives they cut off the money. We had ready paid for delivery of F-16 planes, for example, but the planes were withheld for years. It was brutal, the way they abused and used the people of Pakistan.

EHRLICH: Successive Pakistani governments have taken out huge development loans from international lenders such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but had no means to pay them back. Debt service and military spending now eat up well over half the national budget, leaving little money for economic or social development. The outstanding loans also give the IMF an undue influence on the country’s economic policies, says Kaneez Fatima, President of the Pakistani Trade Union Federation.

KANEEZ FATIMA: [via a translator] All the Pakistani governments have been like puppets in the hands of the Americans. If the IMF dictates a policy that increases the price of petrol, the prices are increased. If the IMF proposes that electricity bills should be increased, that’s what is happening here in Pakistan. We have to do it. The IMF and the American government do no think what impact it will have on the ordinary, poor Pakistani.

EHRLICH: Trade unions and some left-of-center political parties call for the US and international lending agencies to forgive all of Pakistan’s international loans. That’s the view of party leader Mohammed Khan.

MAIRAJ MOHAMMED KHAN [via a translator] It is time for the West to consider that they should write off these loans so that the money going for interest on debt can be diverted for health, education, and social welfare of our people.

AKBAR ZAIDI: I think the IMF and the World Bank and the US have got nothing to do with our problems. We are responsible for this.

EHRLICH: Economist Akbar Zaidi says Pakistanis shouldn’t try to blame others for problems of their own making.

AKBAR ZAIDI: Nobody is asking us to go to the IMF. Nobody asked any of our leaders to go to the United States to ask for money. Our leaders do not have the, sort of, the guts or the ability or the room to make certain measures. We have a tendency to blame everybody else except ourselves. And it’s a common national characteristic. The reason why our governments run to the IMF and the World Bank is because it’s easy money. It’s, the money is available. We need to do a few things. The governments which actually followed the IMF policies are never in power whey they actually, when things hit the ceiling. They’re out of power so, you know, they’ve taken the money. They avoid taking very strong, difficult measures. It’s easier for them to borrow. Because they’re not accountable.

EHRLICH: But critics argue that the US and international lending agencies have adopted a two-faced policy. The US encouraged Pakistan to take loans, then applied partial economic sanctions against the country for developing nuclear weapons that the US had secretly encouraged all along. These critics say that the US looked the other way when Pakistan built nuclear weapons during the Cold War because Pakistan was an ally against the USSR. Mohammed Khan calls the current sanctions against Pakistan and other countries hypocritical.

MAIRAJ MOHAMMED KHAN [via a translator] The US has a policy of sanctions against Libya, Iraq, and Pakistan. Afghanistan is now under sanctions. They apply sanctions to an increasingly larger number of countries. They are bringing all these countries together as victims. The world can’t control countries through sanctions.

EHRLICH: The military has not shown any signs of changing the country’s policy on nuclear weapons, so it will have difficulties getting the sanctions lifted and getting foreign investment. However, the new regime has promised to end the country’s endemic corruption. Coup leader General Musharraf has arrested some tax cheats. That’s a step forward says businessman Siddiqui.

ANJUM SIDDIQUI: Pakistan’s biggest economic problem is the collection of taxes. If the government of Pakistan can collect taxes, Pakistan would be catapulted from a Third World country to a First World country. The majority of the people who are supposed to pay taxes—retailers, wholesalers, and agriculturists—they are not paying the tax. And plus, there’s a huge black economy, where nobody pays any taxes, obviously. So I think General Musharraf’s challenge, once again, like Mr. Nawaz Sharif before him, and Benazir Bhutto before Mr. Nawaz Sharif, was to college taxes. Unfortunately, every regime has failed to collect taxes. Either there is no will to collect taxes or there is mismanagement in the way they go about doing it, or both.

EHRLICH: Economist Zaidi says that even arresting tax cheats and wealthy businessmen who intentionally default on their loans isn’t enough.

AKBAR ZAIDI: I don’t see very substantial change in terms of economic policy compared to the past. All that these people will be able to do is that because they can put people in jail, I think some people will have to pay their taxes more regularly and more honestly than they did in the past. Some loan defaulters will have to repay the money that they have taken. Other than that I don’t see very much difference.

[sound of hammering]

EHRLICH: At his home in a poor district of Karachi, Mohammed Mustafa is making leather wallets, which he will later sell in the marketplace. He says the military could improve the economy unless it gets repressive.

MOHAMMED MUSTAFA: [via a translator] Since the military took over the economy has gotten slightly better. I hope it will improve. But if there’s martial law then there will be a big problem. A lot of my wallets are sold outside Karachi. Under martial law in the past no one could come into town to buy. It was a real economic disaster. It could happen again.

EHRLICH: Economist Zaidi notes that every new government in Pakistan enjoys a short honeymoon of popular support. But, he says, reality soon sets in.

AKBAR ZAIDI: I think what happens is people are very excited when a new government comes in. They hope that they’re going to do something. Two years down the road they are really fed up with it and they want to, they want another government. People will start complaining about the military, that they aren’t doing enough. Because it’s not going to be easy to deliver on any of their promises. And after that people get fed up and they can see through this. And I think that is very likely that that’s going to happen.

EHRLICH: The military regime faces a number of tough economic decisions in the coming months. Will it raise taxes in order to pay off international loans? Will domestic and international businesspeople be willing to invest? Economists here say the military will soon learn that seizing power is far easier than exercising it. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Karachi.

MCHUGH: Coming up, Pakistan’s disturbing trend of honor killings.

UZMA NOORANI: The governments have encouraged these tribal laws and that is a reason that these tribal practices have remained with us. These honor killings have nothing to do with Islam.

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Pakistan has among the highest number of honor killings in the world. That’s when a husband or father kills a woman in his family, claiming he’s protecting family honor. Westerners often think such murders are carried out by poor and uneducated Muslims. But in fact, the killings have nothing to do with the teachings of Islam and are often committed by well-do-do families seeking financial gain. Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Karachi.

[sound of a police radio call]

EHRLICH: At a police station Anjan Asaf remembers a horrible day last year. The 21-year-old, slightly built Asaf recounts how she was powerless to stop her brother’s plans to murder her sister, all supposedly to defend family honor.

ANJAN ASAF: [via a translator] After our parents passed away our eldest sister asked for an accounting of family finances. My older brother refused, saying, “I’m the man in the house and I don’t have to.” He wanted to sell off the family house. When a real estate agent called, my sister told him that house belonged to all of us. That got my brother very angry and he beat her up on August 9. He was very abusive. He threatened to get rid of her. One day my other sister Charin?? was at home with me. She and our younger brother had an argument. He got a gun and shot her twice.

EHRLICH: The sisters had offended their two brothers’ honor by questioning their expropriation of the inheritance. Experts say honor killings are frequently financially motivated and often carried out by the well-to-do families.

ANJAN ASAF: [via a translator] Our father was a big landowner in an agricultural area. My brothers are taking care of the land. That’s why there’s a dispute. They’re not giving us any share of income from the land. They tried to sell our family house and keep the money for themselves.

EHRLICH: The murder was just one of over a thousand so-called “honor killings” in Pakistan last year, thought to be among the highest number in the world. Women were murdered by family members for alleged adultery, refusing an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, or otherwise offending family honor.

[sound of a woman singing Pakistani music]

[sound of a Moslem call to prayer]

EHRLICH: Honor killings are often justified by reference to the Koran, which prohibits sex outside of marriage. Uzma Noorani, head of Women’s Action Forums, says the roots of honor killings are not in Islam, but in ancient culture. A thousand years ago feuding tribes would exact revenge on enemies by killing their women.

UZMA NOORANI: It’s not Islamic custom. It’s a tribal custom, and it is very old, and it has remained with us. And because I think the laws have not been in favor of women, the governments have encouraged these tribal laws and that is a reason that these tribal practices have remained with us. These honor killings have nothing to do with Islam

EHRLICH: Honor killings have always been officially illegal, but they are rarely prosecuted. And the number of murders rise or fall depending on government policy. Honor killings declined in the period after Pakistan’s independence from Britain, when the country was ruled by secular governments. Then in the mid-1970s Prime Minister Ali Bhutto, the father of Benazir Bhutto, sought to shore up flagging political support. Noorani says he appealed to right-wing mullahs and landlords by passing repressive anti-women laws.

UZMA NOORANI: Bhutto is the one who started it. When the mullahs want to hang onto power they go to any length to, you know, they can take any action. It was Bhutto who, when he, you know, was struggling for power, he was the one who succumbed to the mullah lobby. Because you see, they had the street power. And he felt that he had, maybe he could appease them somehow. And that’s when he started. You know, he, the first step he took was he banned all the liquor shops. So actually the mullah lobby, the reason is, I mean, though they have never won a single election in our entire history of Pakistan, yet each government seems to want to please them all the time. I mean, if you ask the government man, nobody is in favor of these fundamentalist groups. Nobody works for them.

EHRLICH: Then, in 1977, General Mohammed Zia Al-Haq overthrew Bhutto and imposed a military dictatorship. He intensified the suppression of women. Zhara Fatima, a leader of the Women’s Foundation, says Pakistanis who tried to protest the anti-women laws, were vilified as advocates of decadent Western-styled women’s liberation.

ZHARA FATIMA: Whenever I met men and when we have a talk on women’s right and women’s liberation, mostly they said that “You are talking about the Western liberation.” And my counter means that, “Okay, let’s see what is in Islam, in religion, what is in our culture, and what is the modern rights, or what you consider the western rights,” and whatever they found that though we have a very liberated religion. Islam is a very liberated religion. And the same rights we can find in the Western world also, of women’s rights. But, due to our cultural barriers, women have no access to get that rights. And they cannot actually, Moslem men—and women also—they cannot differentiate the religion, differentiate between religion and culture. It’s a mix-up of things.

[sound of woman singing Pakistani music]

EHRLICH: While Islam is used as an excuse for the killings, there’s always another motive. Simi Kamal, Chief Executive of Rasta Development Consultants, has extensively surveyed women in rural Pakistan. Among wealthy landowning families, she says, women are considered commodities to be bartered. A father will arrange a daughter’s marriage, for example, in order to secure land from the groom’s family. If the daughter refuses the marriage, says Kamal, she could ruin her family’s fortune and be killed in the name of honor.

SIMI KAMAL: These honor killings are the most prevalent in those parts of societies where there are either big lands involved or a lot of power through tribal ties. And so women become part of the whole system of power and the exchange of power. I have not come across of a case of honor killing in a very poor family or in a family of a sharecropper. The poor family will not kill their daughter, for that reason. Honor killing is limited to certain classes of society. I think the more powerful people are within that system, the more likely are these things to happen.

EHRLICH: Kamal says she used to think that the number of honor killings would recede as the level of formal education improved, but attending university doesn’t seem to undercut the intense male chauvinism that leads to honor killings.

SIMI KAMAL: Some of these feudal and tribal families have become extremely educated. They have been to Western universities, and still, you know, when you go into their homes you will see that their sisters are not educated. Or the sisters are locked up inside their big homes and are hardly ever allowed out. Because, you know, sometimes education simply reinforces the whole feeling of honor instead of helping to do away; it simply exaggerates all those notions, and just gives them more tools.

[sound of woman singing Pakistani music]

EHRLICH: One of the most outrageous cases in Pakistan took place precisely in such an educated and wealthy family. Samia Imran was a law student in Lahore, in northern Pakistan. Both her parents are university educated. Her father is a wealthy businessman and President of the Chamber of Commerce in the city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border. Women’s rights activist Uzma Noorani picks up the story.

UZMA NOORANI: She had been married for five or six years, I think, and to a cousin of hers. And she had problems right from the beginning with the husband. She had two children from that marriage. And finally when, like, you know, things got real bad and she came to her parents and the parents, you know, she was staying with, in her parents’ house. And this had been going, like she had been living with them for the past three or four years. But the parents would not allow her to divorce her husband. So then she came to Lahore, I think to study law. She joined a law college.

EHRLICH: Noorani says Samia hired two well-known women’s rights attorneys and filed for divorce. They all knew Samia was in danger.

UZMA NOORANI: They offered her shelter at the Institute in Lahore and while she was there, when the parents learned about this they rushed back and they immediately contacted the lawyers and they wanted an appointment with the daughter to see their daughter. She refused. She said, “Look, I don’t want to see them because I know they’ll kill me.” She was afraid of that. She knew that, you know, what the result would be.

EHRLICH: Finally, Samia agreed to meet, but only with her mother. No men were to be present. But when her mother showed up at the office of attorney Hina Jelani, she was accompanied by a man.

UZMA NOORANI: As soon as they walked in he whipped out the gun and he fired, I think, three or four shots. Two of them hit Samia and she died on the spot. And Hina just narrowly escaped and then they just rushed out and then there was, you know, a big drama. And they rushed out from there. Everybody saw them. I mean, there are so many witnesses to this whole thing and yet when they went to lodge an FIR they were refused, the first information report. And that you have to do immediately at the police station. And it was after a lot of pressurizing that an FIR was registered.

EHRLICH: The triggerman was killed by a security guard, but the mother and an uncle escaped, kidnapping a legal assistant from the lawyer’s office as a hostage. Incredibly enough, the District Attorney dismissed charges against the mother, the father, and the uncle. They are a rich and powerful family. The authorities instead began to investigate Samia’s two attorneys, Asma Jahangir, and Hina Jelani, for conspiring in the death of their own client.

UZMA NOORANI: A very malicious campaign was started against Asmah and Hina for helping the daughter, you know. And the whole thing was reversed and instead of they being, the parents being the accused, they were the accused. They should have been prosecuted. It was Asmah and Hina who were being prosecuted by the, and persecuted by these mullahs and fundamentalist lobbies. And the whole—and the government just sat silently. I mean, that shows that they were supporting them.

EHRLICH: The lack of action by government agencies, and indeed their cooperation in covering up the murders, makes the situation an institutional problem. Jameel Yusaf heads the Citizens Police Liaison Committee, a government-sponsored watchdog agency. He says most police don’t treat women’s complaints seriously, part of a wider problem of lack of police accountability in Pakistan.

JAMEEL YUSAF: Even the men are scared in approaching police stations. So you can well imagine the trauma that a lady, if she gathers the guts and the grit to go into a police station to report it, she is going to go through hell even trying to convince the people that some crime has been committed against her. This is a very sad situation, but it is very much existent. And unfortunately we are not doing anything to change this.

[sound of woman singing Pakistani music]

EHRLICH: Last year women’s and human rights groups began a grassroots campaign to educate the public and strengthen laws against honor killings. Amnesty International held a series of successful press conferences and forums. Uzma Noorani explains.

UZMA NOORANI: It’s only because of women’s groups that this whole thing has come on the agenda. That people are talking about such cases now. Otherwise there were thousands of women being—who are still dying every year in Pakistan, and then, I mean, most of the cases are not even reported. And some of the cases which are reported also, they, there’s no justice that is provided to them. And that’s, our struggle is on, and it will take a long time because all these customary practices take time. We have to bring about awareness and we need the government to take strict measures, to be able to prevent these customs.

EHRLICH: But then in October 1999 the military overthrew the civilian government in Pakistan. Noorani says it was a setback for their campaign.

UZMA NOORANI: We don’t know how we can talk about these issues unless there is a political stability in the country. It’s difficult; it’s always a setback. I mean, I always feel very frustrated, because I feel it’s a setback to the women every time we take a step forward. And when there’s instability in the country, women’s issues are the ones that are put back on the shelves, you know, for a long time. Awareness-raising can continue, you know. That is a process that, you know. But lobbying and pressurizing is something that, with, you have to change your stand because here we are lobbying with the elected government—I mean so-called elected government—and now we don’t know who to lobby with. You see, that will take us a while to understand who we are going to be pressurizing now.

EHRLICH: While there is no elected parliament to lobby, the women’s groups have resumed holding forums in an effort to educate the public and pressure the military regime. Zhara Fatima, of the Women’s Foundation, notes that, while honor killings in Pakistan are horrible crimes, they are but one example of the mistreatment of women common in many countries.

ZHARA FATIMA: Violence against women is not an issue of only Pakistani society. It is an issue of the whole world. Every society, you can say that developed countries, underdeveloped countries, all are suffering from this disease. I said that this disease. If we have an honor killing here, so America has a rape cases, a lot. And wife battering. So, all over the world women are suffering. We have to raise this issue.

[sound of police radio call]

EHRLICH: Back at the police station, Anjum Asaf, who’s sister was murdered by her brother, has joined the grassroots efforts against honor killings. Police have arrested her brother and he’s awaiting trial. She says the handling of her sister’s murder will be one indication of how the new regime plans to address the tragedy of honor killings.

ANJUM ASAF: [via a translator] I think women should get the same protection as men. They should have the same rights. Men should not assert their authority over women. This is in our Muslim religion. Women should be given equal rights in our society.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Karachi, Pakistan.

[sound of woman singing Pakistani music]

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