NEW YORK, Sept 17: Pandemonium broke out at a meeting organized to promote Pakistan’s soft image when after a confrontation with human rights activists an irate President Pervez Musharraf declared that those who opposed his policies were the enemies of Pakistan.
“You are against me and Pakistan,” said the president when a human rights activist referred to his alleged comments in a Washington Post interview which quoted him (Gen Musharraf) as saying that women exploited rape to get visas.
Provoked by a single question, the president allowed an event held to promote his government’s pro-women policies to degenerate into a bout between himself and part of the invited audience.
“I am a fighter, I will fight you. I do not give up and if you can shout, I can shout louder,” said Gen Musharraf.
“I wish you had quoted Muslim scholars as opposed to British scholars,” said the president to the woman who had quoted some American scholars to make her point.
Responding to the woman’s charge that he had retracted his interview to the Washington Post in which he was quoted as saying that some women used rape to get visa, Gen Musharraf said: “Lady, you are used to people who tell lies. I am not one of them.”
As the human rights and women groups protested outside the Roosevelt Hotel against the treatment of rape victims in Pakistan Gen Musharraf said that such protests should be held in and not outside Pakistan.
When a woman raised her voice to ask a question, the president said: “Are you a Benazir supporter? A lady was prime minister of Pakistan twice, ask her what she has done for Pakistan.”
In an indirect reference to opposition politicians in Pakistan, the president said: “We have introduced new leaders who don’t tell lies unlike your leaders who did.”
“You have disappointed me. I am disappointed with people like you. You work with people who looted and plundered the nation. You are against national interest, you have your own agenda.”
He said that people like her had some personal agenda for highlighting cases that hurt Pakistan’s reputation. “I know that there are people with vested interests and financial interests who are against Pakistan.”
The president also referred to the Post interview, saying, “I never said that. I am not so silly or stupid to make such remarks.”
Referring to some NGOs who raised the issues of Pakistani women outside the country, he said that they were also hurting national interests, prompting a woman activist to say to him that he should not pitch the state against the groups who work for human rights.
When the altercation began to get uglier, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Jehangir Karamat, who was Gen Musharraf’s senior in the army, approached the podium and moved the president away by gently patting his shoulders.
The president, however, returned to the podium and said he was not against those women who were working for women’s cause.
Earlier in his speech, Gen Musharraf highlighted two issues — violence against women and gender inequality —, saying that the violence was abhorrent and shameful and his government was making laws to end this curse.
He acknowledged that Pakistan’s record on violence against women left much to be desired. “We should be ashamed of it and improve the situation for ourselves and the world to see,” he said.
But he firmly stated that he stood opposed to anyone who sought to single out Pakistan by highlighting individual cases outside Pakistan, given that rape was a worldwide issue.