The U.S. has a history of working with less than admirable countries and governments because they benefit our global policies in one way or another. Recently, we supported China's entry into the WTO with little more than a hand slap for its dismal record of human rights abuses because it fit our economic interests. We continue to support Sudan and turn a blind eye to the government-supported human rights abuses in western Sudan/Darfur because the Sudanese government is helping us in the war on terror. Today, Nicholas Kristof reports in his New York Times column on how another ally in the war on terror, Pakistan, has decided that human rights are not a very high priority.
I first heard about Mukhtaran Bibi last year (probably in Kristof's column). She is a woman whose brother supposedly committed a crime of some sort. As a result of his crime, she was sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped by four men. Afterward, she had to walk home in some state of undress in front of a taunting crowd of villagers. The story was supposed to end with her committing suicide, but she bravely worked with a local Islamic leader to fight back, testify against her persecutors and win six convictions.
She won a fair degree of international fame as a result of her story. She used her fame and subsequent global donations to found and expand schools, create a battered women's shelter and provide healthcare services in her village and region.
A few days ago, she was scheduled to come to the U.S. on a speaking tour but President Musharraf and the Pakistani government, in Kristof's words, "went berserk:"
On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line.
After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers [the gang rapists and their supporters] released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn't answer.
Apparently, President Musharraf doesn't want bad publicity for Pakistan and is hoping to silence Ms. Mukhtaran - she is now being held without a lawyer in a secret location in Islamabad.
How can the U.S., a nation that has a foundational document stating that, "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," keep working with and even praising abusive regimes in order to achieve worthwhile goals, but goals that are less important than basic human rights?