Pervez Hoodbhoy's attack on Musharraf repeats the usual liberal pieties. Musharraf is not perfect, but a democratically elected leader may well be worseby Emran Mian / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
Pervez Hoodbhoy’s critique of General Pervez Musharraf as a leader and as an author, in last month’s Prospect, is depressingly familiar. Of course we wish that Pakistan was a more liberal and democratic society. Of course it faces massive social and economic problems. But simply repeating the same liberal pieties about instituting democracy and strengthening civil society won’t change the situation. Musharraf, on the other hand, just might.
If Musharraf’s memoir, the subject of Hoodbhoy’s review, is to be believed, Musharraf may be the most liberal leader that Pakistan has ever had. That is a strange thing to say of a general who came to power through an armed coup, but the book provides ample evidence of the direction that Musharraf wants to take.
The most striking chapter is about women’s rights in Pakistan. Musharraf cites the case of Mukhtaran Mai, a victim of “honour rape” who now runs schools and a crisis centre. It is unusual for a Pakistani politician to acknowledge, let alone condemn, this custom. Musharraf, quite rightly, didn’t intervene in the legal proceedings at the time, but in the book explains that he sent her money to support her cause when he first heard about the case, and that his government has since spent around £150,000 improving facilities for women in her village.
There are certainly massive problems for women in Pakistan. Human rights activists suggest that a woman is raped in Pakistan every two hours. As Hoodbhoy points out, Musharraf’s government recently failed to enact a revision of the rape laws, which would make the burden of proof placed on the prosecution more realistic (a successful rape prosecution currently requires four male witnesses to the act). However, that climbdown came in the face of intense political opposition—the uncomfortable reality is that it was democracy that prevented the reform, not the dictator….