Published on Monday, February 21, 2005 by the Guardian (UK)
Pakistan's Gas Fields Blaze as Rape Sparks Threat of Civil War
Fight for provincial autonomy escalates after attack
by Declan Walsh
Visitors are not welcome at the house in Karachi where Shazia Khalid is living; not even with an invitation. A police team is posted at the gate and army rangers prowl the grounds inside. "You need the permission from the bosses at the top," says a moustached officer firmly. "The very top."
Hours later Dr Shazia picks up the phone inside.
Her strained voice crumbles into sobs. "We are very scared," she says, her husband at her side. "In Pakistan there is no law, no protection, nothing. Who can we trust? Nobody."
She has good reason to worry. Until six weeks ago the 31-year-old was a company doctor at the Sui gas plant, at the farthest reaches of remote Baluchistan province. On January 3 she was raped in her bed.
Normally in Pakistan, where crimes against women are rife, such an act would barely raise an eyebrow. In her case, it nearly started a war.
Members of the local Bugti clan saw a rape in their heartland as being a breach of their code of honour - especially when the alleged rapist was a captain in the despised national army. They attacked the gas field with rockets, mortars and thousands of AK-47 rounds.
President Pervez Musharraf sent an uncompromising response: tanks, helicopters and an extra 4,500 soldiers to guard the installation. If the tribesmen failed to stop shooting, he warned on television, "they will not know what hit them".
But the guerrilla attacks have escalated, propelling a long-ignored province into the headlines and threatening civil war. Every day sees a new attack on military and government targets across the province. Insurgents have blown up railway tracks, toppled pylons and fired rockets into army camps. Sui supplies 45% of Pakistan's gas, so supplies to Karachi, Lahore and other cities have been cut.
The fighting is motivated by more than the rape. For decades the Baluch tribes have demanded a greater share of profits from their resource-rich but cash-poor province. The Islamabad government ignored them, and a year ago Baluch nationalists started bombing police stations, courthouses and checkpoints.
Since the violence sparked by the rape, their demands are being taken more seriously. President Musharraf's belligerence has given way to softer political promises. Envoys have been dispatched, and there is talk of increased profit-sharing and greater autonomy. But tension remains high.
Government officials accuse Iran and India of helping to arm the rebels. They say there are about 50 training camps, each with between 20 and 200 militants, in the province. The army has announced plans to establish a permanent garrison in Sui. The attacks continue.
The Bugti leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, says the question of Dr Shazia's rape comes first. "As long as the perpetrators of this heinous crime are not dealt with, there can be no talks," he said.
The explosive case is a matter of extreme sensitivity for the government. Only a handful of family visitors may enter the house where Dr Shazia and her husband are living. A senior police officer said: "You have to understand that in this matter we answer to the president."
That is small consolation to the confused and frightened couple. Speaking publicly for the first time since the rape, Dr Shazia told the Guardian that officials from Pakistan Petroleum (PPL), which runs the plant, at first drugged her to cover up the case.
"Before the police came to take a statement, the [company's] chief medical officer said: 'Don't give them any information.' Then they injected me with a tranquilliser that made me drowsy," she said.
At the time PPL officials said Dr Shazia was unable to file a statement because she was unconscious. Despite her injuries, Dr Shazia was offered no medical treatment by PPL and she had no contact with her family for two days. Then the company flew her to Karachi and checked her into a private psychiatric hospital.
Three PPL doctors have since been arrested on charges of obstructing justice. But despite weeks of police investigation, Dr Shazia's rapist remains at large.
She said she did not know his identity. "He tied my hands with a telephone wire and blindfolded me with a dupatta [scarf]. But I could feel that he had a moustache and curly hair. And I know his voice."
Early this week President Musharraf's spokesman said an army captain was "under investigation" but had not been arrested. Meanwhile Baluch police have re-interviewed Dr Shazia - this time insinuating she was engaged in prostitution.
"They asked me where I got the 25,000 rupees [£225] that was stolen and when I wore my jewellery. And they said that a cleaner had found used condoms in my room," she said.
Since then the police have announced that DNA tests on the main suspect did not match that found at the scene, heightening fears of a cover-up.
Weeks ago Dr Shazia's husband's grandfather said the rape had rendered her kari - a disgrace to the family honour - and so she must be divorced, and preferably killed. Such "honour killings" remain common in rural Pakistan.
But her husband, a pipeline engineer, says he is standing by his wife. His grandfather, he said, "is just a bad man, and this has made my wife even more scared. She cannot sleep at night, so I sit by her bed to take care of her."
For human rights campaigners, the kari rubs salt in the wound of a case combining politics, violence and regressive traditions.
"In this country a woman has no status," said Shershah Syed, of the Pakistan Medical Association. "She is an object, like a cow or a bucket."
Having lost their jobs and fearing for their lives, the couple want to leave Pakistan.
"They are politicising this issue, the whole country, everyone," Dr Shazia said through tears before hanging up. "How can I face anyone any more? We have to get out."
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.