Shazia Khalid and the fight for justice in Pakistan

About the authors
Maryam Maruf is a Commissioning Editor of openDemocracy.
Shazia Khalid is a medical doctor. She was working for Pakistan Petroleum Limited in Sui, Bolochistan when she was raped in January 2005, allegedly by an army officer. She and her husband now live in the UK as asylum-seekers, waiting to move back to Pakistan or to move on to Canada.
Zainab Mahmood is a freelance journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan.

In January 2005, the rape of a doctor in a secure hospital precinct, apparently by an army officer, provoked riots in Balochistan and a large scale tribal uprising that was suppressed by the Pakistani army. Pakistan’s brutal Islamic (Hudood) laws require rape victims to produce four Muslim male witnesses under pain of death or imprisonment. On 19 March 2005, when an investigation into the crime was supposed to be underway, Dr. Shazia Khalid was spirited out of Pakistan into a “safe haven abroad”, allegedly on the pretext of escaping imminent assassination. But the moment she was out of Pakistan and seeking asylum in the UK, Shazia and her husband Khalid were dumped and disowned by the very government that transferred her there. Dr Khalid claims to have been blackmailed into leaving the country by government officials trying to cover up her rape.

The case has attracted publicity internationally and caused severe embarrassment to President Musharraf during his recent US visit for the UN Summit. It has now been taken up by Amnesty International, which is helping Shazia and her husband.

* * *

I had been working at the Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL) in Sui, Balochistan, for over a year when the incident took place. When I went for the job I was told that my husband Khalid, a petroleum engineer, would also be offered a post there. At the time he was working in Libya, and was eager to come back to Pakistan. So, that was the main reason I took the appointment, I felt optimistic that he would be offered a position there. The PPL said they prefer to hire couples so that they can live and work together in these remote areas.

But once I started I quickly realised that was an empty promise; it seemed they had no intention of offering my husband a job. I remained in the job because I felt a great deal of compassion for my patients. I was working with women and children, who were in a sorry state, uneducated and unaware about their rights or matters regarding their health. Most mothers had more than ten children, their husbands had four wives and would mistreat them. They lived in really depressing and filthy conditions. I did what I could to help them.

When the PPL hired me, the chief medical officer Usman Bajwa, gave me his word that I would be taken care of, and that I “was their daughter now.” It was a safe environment, with picketing all across the hospital and the residential section. My house was within the hospital compound, along with hostels for nursing and male technicians. I had been sharing the house with another female doctor from Karachi, but she left six to seven months before the incident. When she left I asked Usman Bajwa if I could be moved to the nursing hostel or if someone could be brought in to share the house with me. Usman Bajwa said that as I was so busy at work, I would hardly be spending anytime at home – so it made no difference where I lived – so I should stay in the house. He did say that when a new female doctor started they would move her into my house.

I was raped in my bedroom, at the official hospital staff residence. When we asked the police about the evidence they found there, they confessed that they hadn’t even sealed the room. Countless people came and went and tampered with anything that could be regarded as evidence and destroyed it. My clothes were taken from me under the supervision of a Sister, and even those items of clothing have vanished. How on earth would they conduct an investigation when they destroyed most of the evidence? The PPL bears huge responsibility in this.

Click here for an interview with Shazia Khalid (in Urdu)

After the incident, Usman Bajwa and the field manager, Pervaiz Jamula got in touch with me. They said they knew what had happened to me, and that they had found evidence. But they told me, as a matter of integrity, I should not speak to anyone about it. They gave me sedatives for two days to keep me unconscious. I also requested that they contact my family, to get my mother from Karachi to come to Sui to be with me, since I was completely disoriented and confused following the trauma of what had happened to me. But they did not call my family.

They eventually transported me to a hospital in Karachi and contacted my family. My brother and his wife went to meet the PPL and they were told the same thing: that they should keep silent and not give a statement to the police. The PPL representatives insisted that they should not file a first incident report. Apparently my integrity and the reputation of the PPL were at stake. After a few days they cut off all contact with us. They simply refused to cooperate or disclose any information and said they couldn’t help because their hands were tied and they were under a great deal of pressure to stay tight-lipped about this.

On 27 February we went for an identification at the police station. They had lined up about nine or ten men behind a glass. I told them that there was no way I could recognize the face, but I would never forget the voice for the rest of my life. So they arranged for the men to stand behind a curtain in another room and utter a few words so I could hear them. But it was none of those voices. That was the last involvement I had with the investigation. They did not contact me again with further queries or identifying evidence or anything.

Q. How did the government and Pakistani authorities handle your case?

It was very disappointing. Investigations were late, and not carried out properly. There was no real attempt to deal with my case honestly and transparently. After the rape, my husband came immediately from Libya. He met with a colonel from Military Intelligence and was assured that “the culprit would be apprehended within 48 hours.” My husband constantly followed it up with the police, asking what was being done. He asked why, when they already had a chief suspect and all the world’s fingers were pointing at him, why weren’t they doing something about it? Shouldn’t they be investigating connections between the suspect and the crime? The police frankly told my husband they could not do anything about it. “Our hands our tied, we are under immense pressure from higher authorities. This is the army’s responsibility, they will do it themselves.” When we went to the identification parade, a military intelligence major came and talked to us. He said I have two things to tell you; one is excellent news and one is really bad.

The good news, he said, was that the real culprit had been arrested. But the bad news was that five armed men had been sent from Bugti House to come after us and kill us, apparently on the orders of Sardar Akbar Bugti, a tribal leader in Sui. (Sardar Akbar Bugti claims that his intention was to avenge her.) The best thing would be for us to leave Pakistan instantly. The army could not offer us a safe house. Of course we were naïve – we realise now that these were all ploys to panic us into getting us out of the country. Frankly, we have been hoodwinked by the authorities, who pretended to work in our interest but just wanted to get us to leave the country.

We had no choice. When higher authorities tell us that our lives are in danger, then what can we do? We can’t fight against them, and we have to think about our safety. We were kept in Islamabad for two weeks practically under house arrest, so of course fear and panic set in and we felt we did not have any options left except to do as they asked and leave the country.

Because of anger provoked by the incident, there was much turmoil and bloodshed, many lives were lost. Rockets were fired at the PPL plant, and victims included children. I can’t help but feel this tragedy has taken a toll and affected a large number of lives, not just our own. Hence we felt the only option we had was to yield to the pressure and leave the country. The whole incident had become highly politicised. Preparations for an army operation to quell the unrest in Balochistan had begun and several politicians threatened to abandon the government over military actions. I became a thorn in the government’s side, and so the easiest thing was to send me and my husband abroad so that the controversy would die down and people would forget about it.

Q. How did you end up in the UK?

Dr Shahid Masood and Mohsin Baig came from Islamabad to see us in Karachi. They told us they had met with the high authorities there and that we had no choice but to leave Pakistan as our lives were in danger.

They asked us where we wanted to go. We argued that we did not wish to leave, but they insisted our lives were in serious danger and we could not stay in Pakistan. We said Canada was the logical choice. I have a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law and family friends there, but I had never been out of Pakistan before. So they brought us the forms for Canadian immigration which they said they would submit on our behalf. Not much time had passed since the incident so I was still in shock.

Masood returned two days later and said the Canadian High Commission required more time, perhaps four or five weeks. He said it would be a great risk to wait that long and so he had brought the form for a UK visa. We said we didn’t know anyone in the UK but he remained adamant that we go to the UK while they continued with the Canada application.

The president of the Aurat Foundation, Anees Haroon was a great help and offered us a great deal of guidance and support. Dr Shahid Masood and Mohsin Baig also visited her and she couldn’t understand why they were in such a hurry to get my husband and me out of Pakistan. She asked for our case to be filed, to let the investigations proceed, the tribunal to be set up and judgement passed. They in turn asked, “can you guarantee their safety for even a single day, can you give assurance that you can keep them alive for one more day?” To that she had no response. After my husband and I arrived in the UK I got back in touch with her, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard from her. Now I even feel that even Anees has been silenced by the authorities.

There was another problem. I didn’t want to leave without my adopted son, Adnan. He is actually the son of my late brother who passed away when Adnan was four. But they said: “For now, you and your husband go. Once you are there, we will get his paperwork done and he will follow soon after.”

Adnan lives with my mother now, he is extremely frightened and disturbed. He has stopped going to college as their daily life is in disarray. He is completely confused and lacks any sense of security. We need to be together. The immediate solution that I can see is for the Canadian authorities to consider our peculiar situation. A Canadian lawyer has been in touch with us and is helping our case.

Q. What is your situation in the UK?

In the beginning when we arrived and filed our asylum application, the UK government gave us a small hotel room to stay in. Now, four months later, we have been shifted to this new place. We spoke to our solicitor and asked about all our options but unless our case is expedited we are stuck. We cannot go anywhere, nor take employment. My husband and I lived comfortably in Pakistan, but now we are almost destitute. We get £30 a week from the state and have this bedsit to live in but it is not much of a life. People in the media have been talking about it as if we’ve been living a life of comfort and are enjoying ourselves in London. It’s nothing like that. Our daily routine is restricted to this room, the library, and to the solicitor’s office and back. We don’t meet anyone, except the occasional journalist. It’s almost like being imprisoned.

We arrived on 18 March. While we were still in Islamabad, Mohsin Baig took us to meet Tariq Aziz, special advisor to the President. He said that once we were in the UK they would sort out our migration to Canada. They would also send a representative who would help us get settled and gain employment status so we could get our lives going again. I told him that I want my son to come with us, but he said the same thing: “You go first and I will make sure that your son follows.”

But once we got here, they stopped all contact. The first time we called them, they told us to relax and get some rest, and that they were looking into our immigration status. After that they stopped taking our calls and we were completely abandoned and had no idea who or where to turn to. That was when Amnesty International got in touch with us and hired a solicitor to help us and to file the case on our behalf. Three months on, we have had no results, and no news regarding our status. In fact since the 7 July bombings in London the Home Office regulations have become tighter so we don’t even know how they will deal with our case. We feel like homeless people, living in strange places, without the sanctity of home, wandering from place to place, without security and safety.

There has been no contact from the Pakistan High Commission at all. We even read in the press that our information minister Sheikh Rasheed denied any involvement in getting us here. Although all this happened on the insistence and through the arrangements of the Pakistan government, they are now giving the impression that we came here voluntarily on our own and are living here as asylum seekers out of choice. This is how the truth is twisted and your mind is completely and utterly confused about who to trust and who to doubt.

We can’t help but be worried and apprehensive about being here. Only God knows how many people know our whereabouts and know how to reach us. How can we feel secure when we have no idea why we are here, who wants to keep us here, who is watching us? We can’t know if they have an agenda and what it might be? It’s all very frightening.

I’ve lost my job, my career, my life. We are estranged – from our own home, our country, my family, my son. From where I am standing right now, my future looks bleak.

Q. What do you think the future holds?

We are here under duress, living as asylum seekers, which is a life we did not choose. In fact this is no life, with no future, our fate is not in our own hands, our family has been torn apart. Pakistan is my home, but when your own country cannot keep you safe, where can you go? But I do pray that if circumstances allow – and miracles happen – I can move back to my own country. One day in the near future, when we know where our life is taking us I want us to get back on our own feet. I will try and continue with my profession. If I get to Canada, it would be better than here because I would have the moral support of family members. My biggest wish will remain that I am reunited with my family, my son, my mother and that we are together and I can feel safe again.

At the moment though, it is a particularly difficult time. Whatever I am able to say today, I am able to stay composed and speak up about this, it’s all thanks to the moral support and help from the Aurat Foundation and ANAA. They have given me support to rebuild my strength and without them I would be broken and unable to gather my thoughts or feelings. I still suffer from terrible depression. I feel a great deal of mental pressure. Even now I have to take very strong medication to sleep at night, but I still cannot get peace in my sleep and I wake up early every morning and spend the entire day trying to think of something else. But I keep coming back to the question, why did this happen to me? I want to know why I had to face this grief and trauma?

When I was in Pakistan, my situation was such that I wanted to commit suicide. My husband and family were there for me 100% and if they had not been, I would not be here today. My family has had to leave the house they lived in for their entire life, and yet they stand by me. Crimes like these don’t just affect one person, they affect the family, destroying the family’s life, home and social relations as well. This crime is committed against all kinds of women, uneducated and poor women as well as educated middle class women. The perpetrators feel that women can be silenced and suppressed. But how many such women will they silence? I read about Mukhtaran Mai in the newspaper. She is fighting for her rights and I pray for her that she gets justice. If they try to silence a woman like Mukhtaran Mai then a Dr Shazia will rise up. If they try to silence me, then many other women will raise their voice on my behalf. This will continue until the plea is heard.

If I am to continue living abroad in the immediate future I want to work with NGOs that can help women in villages. Specifically I want to work with people who go into rural areas within Pakistan giving medical and psychological guidance to women there on how to protect themselves and safeguard themselves and how to fight for their rights on a daily basis and particularly when a crime is committed against them. To give them a choice and not let them fade away in silence.

Many innocent children and young girls are being victimised and destroyed due to a lack of awareness and intervention by authorities. This cannot continue, these young children deserve to remain innocent and grow up as normal children, not traumatized and victimised.

See, I did not get justice. From a victim I had to turn myself into a survivor even though all the doors were closing for me and there were lies and deception at every step. I will be devastated for the rest of my life for not getting justice, but there are others who can, who have hope. Those who have been victims before me or those who come after, I want to raise my voice for them. I want to lessen my hurt and anger by getting them justice. If I help them in their fight and they win, their victory will be mine. I will find happiness in their quest for justice. If just one other woman is helped by my actions I will feel I have achieved something and will feel some relief in a situation so far filled with frustration and despair.

I will continue no matter how difficult or disheartening it is. Keeping quiet or giving up will not get me anywhere. This is not just for myself, I’m struggling on behalf of all victims of rape in Pakistan who are silenced or are forced to take their own lives.

I want people to write to the Pakistan government to demand the repeal of the Hudood law. What kind of law is this? If a woman has been raped, she is supposed to produce four eye-witnesses to corroborate her story! What do they expect? Is the criminal supposed to confess to the crime and is that the only way they will investigate the crime? There should be proper investigation and collection of evidence.

I’ve had first-hand experience of this law and seen how it destroys life. It should be abolished. A new law should be proposed to help and protect women and provide them with a platform to exercise their rights and speak up to authorities who are trustworthy and honest. There should be female police officers who can help women, especially illiterate and uneducated women.

Women should have access to justice and equal rights. Our society is such that when a woman is wronged and she dies or commits suicide, people talk of her and shake their heads and say how she was wronged and how sad it is that she lost her life. But when the same person remains alive, they make life a living hell for her. No one wants to get their hands dirty, no one wants to take the difficult path in supporting a victim in their struggle. They can only stand on the sidelines and pass comments about tragedies.

Inshallah, I have raised a voice for justice. Pakistani women are not slaves. If a crime is committed against us, we should be able to raise our voices. Our government has to acknowledge that women deserve equal human rights and they have to help rather than suppress and force them into silence. I am able to raise my voice, but there are hundreds of women in Pakistan who are unaware of their rights who are subjected to torture, imprisonment and abuse. If the world supports me we can pressurize the Pakistani government into abrogating parts in the constitution that cause distress to women and lead them into such situations.

I am a doctor and also a woman. I know now first-hand how a woman’s life is destroyed after such an incident. She feels finished on the inside. Hollow and empty. She constantly has to face dreadful moments and thoughts and pressures, internal and external, every single day and life as it used to be comes to an end. But if life gives me a chance, if I ever have an opportunity I want to set up a hospital or clinic for women in Karachi. Where they get protection and they get guidance as well as counselling, particularly after such incidents.

My struggle will be to continue to raise my voice through the media. For the sake of wronged women in Pakistan, the system needs to be changed, the Hudood law needs to be changed. I will fight till the end, wherever it takes me. I want to do as much as I can to exact pressure on the government, and not allow the authorities to sweep this under the rug and bury another Mukhtaran or another Shazia under six feet of sand.