PAKISTANI President Pervez Musharraf complains that his country is unfairly portrayed as a place where rape and other violence against women are rampant and frequently condoned. In fact, it deserves such a reputation. According to Pakistani human rights groups, thousands of attacks are reported every year, including gang rapes and "honor killings" of women who are accused of having affairs or who refuse an arranged marriage. Most of these attacks go unpunished. So retrograde are Pakistan's laws that there are more than 1,500 women in prison as a result of rapes -- they were prosecuted for adultery -- while arrests of men occur in only about 15 percent of reported cases.
Gen. Musharraf, too, deserves the reputation he is earning as a ruler who cares more about how he is perceived in the West than in implementing the policies he claims to espouse, or even in speaking the truth. The general, who seized power in a coup six years ago, has reneged on promises to retire from the army or restore democracy. He has not carried out the reform of Islamic religious schools that he promised in 2001. He has allowed the extremist Afghan Taliban movement to base itself in Pakistan's western provinces with virtual impunity. He has repeatedly insisted, almost certainly falsely, that Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. All the while he has gone on collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year from the Bush administration, which accepts his words and ignores most of his actions.
Gen. Musharraf claims to champion a "moderate Islam" that respects the rights of women. But when Mukhtar Mai, a victim of a gang rape whose attackers have not been punished, tried to visit the United States earlier this year, the president barred her from leaving the country. In an interview with The Post last month, he claimed that he had relented. But then he said this: "You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped." This statement was, as Pakistani activists and the Canadian government soon pointed out, an outrageous lie. There is only one known case of a rape victim moving to Canada, a doctor who was assaulted by a military officer. A far more common outcome for rape victims is to be ostracized by their communities or jailed.
When Gen. Musharraf's statement provoked an uproar, he responded with another lie: He claimed that he had never made it. In fact, a recording of him speaking is available on The Post's Web site, washingtonpost.com. His words are quite clear. "These are not my words, and I would go to the extent of saying I am not so silly and stupid to make comments of this sort," the general said. Well, yes, he is.