Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, has denied telling The Washington Post in an interview last week that claiming rape has become a "moneymaking concern" in Pakistan and that many Pakistanis felt it was an easy way to make money and get a Canadian visa.
The comments have outraged women's groups and sparked protests across Pakistan, marring a high-profile trip that Musharraf has made to the United States to promote a moderate image of Pakistan. His trip included speeches to a Jewish group and a women's group while attending the U.N. General Assembly. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin formally protested the reported remarks in a meeting with Musharraf on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering.
"Let me say with total sincerity that I never said that, and it has been misquoted," Musharraf told the women's group. "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."
In an interview Saturday with CNN, Musharraf said that the remarks were made by someone else in his presence and not by him.
The rape comments were not the main focus of the article, published Tuesday, which covered a broad range of topics discussed in a 50-minute interview. In the article's 12th paragraph, The Washington Post quoted Musharraf as saying: "This has become a moneymaking 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."
The interview was conducted by three Washington Post reporters and was tape-recorded. A review of the recording yesterday confirmed that Musharraf -- who was surrounded by aides who took notes and also recorded the interview -- was accurately quoted.
Musharraf made the remarks at the end of a nine-minute discussion on the case of Mukhtar Mai, 33, an illiterate woman who spoke publicly about having been gang-raped on the orders of a village council in 2002. Mai won public sympathy and government support after she demanded that the men be charged and convicted. Earlier this year, however, the Bush administration assailed Musharraf when he blocked Mai from coming to the United States to publicize the case.
In the interview, Musharraf said that he is "on the side of women" but that Pakistan is being unfairly "singled out when this curse is happening everywhere in the world." Speaking of another high-profile rape case, he said that he had arranged for a visa and for $50,000 to be given to Shazia Khalid -- a Pakistani medical doctor who was raped by a masked intruder, allegedly an army officer -- so she could leave the country. Khalid has applied for asylum in Canada.
Then, as the reporters prepared to move to the next question, Musharraf interjected the comments about rape as a moneymaking concern, saying it was the "popular term" in Islamabad.
"It is the easiest way of doing it," he continued. "Every second person now wants to come up and get all the [pause] because there is so much of finances. Dr. Shazia, I don't know. But maybe she's a case of money, that she wants to make money. She is again talking all against Pakistan, against whatever we've done. But I know what the realities are."
Musharraf told a women's group that he was misquoted.