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am here to speak to you on behalf of the Pakistani Activists for Gender Equality and to protest the alarming rise in violence against women in Pakistan in recent years.

As progressive feminists, we understand that the issue of violence against women in Pakistan is intrinsically connected to the oppression of other minorities, as well as to the struggle for women's rights across the world.

As international feminists, we understand the need to place this issue within the context of larger global processes such as neoliberal globalisation and the crises of identity it inaugurates and nurtures which invariably play themselves out violently on the bodies of women.

As anti-imperialist feminists, we recognize how the War on Terror and its Islamophobic face reduces the figure of the Muslim woman to a mere symbol - albeit a potent one - for competing ideologies and political projects at the domestic and international level.

As postcolonial feminists, we are aware of the politics of speaking on the issue of Pakistani women's rights in the belly of the beast, at a time when Islamophobia will undoubtedly colour how this issue is covered and represented in this media, and thus how it may potentially be appropriated by imperialism itself, just as RAWA's very legitimate struggle against the Taliban was.

This is the difficult position of being a feminist in an era of imperialism and competing fundamentalisms. We know for a fact that imperialism is not interested in women's rights or the rights of the oppressed here or abroad. Once they have served their purpose, like Afghan women, they are conveniently forgotten; and when their demands become liabilities for - or hurdles in the way of - the imperialist project, it is very easy to dismiss them entirely. Thus, we have the CIA's Middle East expert telling us - when confronted with feminist critiques of the emerging Iraqi constitution - that women's rights are not crucial to the process of democracy.

I'm sure everyone here is by now familiar with the recent remarks made by General Musharraf to the Washington Post with regard to the issue of rape. However, it's instructive to repeat them: "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".

We are not here to demand anything of the General, except perhaps his resignation in the light of his regime's miserable performance, and these most recent insults he has hurled at Pakistani women, particularly the victims of violence themselves.

We are not here to demand anything of the General because we understand that despite his precious image as an enlightened moderate, he is in fact simply another face of the Pakistani ruling class which - like ruling classes everywhere - is not interested in the plight of the powerless.

We are not here to demand anything of the General because we know that he and the ruling classes he represents have already chosen to allign themselves with the imperialist power, because we recognize that he is a crony in the best tradition of the Pakistani ruling classes.

We are not here to demand anything of the General because while he presents to the world the elaborate hoax of his 'enlightened moderation', we know that domestically he is hand in glove with the fundamentalists through the Mullah-Military Alliance.

The General is ultimately nothing but a mere dictator; he is interested in maintaining his power and is therefore compelled to juggle the demands of his venal constituencies.

Thus, when faced with the international outcry to repeal the Hudood Ordinances, he pretends to care and conveniently passes the buck by referring the matter to the Islamic Ideology Council.

And when challenged by Pakistani activists and victims of violence who have highlighted the plight of Pakistani women in the international arena, he says that we dishonour our country. In his opening address at the Regional Conference on Violence Against Women held recently in Islamabad, the General stated "I feel hurt when people single out Pakistan at various international forums on the issue of violence against women" and immediately added that "I will never stand with them. Instead, I will oppose them with all my power". Later, he patronisingly added: "Don't wash your dirty linen outside, let's wash it inside the country...You will never see women's rights activists of these countries going abroad and singling out their countries in this regard. Instead, unlike Pakistan , they work together to find ways of fighting against the menace."

How ironic that the very people who have made the most political hay during this current phase of imperialism accuse us of playing to the international gallery for personal and political gain when we highlight the very real plight of the majority of Pakistanis - men and women!

Pakistan is not dishonored because of the struggles of its people for social justice.

If Pakistan is dishonored, it is because of endemic and systematic misogyny that operates not just within society but at all levels of the state.

If Pakistan is dishonored it is through the repressive and violent response of its rulers to any demands of redress from the vulnerable sections of its society.

It is dishonoured through state actions such as the ritual public humiliation of Pakistan 's leading human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, who was stripped and beaten by the police during an event organised by human rights groups within Pakistan.

If Pakistan is dishonoured it is through the actions and inactions of the morally bankrupt constituencies the General represents.

General Musharraf, it gives us no pleasure as Pakistanis to speak of these things in international fora. But the state's complete lack of interest in the demands and the plight of ordinary and vulnerable Pakistanis leaves us no choice. From experience we know that the only time the Pakistani state reacts to issues of social justice, even at the most superficial level, is when there is sufficient international pressure.

So drunk are Pakistan's ruling classes on power and so used to its arbitrary exercise against the most vulnerable members of society that they can no longer tolerate the barest hint of criticism or resistance, and this will eventually be their downfall as it has been of all autocrats in the past. The Pakistani people are no strangers to the art of speaking truth to power - indeed, it is what we have had to do throughout our history. Faiz Sahib's exhortation to speak up ' Bol, ke lab aazad hain tere ' has long been close to the heart of Pakistani progressives. Habib Jalib's rejection of the 'enlightend' reign of another military dictator through the words ' Aesay dastoor ko, subhe be noor ko, maen nahi jaanta, maen naheen manta' still resonates deeply in our hearts.

General Musharraf's recent bouts of irritation with all kinds of criticism reflect the highhandedness of the Pakistani elite and of a military dictator in particular, but also perhaps a growing anxiety in the face of popular resistance in Pakistan and mounting criticism abroad. His recent statements and actions can also be understood as the last resort of a cornered, frustrated and anxious autocrat. And in a related note, the latest polls in the US show that all is not well within the imperialist camp either. The current administration's popularity is at an all-time low, with the vast majority of Americans expressing the opinion that the war was a mistake.

And to this we say, 'girti hui deewar ko, ek dhakka aur do'.

First published in Ghadar []