A journalist who writes for diverse papers, told me that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani always reminded him of an English gentleman; someone who doesn’t do anything at all, but does it rather well. He has contrived to suggest a life of unruffled serenity even when tackling thorny problems like the pipeline-from-Iran issue — which would greatly benefit Pakistan — and the opposition of the United States to the project. He hates confrontation and usually looks for an easy way out of a crisis, often becoming unnecessarily obsequious as in the case of trying to please the Baloch sardars, who, as long as one can remember, have never been pleased and always appear to be miffed by something or the other.
It is, therefore, no wonder that his government, which is absurdly inefficient, hasn’t come up with a single thought or action by which the people of this country, particularly the women, could benefit. And this is in spite of the existence of Dr Rehman Malik, recently enlightened by Karachi University, possibly for his famous one-liners. His interest never wavers. The solipsism is utter hermetic, the concentration and self absorption resolute and utterly engrossed. One of the droll stories that have been circulating on the mobile phone networks suggests; Steve Jobs resigned from his post because Rehman Malik called Apple a banana. But when it comes to doing something positive for the country, like attacking Stone Age customs, Dr Malik is no better than the rest.
In fact, one of the cozily uniting things about the nation, which is still regarded as a community of misogynistic paternalism, is its dismal reluctance to do anything about improving the lot of the women. Now, I never thought I’d say this, but Mr Gilani actually came up with a positive statement a few days ago which was uttered with what passes for enthusiasm in this part of the world. Perhaps through ingrained habit or because any group of more than 20 must constitute an audience, he raised his arms in enthusing benediction and announced that it had always been part of his party’s manifesto to do something for the weaker sex. Hosanna! He is three-and-a-half years too late, because the five-clause Prevention of Anti Women Practices bill has been pending before the house since 2008 but as the old saying goes, better late than never.
The bill in question was sponsored by eight lawmakers of the government allied PML-Q, and spearheaded by a PML-Q MNA, Donya Aziz. But due to some last minute objections and drafting flaws, which is not at all unusual, the passage of the fifth clause of the bill was blocked, and the speaker of the national assembly Fehmida Mirza, had no option but to refer the draft back to the law ministry for further vetting. Strangely enough, the law and parliamentary affairs minister Maula Bakhsh Chandio was absent from the house on this occasion. He was rightly chastised in absentia by the speaker who also fixed a time limit for the vetting and pointed out that whatever portion of the bill had been passed would remain valid.
Pakistan is fortunate to have Fehmida Mirza as a speaker. She is no shrinking violet. She is tough and composed and demonstrated her impartiality when she gave MQM members enough time to rebut the broadsides that had been hurled by her husband against their party. For those readers who have not been following the case, this is a last ditch attempt by a group of brave Pakistani women who are trying to abolish, once and for all, the unjust customs of forcing women into a disagreeable marriage to settle a dispute, vani, being married to the Holy Quran and depriving women of their inheritance — practices that have been condemned even in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where they also have some pretty odious customs.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2011.