I’ve been advocating for the inclusion of women in all fields for over a decade with some of my fellow activists and now it seems like we’ve need to pause, because we’ve perhaps preached to an unwanted foe — the Taliban.
In a glossy, glamouresque magazine called Sunnat-e-Khaula, the Pakistan Taliban have awoken to a vile form of gender equality and want them to be part of their campaign to kill innocent men, women and children of this country, like they did in 2014 at the Army Public School where 144 children were murdered so brutally there was a gorge of blood. The magazine calls women to “get together” in their homes and congregate to join jihadist forces. It implores them to be brave and learn to “use grenades.”
The magazine, perhaps designed by someone who reads the Cosmopolitan, had sliced up reader interest to cover a special interview of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader’s wife who made a passionate pitch for child marriages, an article from a young jihadist boy who helps his mother run a mujahideen camp and an intriguing enough cover of a woman in a burqa. Everything about the magazine is so normal, so everyday and so eerie.
In this country, if you want to port your phone sim, fix an incorrect gas meter reading, escape a false blasphemy accusation as an impoverished person, publish religious literature as a minority citizen or inhabit public space as a woman, the forces of the system will be stacked against you so hard. Yet strangely, it is ever so easy for a group that our government has vowed to extinguish to distribute its women’s magazine widely through print and social media. So easy for the Taliban to glorify war and desensitise people from life’s dignity and artistry, just like they did in Afghanistan. The impunity and sanction with which the Taliban operates tell a different story from the narrative that comes out of toothless National Action Plans and such. Banned groups form political parties here. The airwaves are full of challenges to the writ of the state.
The San Bernardino, California, terrorism incident co-conspirator was a Pakistani woman and squarely a product of this new wave of terrorist group’s interest in women joining radical forces. They have an interest in not just women who are destitute and without social structure, but in fact women who are deeply within the framework — working class women including doctors and engineers.
They target women who embrace patriarchy because they realise they cannot fight it and win. They target women who give in to the doctrine of radicalism because these women have been fed the dogma diet right from the hands of the aalims, who they’ve revered. Now, armed with an alive and kicking Stockholm syndrome, they get to be all important and they get to be part of something seemingly divine by emulating a woman from the seventh century.
The objective of the magazine is not to merely preach a rigid sense of morality, but to grab attention and to send a message — we’re here, unmarred and unmoved. It’s a taunt to the state, but the state remains undaunted. So then, may security rest in peace. We continue to dishonour those 144 children, those 60,000 and so victims of terrorism since 2003 and the rest of them.
There is no control over the context of learning that is established at the 2,000 and more all-female madrassas across the country. Women are going to be a very formidable force in the violence industry if we let this go unchecked.
Women are constantly pushed into dark corners, physically and metaphorically because we remain the second worst place in the world to be a woman in according to the gender gap index 2016. An open society with just laws would not permit the TTP the audacity to call on women so blatantly. The TTP is picking up on the despondency of being a woman in this country. They are also feeding off of women’s loss of self, on lack of consent and of agency. A society that empowers woman does not allow 1,000 honour killings a year according to Human Rights Watch, does not shame women who come out with harassment accusations, does not deprive women of command over their own uterus and certainly does not create hostile cultures around professional and political women.
The war against this Taliban woman magazine is not to shut it down, but to turn up the volume of women’s voices and their demands for equality, regardless of how they define it. This is a long game, one that I only wonder if the state is willing to trek far enough for.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2017.