In June 2016, during the National Assembly session, the sitting minister of defence (and water and power) of that time, Khawaja Asif, used highly inappropriate language against a fellow female parliamentarian (Dr Shireen Mazari). It showed the diseased mindset of the minister. What he said was wrong, offensive and inexcusable. The right thing, at that time, should have been for the government, ministers and the members of the PML-N to distance themselves from the minister and his comments, and ask him to step down, for there is no place for misogyny in parliament. None of this happened and it was wrong.
Earlier this year, in April, another PML-N minister, Abid Sher Ali, used even more vulgar language against the same member of parliament, Dr Mazari. There was some lip service reaction by the party higher-ups, but nothing of consequence. He should have been asked to resign, and not given a party ticket in the elections. None of this happened and it was business as usual. The reaction from the PML-N was shameful.
The shoe is on the other foot now. A few days ago, a serial and equal opportunity offender, and recently elected member of parliament, Amir Liaquat Hussain, tweeted a photo-shopped picture of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman that was disgusting, extremely inappropriate and offensive. It showed Mr Hussain’s rotten core and his diseased psyche. The right thing to do now is for the PTI to publicly distance itself from Mr Hussain, ask him to resign and ensure that such vulgarity finds no place in the halls of parliament. People like Mr Hussain should have no business in shaping the laws of this nation. Those who lack any fibre of human dignity and decency and who have little regard for women should have no space in the assemblies of the country — whether it is the old Pakistan or the new Pakistan, regardless of the party.
Unfortunately, little has been done by the PTI. While Dr Mazari herself took a public stance, there has been no action by those who control the party policy. The Karachi leadership of the PTI, as well as the national leaders of the party, have also been sadly mum. By not taking a strong, clear and decisive stance, the PTI is making a strong statement. It is saying that they will tolerate misogyny and indecency, just as their predecessors did. By not acknowledging that Amir Liaquat crossed a red line that should never be acceptable in any decent political system, the PTI is saying that harassment of women is not a priority for them. I wonder what would have been the reaction had Amir Liaquat photoshopped the picture of some important man in power instead of Sherry Rehman’s? What would be the reaction of the Karachi leadership of the PTI, the national committees and the press in general? Our selective moral outrage speaks volumes about our hypocrisy. It also paints a pretty clear picture of why women continue to suffer harassment — whether they are in school, workplace, business or whether they are members of parliament.
Assuming that what ails the country, and what stops it from progressing, is only financial mismanagement is both naïve and myopic. Social progress and equality for all is also a cornerstone of development. While financial corruption is indeed a problem, our collective social fabric is also under tremendous tension due to men like Khawaja Asif, Abid Sher Ali and Amir Liaquat. People like them are toxic and make it hard for women to come forward, to contribute to society and to propel the nation forward. Tackling our deeply rooted social ills, and ill treatment and harassment of women is at the very top of that list, is just as important as ensuring that financial corruption is stemmed out. It would be a terrible thing if the new Pakistan is only new for men.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2018.