By Sankar Ray
The silence of 72-year-old All Pakistan Women’s Association towards severe scuttling of women’s rights in Afghanistan after the return of Taliban is no bewitching as APWA has always been establishmentarian. But baffling is the home-exiled new generation of women with a yearning for empowerment, particularly working women who has been inclined to ‘secular feminist activism’ since the Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto became the Prime minister of Pakistan.
Sources in Karachi and Lahore suggest that radical women take time to react. The growing realisation among women in Pakistan that men and women mistakenly appear to have very different goals and agendas for the nation as womanhood and nationalism ought to be conceived as inter-related is a reality. Women are resentful against excluding from the frontline in the making of the nation. This reflects a sprouting negation of ‘masculinist’ Islamic institutions, states a Karachi-based lawyer and a civil rights campaigner in anonymity.
But the dialectic of post-Zia- ul Haq Pakistan is still advantageous for the Islamic conservatives. Take the introduction of dress codes by the medical superintendent of Bahawalpur Victoria Hospital, affiliated with Quaid-a-Azam Medical College that has the largest health facilities in South Punjab. The notification bluntly talks of ‘reform society and preach Islam’.. There is already a resentment-in-the-brewing. This is natural after the milieu of freedom for the ‘second sex’ after the Aurat March (Urdu for “Women’s March”) on 8 March 2020 in Karachi, Peshawar, Islamabad, Quetta, and Lahore, preceded by the ‘women in byke’ rally in 2018. The programme was in tune with the western feminism with innovative slogans such as “Khud khana garam karo” (“Warm your food yourself”); “Tu karey to stud, me karun to slut”(“If you do it then you’re a stud, but if I do it then I’m a slut”); and, perhaps the most controversial, “Mera jism meri marzi” (‘My body, my choice’)- all attuned to a militant frame of feminism.
Consider the intrepid stance of celluloid heroine Mahira Khan in an interview with journalist Attika Choudhary on her podcast Positive Solace. She outspokenly pressed for a fundamental change in the mindset of future generations , for stopping crimes against women in Pakistan. On the rise in reporting around instances of public harassment and gruesome violence against women, she said:
“Whenever such an incident occurs, the first question that is usually asked is why was she out so late? Was he her boyfriend? Why was she there alone? These are the wrong questions to ask!”
But skeptics warn against any optimism about conscientious resentment of even radical outfits like Hum Aurtain (“We the Women”), a feminist collective, marchers who took to the streets to challenge Pakistan’s patriarchal society, from the policing of their clothing and movement within society to the acute gendered violence that women face, such as honor killings and acid attacks. Its central slogan was “Khud Mukhtari” (‘autonomy’) in economic, legal, health, and social issues.
In the meantime, Pakistani Nobel Laureate for peace Malala Yousafzai tweeted: ‘ We watch in complete shock as Taliban takes control of Afghanistan. I am deeply worried about women, minorities and human rights advocates. Global, regional and local powers must call for an immediate ceasefire, provide urgent humanitarian aid and protect refugees and civilians.’ This is a wake-up appeal to her Pakistani brethren, women in particular.
With news of atrocities pouring in from Afghanistan, mum are those including some of the fire-eating academics in India (surprisingly not yet heard so in Pakistan) who believed when the Taliban 2.0 was about to begin its second term that the new emirate in Kabul would embark on a pragmatic course just because the Taliban spokesman assured of freedom for all. An. Afghan woman Rabia Sadat was beaten by the Taliban terrorists for protesting in Kabul and seeking equality in how women are treated by the Islamist regime.
However, the openly appeasing policy by the top-brass of dreaded Pakistani secret police Inter-Services Intelligence is not necessarily endorsed even by the ruling coalition at the centre, led by the PakistanTehreek-i-Islam. There was welcome gesture of the federal minister for information and broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain towards the Afghan woman footballers who fled to Pakistan. He tweeted: ‘We welcome under-16 Afghanistan Women football team they arrived at Torkham Border from Afghanistan,The players were in possession of valid Afg Passport, Pak visa, They were received by Nouman Nadeem of PFF’ (Pakistan Football Federation). They were issued emergency humanitarian visas after the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban that banned women from playing all sport in the in the 1990s and indications of reimposition of the same is almost certain., have indicated that women and girls will face restrictions in playing sport.
There is no reason to assume that most of the Pakistanis rejoice over the return of the Taliban in Kabul. People in the areas bordering Afghanistan who have bitterly learned the experience of sheltering Afghans for years together cannot be expected to be happy. Unlike Prof Moonis Ahmar, former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi, they cannot think that the Taliban 2.0 would initiate a process of governance assuring ‘education, human rights, women’s rights, education, economy and foreign policy’. That’s thinking in idleness under an ivory tower.
Today or tomorrow, sizable section of Pakistani women will speak against the misogynist Taliban. The world opinion is not in favour of the Taliban, especially the the Haqqani network, backed by the Al-Qaeda who expect absurdly about the ‘infallibility’ of what the UN Security Council admitted in a cautionary way “a highly skilled core of members who specialize in complex attacks and provide technical skills, such as improvised explosive device and rocket construction.” (IPA Service)