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La Affaire Gulalai!

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Updated: August 3, 2017, 7:34 PM IST
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La Affaire Gulalai!
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, speaks with a Reuters correspondent during an interview at his home in the hills of Bani Gala on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan July 29, 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Caren Firouz)
As if Panamagate charade and disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office since he was not honest and trustworthy as pronounced by the Supreme Court was not enough, that we got plunged into La Affaire Gulalai involving a KPK MNA and PTI chief Imran Khan. The Gulalai Affaire seems to have punctured the multifaceted euphoria in the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and diverted attention to an age old controversial issue of the treatment of women in Pakistan's overly tribal culture.

Although highly respectable journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai from KP rightly wants PTI MNA Aisha Gulalai’s allegations of harassment against PTI chief to be impartially investigated, Aisha Gulalai despite general male hostility to her, has been putting a brave face in exposing herself to the devouring cross-examination of loud mouth, frothy TV anchors who would win hands down any high velocity acoustic competition.

Getting hit by volleys right, left and centre and some anchors crossing the modesty belt in their punches, have not deterred Gulalai from putting across bold and bravely her charge sheet before the media. What is the truth in her allegations can only be found out by a Joint Investigation Team of the type Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members were subjected to.

While a heated debate is on, many condemning Gulalai for what they call her bid to blackmail one of the only “Sadiq and Ameen” political leaders globally known for his fair and judicious treatment to women that could even be vouched by Tyrene’s mother Sita White if she were alive—the La Affaire Gulalai has no doubt opened the Pandora’s box.

It is good to see Gulalai sticking to her gun. She is responsible in bringing into focus the larger issue of the treatment of women in our society especially in the Parliament and political parties. No doubt male political leaders want to outmatch each other in their claim to stand for empowerment of women. However, whenever their raw nerve gets pricked, their outbursts can outmatch the verbal exchanges of prolific four letter words used during fights among street urchins.

PML-N Khawaja Asif who missed to be both interim and otherwise prime minister for rest of the term after the disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif remains to be the record holder in being too lucid and generous in exchanging verbal duals loaded with highly objectionable invectives with the female members of the Parliament. One would not like to get involved in internal party innuendos like Gulalai’s- however, having seen last time treatment of women parliamentarians by Khawaja Sahib and his blow the belt punch on the senior most PTI female leader Dr Shireen Mazari -- all make a sad commentary.

I believe while senior politician like Chairman Senate Senator Raza Rabbani is still around, the Parliament and various party leaders should unanimously impose a Hammurabian code of behaviour for treating women with respect and utmost dignity. They must set draconian rules for castrating the male perverted mind set.

One would not like to jump to one’s guns to find one or other party guilty in Gulali’s case unless the scandal is thoroughly investigated, generally speaking and from a historic perspective, one would like emerging PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz to lead the way in her own party to introduce a strict code for both male and female conduct that could foster among others a culture of grace and tolerance.

PML-N is not being mentioned here just for the sake of striking a balance. There is historic perspective to it. When East Pakistan was our majority province, women generally and female politicians particularly, were held in dignity, grace and shown highest respect. In the smaller provinces too, women were extended due deference. In Punjab its women folk were more political, courageous and daring then their men. Remember the brave girl who climbed to the top of Punjab Assembly (or Secretariat) to put aloft Pakistan’s flag when it was being run by the Unionists.

Regretfully, things changed with the advent of anti-Pakistan Islamist parties holing in Punjab as their epicenter of activities. Not only founding fathers like Liaquat Ali Khan were targeted for character-assassination by the Jamaatis and Ahraries but his wife too—Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan--a thorough bread woman of high character, education and a living symbol of Luckhnavi Muslim culture who could never be seen without a dupatta covering her head—was not spared of the vilification campaign by the bigoted clerics.

It is not irrelevant to recall here how the Punjab Muslim League leaders misbehaved with Madre Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah contesting against Field Marshal Ayub Khan in the Presidential elections. I remember the main campaigners for Ayub Khan—Convention Muslim League leaders Ahmad Saeed Kirmani and Abdul Waheed Khan crossed all limits of decency to please their Praetorian master. Both used to publicly question her title of Madre Millat (Mother of the nation) Fatima Jinnah when she could not give birth to child of her own—as they taunted.
Most ignominious have been the campaigns by the Muslim Leaguers under the command of General Ziaul Haq and later his political heir against the late Bhutto ladies. Fabricated obscene photographs were airdropped to malign Begum Nusrat Bhutto and martyred Benazir Bhutto during the election campaign in 1988. When that did not wean away the Punjabi vote from PPP, PML-N leader—young Mian Nawaz Sharif --raised the slogan “Jagg Punjab Jagg, teno Pagg no Lagraha Hay Daag”. And when that failed to stop Benazir’s landslide, ISI chief General Hameed Gul rigged the elections.

In Pakistani politics male politicians can get away by calling a female opponent a whore as one had seen a leading cleric and an ex-sportsman candidate in 1997 elections in KPK resorting to in their election campaign speeches. Her name was Musarrat Shaheen—a Pashto actress. It served both ‘Maulana Diesel’ and ‘Bally-Baz’ candidate well when despite their diatribe she got more votes than them. However, all three lost to PML-N candidate.

Indeed, exemplary is the conduct of PPP vis-à-vis treatment of women generally and parliamentarians in particular. It has been vouched by both Naz Baloch of PTI who joined PPP and Aisha Gulalai. It is due to inbuilt culture of respect and dignity for women in the party. And why not, the party ever since its foundation has crusaded for the empowerment of women and lesser privileged communities. Not only that, the PPP has the singular distinction of being led in most difficult, challenging and oppressive times by two of the greatest women leaders in the history of the sub-continent. Even today Benazir’s daughters—Bakhtawar and Aseefa—speak up loud and clear whenever women are maltreated. Only recently leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, MNA from PPP, took an exception to the talking of women legislators during his speech and made what has been termed as sexist remark.
Pronto comes Aseefa Bhutto Zardari’s tweet:"Far too many times this has happened. Insensitive remarks against women in politics have recurred in Parliament. Such remarks should not be tolerated," she said. She respectfully hoped an apology from Khursheed Shah. “Parliament is a model of our society and if our parliament continues to make derogatory remarks against women, it reflects on us," she conclusively tweeted. And I have nothing more to add. I am sure our youngsters will groom a better, more congenial and tolerant society.

- Author is the former High Commissioner and a veteran journalist
First Published: August 3, 2017, 7:28 PM IST