Female lawmakers drawn into Pakistan’s dirty political games

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Late last month, Pakistan was making international headlines for the disqualification of a democratically elected prime minister. Last week, the country’s politicians managed to draw international attention for another reason.

The latest, yet very different, episode started when lawmaker Ayesha Gulalai Wazir, who hails from the militancy-hit Federally Administered Tribal Areas, claimed that Imran Khan – the cricketer-turned-philanthropist and politician, who is chairman of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Movement for Justice) – had sent her inappropriate text messages.

Gulalai alleged that the messages from Khan were ‘‘sexual harassment’’ and that she had been receiving such texts from the party chairman for four years. But in this age of social media, where you can screenshot anything and post it online within minutes, she didn’t provide any proof of Khan’s alleged harassment via text messages. However, this did not stop her discussing her claims on different talk shows with almost every television channel.

While her claims got huge coverage in Pakistan, Khan opted not to speak about the allegations. But his followers were busy maligning Gulalai, her family, her tribe and her honor. Things grew to the extent that Khan himself had to tweet about it, asking his followers not to bring her family into the matter.

Later, Gulalai showed the alleged text messages sent to her by Khan to a television journalist, who said that the texts were inappropriate in nature. On another show, she also claimed that she had received ‘‘marriage offers’’ from the party’s spokesman as well.

The same night, PTI’s official spokesman, Naeem-ul-Haq, tweeted that he had discussed marital thoughts with Gulalai, and that he was not sorry about it. But his admission was deleted within minutes.

And with this, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the ruling party and Khan’s key political rival, got a chance to enter the fray. One leader after another were seen on television calling for an inquiry into the case. Some even claimed that Khan, because of his colorful past, was surely involved in the matter.

The new interim prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a PML-N loyalist, backed the decision to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the allegations made by Gulalai.

This is not the first time women lawmakers of Pakistan have become the talk of the town. Rather, the men of this pure land did not spare the first-ever woman prime minister in the Muslim world, the late Benazir Bhutto. She was criticized and called inappropriate names merely because of the color of her dresses – that too, on the floor of the parliament.

Tit-for-tat for the ruling PML-N?

On Friday, when everyone thought PTI had almost lost it after the blunder by its official spokesman, the party hit back. In a press conference by the PTI’s women’s wing, a female guest claimed she was the wife of Hamza Shehbaz, a member of the National Assembly and nephew of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. But Shehbaz and the party deny that he married her.

‘‘If a parliamentary committee can probe the allegations made by Gulalai against Imran Khan, why can’t the same justice be given to me?’’ she asked.

This woman’s situation first came to light in 2010, but was soon forgotten; now it has been resurrected. That’s how power and money work in Pakistan.

Although this trend is not new, the ill treatment of female politicians looks to have reached a new height. It seems that both parties, the PTI and the PML-N, have suffered damage and found women to play politics for them.

Female politicians in Pakistan are subject to many cheap slurs by their male counterparts – ‘‘Tractor Trolley’’ and ‘‘Newly Acquired Dumper’’ are just some of ugly nicknames gifted by their male counterparts.

This case, however, must be investigated, because if it is not pursued, genuine cases of sexual harassment faced by ordinary women will be affected. Pakistan is a country known to treat its women badly and such cases are often described as family honor, just on the basis of gender.

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