Every year on 8 March women who belong to different social classes and various age groups from the city of Lahore hold noisy protests to celebrate the International Women’s Day and traditionally they always gather outside the Lahore press club at the Shimla Pahari roundabout, writes Pakistani human rights activist Anila Gulzar.
Women representing their respective non-governmental organizations carrying placards
displaying their logos and a catchy slogan, female workers from the informal sector
marching behind a red banner spread across the front row and with feminist and slogans
printed on them wearing shalwar qameez that are bought specially for the occasion, middle
class women wearing branded clothes and an army of press photographers busy taking
snapshots of women raising slogans with their fists waving in the air parading in circles and
a heavy contingent of lady police parked at the green belt in full riot gear are all part of the
At some point, during the liveliest of the protests one would ever see in Lahore, a group of
middle class NGO women, charged with emotion, would rush ahead and take over the
whole width of the road disrupting the passing traffic and bringing it to a standstill.
This would normally herald the climax of the day. Minor skirmishes between the protesting
women and the lady police would let loose the anger, frustration and humiliation these
women endure all year long. Police women and protesting women both throwing punches
and pulling each other’s hair, shouting abuse and dragging one another to the ground are
the hallmark of the day.
This is when both the victim and the assailant are compelled by circumstance and
transformed into Roman gladiators performing in an arena of patriarchy. Finally, the
protesting women would retreat and gradually disperse. And until the next year they would
return to living their lives according to the rules and social dictates set by the male head of
the family, the mullah and the patriarch state.
Violence against women in Pakistan is on the rise. According to a report published by
European Union on March 12, 2020, Pakistan is ranked the sixth most dangerous country in
the world and second worst in the world (ranked 148th) in terms of gender equality.(1)
White Ribbon Pakistan reported that during 2004 and 2016, 47034 women faced sexual
violence, over 15000 cases of honour crimes and more than 1800 cases of domestic violence
were registered plus over 5500 women were kidnapped. Since it is very hard to collect data
regarding violence against women in Pakistan and so many cases go unreported it is not possible to determine the extent or the wide-spread injustices that our women suffer on a
day to day basis.(2)
According to the International Labour Organisation the gap between male and female
workers is the widest in the world. Hence, on average women in Pakistan earn 34% less than
Women in Pakistan also face sexual harassment at work place, on the street and in
the family by male family members. Women who belong to religious minorities such as
Christian, Hindu or Sikh are faced with abduction, forced conversion to Islam and forced
marriage to her abductor. According to UN report at least 1000 women from minorities are (2)
abducted and forced in Islamic marriages in Pakistan each year.
With an estimated 2,000 deaths per year, dowry death is another avenue in which Pakistan
has been reported to have the highest rate. Married women are murdered or driven to
commit suicide by their in-laws through continuous harassment and torture over disputes
related to dowry.
Recently, Pakistani women have been traded in China as sex workers. Chinese men marry
young girls from poor families in Pakistan, and once they go to China, Pakistani bride is
either sold off to the highest bidder or kept as a sex slave and domestic servant. According
to Associated Press 629 girls from Pakistan were sold as bride to China. (4) (7 December,
China’s track record regarding gender equality has not been impressive either. On 6 March
this year Mandy Zuo in her article published in South China Morning Post reports that
gender discrimination in China against women jobseekers is rife. According to the experts,
that Zuo quoted, nearly 85% of Chinese female graduates had encountered at least one
form of gender discrimination while job hunting and reports of domestic violence has increased by at least 50% in the past one year alone. (5)
A main issue concerning women repression in China is hegemonic masculinity which is rife at
the work place. Women in both Pakistan and China suffer from gross violation of human rights. In both countries, domestic violence is on the rise and rape has become a tool of oppression. In
Pakistan Islam is used to suppress the right of women to social emancipation and economic
freedom and in China a totalitarian ideology that stems from sadistic repressed desires and
rigid masculinity curtails the civic rights of the Chinese female population.
Anila Gulzar is a Pakistani human rights activist based in London. She is the CEO of Justice for Minorities in Pakistan.
Unholy alliance between Pakistan army and TTP
Although Pakistan's army is operating against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), there is a segment within the Army that has been pro-TTP. In a Pakistan radio interview, the TTP spokesman acknowledged that it receives support from some "people within the Pakistani Army" who are "against these oppressive and anti-religion policies".
The above statement stands in direct contradiction to DG ISPR & Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s insinuations of India’s hand in fomenting trouble through TTP.
TTP claimed responsibility for attacks on security forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & Balochistan that took place near Afghan border in past three days. Nine security personnel, including an Officer - Capt Faheem, were killed & eight others injured in ambushes and bomb attacks in Zhob area of Balochistan, North Waziristan tribal district and Bajaur tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Wednesday and Tuesday.
TTP operates from its bases & launchpads in Afghanistan close to Af-Pak border, a strong hold of Afghan Taliban. If TTP is operating freely from that area, it not only demonstrates the support it enjoys from Afghan Taliban, but it also vindicates the support being provided by Pakistan army to TTP, given the bonhomie between Pakistan Army & Afghan Taliban.
Foreign Minister addresses the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET)
Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi addressed the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) of the European Parliament (EP) at the invitation of its Chair MEP David McAllister, on May 26. The Foreign Minister was joined by Ms. Zartaj Gul, Minister of State for Climate Change; Mr. Mian Farrukh Habib, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting; Malik Ehsan Ullah Tiwana, Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs; Ms. Andleeb Abbas, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs; Ms. Maleeka Bokhari, Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice; Mr. Lal Chand Malhi, Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights; Foreign Secretary and senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Minister’s address was followed by an exchange of views with the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) belonging to different political groups.
The Foreign Minister thanked the Chair and the members of AFET for inviting him to address the prestigious Committee of the EU Parliament. He underscored the importance of regular parliamentary exchanges between Pakistan and the EU.
In his remarks, Foreign Minister Qureshi dilated upon various aspects of Pakistan-EU relations and regional and international developments. He stated that the Pakistan-EU Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) had ushered in a new phase in the partnership by providing a solid foundation and framework for multidimensional cooperation between the two sides.
Highlighting the enormous potential in further expanding Pakistan-EU ties in diverse spheres, he conveyed Pakistan’s readiness to continue to work for a productive and constructive partnership.
Underscoring the importance of trade and economic cooperation, Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored that the EU’s GSP Plus facility to Pakistan had been mutually beneficial and played an important role in growth of trade between the two sides. He reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment towards effective implementation of GSP Plus related international Conventions. He also appreciated EU’s support to Pakistan in the fight against COVID-19 Pandemic.
Expressing disappointment at the adoption of a resolution by the European Parliament on blasphemy laws in Pakistan, Foreign Minister Qureshi emphasised the importance of understanding the special feelings and reverence Muslims have for the personality of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Freedom of expression could not be used to hurt religious feelings of others and willful provocation and incitement to hatred and violence must be universally outlawed. The Foreign Minister stressed that xenophobia and Islamophobia were on the rise and Pakistan and the EU should work together for peaceful coexistence, and interfaith and cultural harmony.
Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored that peace and stability in Afghanistan are paramount for realizing Pakistan’s vision of regional economic integration. Pakistan wishes to see an end to the Afghan conflict through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned negotiated political settlement. Pakistan has played and continues to play a key role in facilitating the Afghan peace process. The current peace process is a historic opportunity and all Afghan parties should work constructively to secure an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive solution.
Foreign Minister Qureshi maintained that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute remains the single biggest obstacle in the way of building durable and lasting peace in South Asia. Instead of responding positively to Pakistan’s overtures for peace, India unilaterally and illegally moved to change the status of IIOJK, which is a UN recognised disputed territory, and vitiated the environment. The onus was on India to create an enabling environment. Pakistan remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people. Highlighting India’s disinformation campaign against Pakistan as unveiled by the EU Disinfolab, the Foreign Minister urged the EU not to allow the names of its institutions to be misused by third countries.
The Chair of AFET, MEP David McAllister, in his remarks highlighted the importance of Pakistan-EU relations and the Parliament’s interest in further strengthening this partnership. He thanked the Foreign Minister for his detailed exchange of views with AFET Committee.
Members of the AFET Committee and heads of delegations for relations with third countries and regions participated in the session. The 71 member AFET Committee is one of the most prominent and influential Committees of the European Parliament. It oversees and provides guidance to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and plays an important role in matters related to human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as finalisation of EU’s international agreements.
Street protests may compel Pakistan to expel French envoy
Never fully free from it, Pakistan is witnessing a recurrence of street violence unleashed by Sunni Muslim militants who want the Imran Khan Government to expel the French envoy posted in Islamabad over last year’s controversy about publication of cartoons in a French journal perceived in the Islamic world as maligning it faith.
A policeman was lynched by a mob, four persons have been killed in police firing and several were injured through two days of violence across the main cities that shows no sign of ebbing.
While the other Islamist groups do not figure in media reports on the violent protests, the principal protagonist is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) whose cadres have blocked key roads in major cities after the detention of their young chief, Maulana Saad Husain Rizvi.
The arrest under the anti-terrorism law seems the only determined move by the government to curb the protests but has only ended up escalating them.
Besides the obvious diplomatic jam Islamabad finds itself in, there is even more serious problem of keeping protests under check as Pakistan, like the rest of world observes the holy month of Ramzan, even as the Khan Government combats an economy in dire stress and a rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.
The government has decided to table a resolution, regarding the TLP’s demands, “including the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan, in parliament before Eidul Fitr,” The Express Tribune newspaper reported on April 8, 2021.
Published a week ago, the report has neither been endorsed, nor contradicted by the government, nor corroborated by other media outlets.
According to the newspaper, quoting “official sources”, the decision was taken “in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by Law Minister Farogh Naseem, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and relevant senior officials.
“Sources said that the meeting discussed the strategy for implementing the agreement reached with the TLP. It was also decided that other parties would be contacted on issue of French ambassador’s deportation. The meeting decided to bring the resolution in parliament before Eid,” the report said.
This was before the TLP had announced a sit-in in Islamabad to press for its demands. “But on February 10, a government committee headed by Religious Affairs Minister Qadri assured the TLP that it would seek parliamentary approval on its demands by April 20.”
The TLP apparently chose to launch its protest without waiting for the government that has been buying time from it ever since the crisis began last November.
The approach to the TLP of the army that is widely seen as backing the Imran Khan Government remains unclear. In the past, when asked by the PML-N Government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for assistance to end a violent protest, the army had ‘advised’ it to hold negotiations.
The TLP has been demanding expulsion of the French ambassador over publication of blasphemous caricatures. While the French President E. Macron has emphatic in supporting his country’s media’s right to express itself and is currently taking measures to ban the use of hijab (veil) by adult French Muslim women, the government has not reacted to the developments in Pakistan.
In November last year, the TLP staged a sit-in in Rawalpindi, which ended after an agreement with the government.
The TLP had then sought o pressurize the government with an announcement on November 17 that the government had accepted all its four demands. It had released a copy of the handwritten agreement, carrying signatures of Qadri, then interior minister Ijaz Shah and the deputy commissioner, Islamabad.
According to the Express Tribune report, the agreement said that the government would “take a decision from the parliament regarding expulsion of the French ambassador within three months, will not appoint its ambassador to France and release all the arrested workers of the TLP. The government will not register any case against the TLP leaders or workers even after it calls off the sit-in.”
The renewed protests have been sought to be played down by influential sections of the media. For instance, The News International (April 14, 2021) treated it as a problem of road traffic.
“Major sit-ins by a religious party which had bought life to a standstill in several cities across Pakistan a day earlier are continuing today (Tuesday), but have been confined to limited areas.” It listed specific localities in major cities that have been affected, more as a traffic advisory.
However, the report could not ignore “shortage of oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients.”
“In Lahore, there are fears of a shortage of oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients because of the traffic jams. Lahore hospitals almost out of oxygen supply amid rising coronavirus cases.”
Gujranwala, Gujrat and Sialkot had a day's supply of oxygen left, the Punjab health department said, adding that the situation could worsen if supply was not received today, the newspaper quoted Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid.
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