March issue 2004

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 20 years ago

Another International Women’s Day will have come and gone. Yes, another day of paying lip-service to the cause of the Pakistani woman will have passed. Another day of waxing eloquent on the issue of Karo-Kari and the Hudood Ordinances. Another photo opportunity for all those political opportunists who never tire of publicising how much their hearts bleed at the plight of the Pakistani woman.

And yet little has changed on the ground. Women continue to be slaughtered in the name of honour, the Hudood Ordinances remain on the statute books, while innocent women, accused of adultery, languish in jails under this draconian law.

What’s more, even President Musharraf’s edict to ensure one-third representation of women in the local bodies and the assemblies is being challenged once again in certain quarters. In lower Dir, for instance, the menfolk have decided that no woman will be allowed to contest in the bye-elections to a local bodies seat that has fallen vacant and neither will they be allowed to vote. And supporting them in this unholy mission are not just religious parties like the JUI (F) and JI, but Ms. Bhutto’s PPP, Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s PML and Mr Asfandyar Wali’s ANP. Not a voice of dissent from these stalwarts who profess to be liberal and progressive and never let go of any opportunity to lash out at the forces of extremism in society. Their unstinted support has strengthened the hands of retrogressive forces who hold sway over the destiny of women.

As it is, only six of the 136 seats reserved for women are occupied, the rest are lying vacant. Women’s participation in local politics is not the only thorn in the religious parties’ flesh. Attempts to educate the girl child are also beginning to alarm them. In the Diamer district of the Northern Areas, eight girls’ schools run by local NGOs were torched last month, on the grounds that since they were funded by foreign agencies they were unIslamic. This is not the only incident of its kind. Last year, another girls’ school was torched by extremists. However, it’s not just a woman’s life that is held hostage by the forces of regression and extremism.Their all-pervading presence and influence is being felt equally in all other spheres of life.

Increasingly, they are being allowed to get away with murder — literally. The Quetta carnage, in which 45 people were killed by suicide bombings and gunfire, is a case in point. That this happened on the 10th of Moharram, when the country’s security agencies were on ‘red alert’, says something about the security and surveillance network in the country. And speaks volumes about the network of the extremists, who have struck for the third time in the last six months in Quetta — 80 people have already died in attacks on police cadets and a Shia mosque.

As always, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Jamali have expressed “extreme outrage” at this “dastardly incident,” called for “extreme measures” to bring the culprits to book and announced compensation. But expressions such as “extreme outrage,” “extreme measures” and “extreme steps” have begun to ring hollow, in the face of this continuing spiral of violence. Had the whip been wielded on these proliferators of intolerance and hatred, the country would not have been held hostage to these repeated bouts of violence.

The press cried itself hoarse on the dangerous jihadi foreign policy course we were steering, but they were accused of working against the country’s “national interests.” Now that our “national interests” have changed post September-11, the powers-that-be are finding it increasingly difficult to rein in their erstwhile comrades-in-arms and current partners-in-government.

As the curtain goes up on the first India-Pakistan Test and one-day series, all of us are holding our collective breath, keeping our fingers crossed and praying that no miscreant, or worse, extremist, strikes. Here’s to shanti(peace), tolerance and a good game of cricket.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.