August Issue 2008
Kashmala Tariq — “I was punished because I dared to speak against a Makhdoom”
A: Having a difference of opinion with somebody does not mean that he or she should be kicked out of the party. The show-cause notice which was delivered to me, prior to sacking me from the parliamentary party, asked me to explain why I had not made it to the National Assembly to cast my vote in the session in which the leader of the house was elected. It is on record that I had made it to the National Assembly just a few seconds after the doors were closed. Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi and Khursheed Shah had approached the speaker and requested her to allow me to enter the house but she refused. Besides, I was not the only one who had not cast a vote; 11 other members of the PML-Q also did not cast their votes. Hamid Yar Hiraj was present in the assembly and left before the voting began, while Khwaja Shiraz Mahmood was standing outside the house with me and did not cast his vote either. Why then, has action been taken only against me? I have been discriminated against just because I’m a woman who has been elected on a reserved seat. The party leadership believes that all MNAs elected on reserved seats for women and minorities should play along as puppets in their hands.
Q: How can you say that you have been victimised for being a woman?
A: If that is not the case, please explain why the party has not taken action against the male members, who did not cast their votes. Riaz Pirzada said on a TV show that his party did not have either the handle or the pedals — an obvious reference to the PML-Q’s election symbol, a bicycle. He also said that the PML-Q was handicapped by its leadership. He passed these derogatory remarks against the Chaudhary brothers, and yet the party nominates him as its chief whip. In my reply to the show-cause notice, I demanded to know whether the party had also served show-cause notices to all the other members who had not cast their vote. But when I met Chaudhary Shujaat to submit my reply, he said ‘Mitty pao’ (Drop the issue).
Then, one fine day, when I was relaxing at home, I was suddenly inundated with calls from journalists wanting to know my views on my expulsion from the PML-Q parliamentary party. I told them it was news to me as well. I rang up the Muslim League House. They confirmed the news and informed me that I would be receiving the notice soon. I questioned them as to how the media had got the news before me and I was informed that Tariq Azeem had issued a press release in this regard. They tried to de-seat me from the National Assembly. But I am not willing to give up. I have checked up on my legal status and found that I am safe and do not fall under the ambit of 63A.
The party should at least follow the due process. At the party’s Central Executive Council (CEC) meeting recently, one member suggested that the leadership form a disciplinary committee comprising one or two lawyers and one senior party member from each of the four provinces. They should hear out the case and then decide whether or not Kashmala violated party discipline. But the party leadership is not ready to follow rules and regulations.
Q: You have been in parliament for the past six or seven years. Why have you not tried to change this anti-woman mindset within your party?
A: I introduced the two most important bills regarding women in parliament: one on honour killings and the other on amendments to the Hudood Ordinances. There was a very strong reaction against both because in the previous assembly the mullahs had a lot of seats and the PML-N was also opposed to the bill. Moreover, there was very strong resistance from within the party as well. But we kept on lobbying and the media was very supportive. Finally, we succeeded in passing both these bills. We also drafted a bill related to sexual harassment of women in the workplace but the party really resisted it and several members remarked that women would start making false accusations against men if this bill was passed. We will have to cover a long distance to change [the way] our society [looks at] women’s issues. This will only be possible through education.
Q: Is there any truth in the accusation that you were creating a forward bloc within the party?
A: I have been served a show-cause notice which says that I was trying to form a forward bloc in the party, which is against the party discipline — and that was the second reason for my expulsion from the parliamentary party. What is party discipline, I’d like to know? The PML-Q is not the property of an individual. We [the alleged forward bloc] are a group of around 15 like-minded members and we have stated on record that we have not formed a forward bloc but a reformist group within the party. We had announced that we would not leave the party and had pressed for reforms within the party. Why has action only been taken against me on charges of forming a forward bloc? Also, the party leadership has not taken any action against those members of the Balochistan Assembly who have defected and joined hands with the PPP to form the government and are enjoying their ministries. Neither have they taken any disciplinary action against more than 25 MPs of the Punjab Assembly who have formed a forward bloc. The party leadership itself has tried to meet both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. So the point is, why have I been victimised? It is only because I am a woman and they can harass me; they have been harassing me all along for the past five, six years.
Besides, the Chaudharys have also prepared cases against Donya Aziz and Marvi Memon through their relative, Tanzeela Aamir Cheema. The cases are intended to de-seat both of them, ostensibly to get Cheema in on one of Donya Aziz’s two seats in the federal capital.
Q: Why are you against the nomination of Faisal Saleh Hayat as the parliamentary leader of PML-Q in the National Assembly?
A: Faisal Saleh Hayat’s name was never discussed in the parliamentary party meeting. We signed a paper only for the nomination of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi as the opposition leader but Faisal’s appointment as parliamentary leader came as a surprise to us. Many of us had reservations, our argument being that members from the smaller provinces should also be given the opportunity as the PML-Q’s top leadership already belongs to the Punjab. Our party head, Chaudhary Shujaat, is from the Punjab, the general secretary Mushahid Hussain belongs to the Punjab, the secretary information is from the Punjab. Then, Riaz Pirzada, who has been appointed as the chief whip, also belongs to the Punjab. The smaller provinces already feel a sense of deprivation and it is our duty to give them a sense of ownership by appointing members from these provinces to key posts in the party and parliament.
The majority of the members from the smaller provinces as well as from the Punjab supported us on this issue, and demanded that the parliamentary leader as well as the chief whip should be from the smaller provinces. I spoke on this issue within the confines of the parliamentary party and have not said a word on the floor of the house; besides, it was not directed against any person. But Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat made it an ego issue because he is a Makhdoom, with a typical feudal mentality. I was punished because I dared to speak against a Makhdoom, and Makhdooms consider themselves a special species born to rule this country.
Q: You don’t think your expulsion is intended to send a message to Humayun Akhtar Khan?
A: Humayun Akhtar is a sensible politician and I do not know why he has been dragged into matters he knows nothing about by the PML-Q leadership. Everybody knows that the Chaudharys pressurised President Musharraf not to appoint him as prime minister.
Yes, I have a close liaison with Humayun Akhtar Khan and work with him because I belong to his constituency. During my last tenure as MNA, I spent all my development funds in this constituency. I established a hospital in the area and also set up a big community centre for the poor of the area. The point is, the benefits of this development work will go to the sitting MNA and, if we are from the same party, we should work together and that’s what we are doing.
Q: You are up-in-arms against the very people [the Chaudharys] who gave you your break in politics.
A: I joined politics as a PML-Q worker when it was the president’s [Musharraf] party; the Chaudharys were nowhere near the top. Mian Azhar was the president and a board of 16 members (including Mian Azhar, Khursheed Kasuri, Humayun Akhtar Khan, Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi and Mehnaz Rafi) chose me, and they said that they needed more women like me. All of them are alive, go ask them. I was not planted in politics by the Chaudharys or by anybody else. I also want to inform them that I won the election for chairperson, Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, a body comprising parliamentarians of 53 commonwealth member states. It was the first time that a Pakistani woman had won this election and we have this seat with us for the next three years; so if they de-seat me, the country will be deprived of that prestigious post as well.
Q: What is your strategy for the future? Are you joining another political party?
A: I am in the PML-Q. They will have to cover a lot of distance even to de-seat me from the assembly. The reference, in the first place, is sent to the speaker who, if he/she deems it appropriate, forwards it to the election commission and then the election commission takes a decision on it. Then if you are de-seated, you have the option of going to the Supreme Court. So, it is not an easy task to de-seat a member. The party is being ruined by the manner in which it is being run by its leadership. If the defection clause were removed today, you will see how many parliamentarians remain within the party.
Q: Reportedly you have good connections in the PPP and may join them.
A: We sit together in the assembly, whether we are from the PPP or the PML-N. We are all friends because we have to spend the next five years together in parliament. It really helps to develop a good rapport with all your colleagues from various parties. I, too, have friends and connections in all parties, but I want to inform everybody that I am not leaving the PML-Q, although this was an ideal opportunity for me to leave the party but I would prefer to stay in the party and reform it.