Pakistan: Women’s Rights At Center Of Political Storm


By Sib Kaifee

Parliamentarian Ayesha Gulalai has opened the door to intense debate over women’s rights in Pakistan amid the ongoing political storm in the country, experts said.

Her move to accuse opposition leader and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan of harassment — just days after Khan’s party took credit for building momentum to oust former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and knowing that Khan has millions of supporters who would strike back — has emboldened women to go public demanding greater rights.

“It’s good she opened doors for women’s rights,” Aisha Sarwari, co-founder of the Women’s Advancement Hub, told Arab News. “This is no small act of bravery; a woman has come forth with a sexual harassment case and she is being vilified and (her) character assassinated.” She questions why “men are to be believed but not women” in similar cases, emphasizing that it still needs to be established “what constitutes sexual harassment.”

Within the space of days, Pakistan’s political theater has moved from the storm over corruption and money laundering allegations, to one involving women’s rights and sexual accusations.

The latest case involved Seemal Kamran, who claimed to have been married to former Punjab Law Minister Raja Basharat and to have been mistreated by him after their alleged divorce.

Addressing a press conference, exhibiting a document, Kamran said angrily, “This is the divorce paper Raja Basharat, based on which you have been destroying my life; this divorce you can’t snatch from me.” After divorcing Kamran, Basharat allegedly took over her assets, car and jewelry according to Kamran’s claims. Basharat has demanded proof, rebutting her allegation.

Gulalai has accused Khan, the legendary cricketer-turned-politician, of sending lewd text messages dating back to 2013 and 2016, harassing his party’s women leaders.

Imran’s denial

Imran and his party have rejected her “absurd” accusation, saying she “sold her soul” for money to the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N), which is allegedly seeking political revenge against Khan.
“She was a selected on a reserve seat without a constituency and she was eyeing (a seat in) a hot constituency which she wasn’t able to get”, Fareed Rehman, senior regional leader at PTI, told Arab News.

“This was her motive and we believe this is the reason of her outburst with allegations against our chief,” he added. “If she had any grievances, she should have consulted the party.”

Rehman said that the PTI felt Gulalai did not live up to her position as a parliamentarian, as she was unable to pass any legislation or further the party’s mandate.

According to Rehman’s information, his party has not received any proof from Gulalai regarding her harassment claims.

Gulalai has also alleged that Khan’s local government in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is embroiled in corruption.

Following Gulalai’s accusations, Ayesha Ahad, ex-wife of PML-N parliamentarian Hamza Shahbaz — nephew of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — capitalized on the media frenzy by igniting an old allegation that Hamza deceived her.

Ahad also addressed a press conference on Saturday with female PTI leaders, calling Shahbaz a liar. She said he did not divorce his first wife before tying the knot with her in 2010 and then abandoned her.

In reaction, PML-N’s Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah defending Shahbaz, using derogatory language to characterize Ahad in an interview with a news network.

Ahad has vowed to file a “character assassination” law suit against Sanaullah.

The political upheaval has also dragged in Khan’s former wife, Reham Khan.

In a press conference on Sunday, Reham Khan voiced great disappointment at accusations that she backed Gulalai to accuse Imran Khan. The PTI had claimed Reham Khan is a proxy of PML-N and has been offered a seat in Parliament by the ruling party.

“I swear upon the Holy Qu’ran that I have no association with Ayesha Gulalai,” she told reporters. “I am a Khan and I don’t attack from the back so don’t use my name to save your dying political career,” she said, directing her message at Imran Khan.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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