The Shame of It All
By Dr Shireen M Mazari

The deliberate attack by the law-enforcement agencies on the participants of the HRCP-JAC "mixed" marathon can only be condemned as shameful and unacceptable – especially the deliberate orders to tear the clothing of the female leaders of the marathon. Obviously, such actions do little to improve Pakistan's "soft" image, but that is not my main concern here, although that too is a serious issue in itself. Rather, what is frightening is the level to which a woman can be abused simply to assert the power of the state and teach those who challenge it a "lesson".
Simply arresting and locking up the women leaders was not seen as enough – their womanhood also had to be assaulted. But all this to what end? Did it really help the Pakistani state? It certainly was no moment of pride for the Pakistani nation.
Of course, there are those who would respond by pointing out that the marathon organizers chose to defy the law because Section 144 was in force in Lahore. The problem is that Section 144 seems to have become a permanent feature of urban life, and is the normal way to prevent all dissent from surfacing publicly. Perhaps, had there been no physical abuse of the participants, one would have faced a real dilemma over whether the elites also need to obey the law of the land or can they defy it openly? We do have a society where the elite and even their children grow up with a mindset that makes them feel above the law. Whether it is speeding, running traffic lights or even disobeying club rules, the mocking attitude towards those trying to enforce them reflects the diseased thinking of Pakistan's elite.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify the abuse of power by the police and by those who issued the instructions for them to do so. In fact, for some time now we have been inundated with stories in the print media, at least, of abuse of women across the country. From burnings to rape to public strippings, women seem to be fair game for all and sundry – and across all levels of society. It is no wonder then that certain segments of the state also find it easy to target women.
Unfortunately, it is Pakistan as a whole that has to suffer the fallout. We are seen as intolerant – although we continue to show a marvelous level of tolerance for abuse from outside – and reactionary. And all manner of abuse is heaped on us, from all quarters, from alleged allies to foes. While nationals from Europe to India have been involved in proliferation, it is Pakistan and Dr. Khan that are being targeted. While the Karzai regime is one of the closest allies of the US, with hundreds of US soldiers and officials on its territory, Afghan mobs opposing the alleged desecration of the Holy Qur'an by US personnel in Guantanamo Bay target the Pakistan Consulate in Jalalabad. And so the story continues.
The Jalalabad incident reflects the animosity that Afghans seemingly continue to harbor for Pakistanis that has emerged at regular intervals in Afghan history in the form of attacks against the Jalalabad Consulate. And it does not really matter which government is in Kabul, either. The fifties, sixties, eighties, nineties are all replete with attacks against our diplomatic set ups in Afghanistan. Ironically, Jalalabad is primarily a Pakhtun town, but one which has always had an Indian presence. Just a point to ponder.
Coming back to the issue at hand, it is really time for the government to come out and take a stand against the obscurantist behavior that allows elements of the state to indulge in violence against women. As long as these retrogressive forces continue to humiliate women under the protection of the state, the state itself is undermining the spirit of Islam and the status, as we have been taught, Islam affords women. Mixed marathons in themselves are non-issues but after the Gujranwala incident, they have become an issue because they symbolize a challenge to the obscurantists who are seeking to implement their agendas indirectly through terrorization. The planned marathon in Lahore, which ended in the shameful and unforgivable abuse of the women participants, was meant to highlight violence against women in the country. Well it certainly managed to do that, thanks to the absurdities of segments of the state.
This is truly unfortunate, because the Pakistani state along with society has continued to provide greater space for women. We have women working in ever-widening professional fields. We have young girls working in fast food and other restaurants in the major cities – something that was unthinkable barely a decade earlier. Women are now even in the forces and the PAF has taken the lead by opening its fighter pilot and engineering fields to women. Even many Western countries do not allow this. PIA has had women pilots for over a decade now. Women judges and lawyers now proliferate and the admirable Asma and Hina Jillani have come into their own through the legal profession to gain accolades from the international community for their dedication to human rights. While one can have serious disagreements, as I do, with Asma on most issues, no one can ever doubt her commitment to human rights. In fact, tolerance on all sides is borne out of conflicting perspectives.
That is why our state does itself a great injustice when it undermines its own achievements by an unnecessary hesitancy to acknowledge its commitment to tolerance and enlightenment. It needs to accept this role and deal aggressively with those fifth columnists within its structures who seem to be deliberately undermining state credibility. It is time we stopped the battering of the Pakistani state and its leadership by a few vested interests. A beginning needs to be made with publicly penalizing those responsible for the Lahore attack against the HRCP-JAC marathon last week. The backtracking on tactical issues is undermining the strategic policy of enlightenment and tolerance.
Whether it is the religion column issue in the passport or the "honor killing" issue, or the increasing violence against women, the state needs to be proactive and unapologetic in its commitment to progress and development. While the law of the land cannot be violated at will, no law can advocate physical abuse of women. It is time the supposed upholders and enforcers of the law understand this in no uncertain terms. Enlightenment means moderation and the leadership of this country, which has made a resolute commitment to this, needs to make this pledge credible through deeds – not words alone.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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