Sunday, January 29, 2023
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Imran Khan took a stand against US. But forgot to stand up for rape victims

When Imran Khan came to power, we were assured that Pakistan will have a PM who will be handsome, speak good angrezi and boost our image. Look at how that’s going.

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For probably the first time, a Pakistani leader stood up, looked into the eyes of Uncle Sam, and said ‘no’. In an interview with Axios HBO this week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said “absolutely not” to giving bases to the US for cross-border operations from Pakistan. There was celebration almost like a 1992 World Cup victory. So what if it was during an interview and not an official meeting that counts. It was a watershed moment for the supporters of PM Imran Khan.

During his interview, the prime minister was also asked about his April comments on sexual assault and victim-blaming in rape cases. Back then, he had drawn a link between women’s clothing, temptation and the ‘willpower’ of men. Calling it “such nonsense”, he went on to explain in the recent Axios interview that the concept of purdah is to avoid temptation in society. When asked if he thought what women wear provokes acts of sexual violence, he said: “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots. I mean it’s common sense.”

What the prime minister thinks is common sense is actually a random uncle’s take on women being toffees and lollipops that once unwrapped, are attacked by bees. The only problem is that Imran Khan is no obscure uncle whose primitive views won’t reinforce the misogynistic attacks that every victim of sexual abuse faces in Pakistan. It’s sad that it has to spelt out — but only a rapist is responsible for rape, not the victim. It is a criminal act of power and not one of lust.

Also read: Imran Khan’s remark on ‘women’s clothing’ draws flak & Pakistan woman on Forbes Next 1000 List

It’s your fault

Women’s corpses in Pakistan are raped in graves, so how skimpy would their shroud have been to ‘invite’ such attention? A woman is gang-raped in front of her children after her car broke down on the highway. Was it because of her clothes? How revealing was the dress of the seven-year-old girl who was raped, killed and then thrown in the trash. What about the numerous minor boys who are raped in madrassas?

But the man in Pakistan’s highest office tells the world that it is common sense that women in very few clothes get raped, and for rapists to be impacted by those “few clothes” is somewhat normal. He also implied that men with no impulses may be “robots”. Insulting to say the least, men in the PM’s “common sense” are nothing but sexual predators who can’t control their impulses, or at least that’s what he’s telling the world. After this stereotyping of his society, the PM then complains about Islamophobia in the West.

After the backlash from the Axios interview, the PM Office released its own footage of some of the edited parts and sought an explanation from the channel on why it edited 80 minutes to 15 minutes. Also mentioning that “freedom of speech” was curtailed. Now, will the Pakistan government go to the international court of justice over 65 minutes of lost footage?

The human rights and women rights groups in Pakistan have criticised PM Khan’s rape victim-blaming remarks and demanded a public apology from him. While the ministers continued to defend PM’s comments in press conferences, trying to convince everyone that fighting against the premier’s statement is akin “to disagreeing with the orders of Allah.” Another minister came up with an absurd example that “if a woman in a bikini is smoking in Pakistan, it will have consequences.” Intrigued which Pakistan the minister lives in, for no one has ever seen a woman in a bikini on the roads of Pakistan.

Also read: Pakistan won’t host US bases in Afghanistan, ‘paid heavy price’: PM Imran in Washington Post

Only image matters

When Imran Khan was propelled to power, we were reassured that, for the first time, Pakistan will have a prime minister who will not only be handsome but will also speak good angrezi, talk without a parchi and boost the ‘soft image’ of the country. We were told Pakistan has an image problem, and nothing was actually bad. Look at how that’s going.

The problem isn’t a new one, but now it is playing worldwide. The Khan administration is obsessed with capturing global headlines. It wants to be there and to be seen. Of course, all in the greater national interest. In the occupied media at home, misogynistic jibes, inaccurate figures, and alternative history all go unchecked, but when that happens on Western media, the backlash is real.

Information minister Fawad Chaudhry quotes PM Khan getting 200 million votes in 2018 election, and he reiterates that it’s not a joke during HardTalk on BBC. Of course when Khan bagged 16.85 million votes, we never thought his government will become this big of a joke. The minister then goes on to mislead viewers on senior journalist Syed Talat Hussain leaving Geo News due to television ratings and not censorship. Not to forget his divine logic that Hussain wasn’t a journalist because he doesn’t appear on television. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, during a Tolo News interview, almost passes out while giving a pass to a question on Osama bin Laden (OBL) being a ‘martyr’. He then goes on to say that Imran Khan’s statement in the national assembly was taken ‘out of context’ and played up by a section of the media. Untrue, as Qureshi sat right next to Khan when he said, “US forces came inside Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, martyred him.” Now which section of the media is to be blamed for a statement given by the PM. When asked if he disagreed with his PM on Osama, Qureshi ended nine seconds of silence with “I will pass that.”

When grilled on the same by Pakistani news channels, Qureshi was unmoved on OBL, but on al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri being a terrorist, he said “ji”.

Half of the problems of the PTI are of its own doing. No one, including OBL, would have thought so much about him being a martyr as much as this government is. The credit for igniting the issue of OBL as a martyr and terrorist goes to PM Imran Khan. Which is a shame for a country that lost 80,000 lives in the war against terrorism that was fought against al-Qaeda.

The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.


The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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