Between awards, talk shows, books and arrests, scandalous controversies are brewing in Pakistan. If the president is suggesting must-read books for the year, which most certainly doesn’t include 50 Shades of Grey, there is always the much-frowned-upon memoir of Reham Khan, which has made a comeback almost four years later. Her book has no shelf life, it seems, it’s evergreen.
How did it all begin? Just like how every other thing in Naya Pakistan: With Prime Minister Imran Khan’s certificate ceremony for the “top 10” performing ministers of his cabinet. This does take one back to the school days when certificates were distributed at the end of the term. High rankers would be smeared for being teachers’ favourites or chamchas, while those scoring low would feel that the entire universe had conspired against them. Criteria, subject score or logic wouldn’t matter if you were in the losers category, only the politics of it mattered then, and even now. That’s why unhappy ministers who didn’t make the cut to the top-10 list were found complaining about their loss. Amusingly, ministers of foreign affairs, energy, defence and information, who’ve been shoving performance par-excellence down our throats never made it to PM’s das rattan (10 jewels) dream team. Looks like the winner took it all, and the losers stood small.
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Among the achievers were the interior minister. Nobody knew why. And the human rights minister, whose Bill on Missing Persons went missing just recently. The number one performer for the prime minister remained the communications minister Murad Saeed. Discussing why he was named the top minister in a news talk show, media owner Mohsin Baig suggested that the reason for prime minister Imran Khan’s satisfaction with Murad Saeed was written in Reham Khan’s book. While other panellists chipped in with “agreements” to “self-explanatory” comments, the anchor remained unaware of what was being suggested. The channel was taken off air by cable networks as Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority served show cause notice to the channel for airing “derogatory/demeaning remarks” about the federal minister without editorial checks.
مرادسعید کی جس کارکردگی پر پہلانمبر ملا ہے وہ ریحام کی کتاب میں ہے؛ محسن بیگ
مرادسعید نےکارکردگی میں سب کو پیچھےچھوڑدیا مزید نہ پوچھیں پیمرا موجود ہے؛طارق محمود
مرادسعید کی کارکردگی کےالزامات سب کےسامنےموجود ہیں؛افتخاراحمد
میں مرادسعید کی کارکردگی بارے اتفاق کرتاہوں؛ جنرل امجد pic.twitter.com/TzGv09EZeN
— Gharidah Farooqi (@GFarooqi) February 11, 2022
After the “derogatory remarks” and insinuations, Murad Saeed lodged a complaint against Baig. And within thirty minutes of the minister’s complaint, Baig, in a dramatic episode, was arrested by Federal Investigation Agency at a raid in his home in Islamabad. The raid was later declared “illegal” by a sessions court, and now the government aims to file a reference against the same sessions judge. It’s a signal that the Khan government’s fight against what it perceives as ‘treacherous dissent’ is just beginning. Mohsin Baig is no stranger to PM Imran Khan. He was once considered a close confidant and backer of the ‘Naya Pakistan’ project. Now he is the new addition to the long list of those disappointed with the ‘tabdeeli’, voicing opposition and unearthing secrets.
ماضی میں محسن بیگ جب عمران خان کے قریبی دوست تھے تو انکےمخالفین پرکیاالزامات لگاتے تھے اورآج عمران خان پرکیاالزامات لگارہے ہیں؟ دیکھیے
— Shahzeb Khanzada (@shazbkhanzdaGEO) February 16, 2022
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Page 273 of Reham Khan’s memoir
One look at the complaint lodged by the communications minister makes for a telenovela in itself. You read the FIR and forget what the news talk show or even the book said. To describe the harm caused to the ‘image’ of the minister and the ‘honourable’ prime minister with words like “natural person” and phrases like “it also lead to cultivate and induces [sic] a natural person to engage in a sexually explicit act without verifying authenticity…of this rumor.” Don’t know who, but someone needs to tell the minister that the content of the complaint is itself a salacious suicide attack on the dignity of the “natural persons” involved here.
The complaint also refers to page 273 of Reham Khan’s memoir involving Murad Saeed, saying it was written with the “intention to create unrest and advances to racial hatred among the public.” The only problem is that there is no mention of Murad Saeed on page 273 of the book. But for the first time in the history of histories, everyone is on the same page and reading from the same book. The last time the leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) thought it was a good idea to threadbare discuss Reham Khan’s (leaked) book even before it was even published, it ended up adding more fuel to the fire. The likes of PTI leaders Fawad Chaudhry and Fayyazul Hassan Chohan told the world the book was “pornographic”, “an XXX movie”. Now again, the entire episode has breathed new life into “page 273” and beyond. Curiosity increases with Murad Saeed planning to sue Reham Khan after almost four years. Popcorn please, because picture abhi baki hai.
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Tailoring draconian laws, arresting, threatening with cases and making black-lists of people whose opinions you don’t like is excessive and fascist for an administration that is so fond of showing its neighbours and countries beyond, a mirror. The way to deal with the loose talk, which shouldn’t have been aired on a television show, is through the regulatory authority and the fines it imposes. Same fines that should have been slapped on Sheikh Rasheed when he was calling Reham Khan “twaif”, “bikne wali aurat” on air. When gendered slurs are hurled by PTI leaders, including the one PM Khan spat against Bilawal Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz, today’s champions of ikhalqiat (morality) disappear into oblivion. When Twitter trends such as ‘Raiwind ki randi’, ‘Hijab mein lipti tawaif’ or ‘G for Gashti’ are run to target critics and political opponents alike, it’s fine. But people only get arrested when the hashtag gets too close to the ruler’s comfort. That’s the thing about ‘gutter-isation’ of speech, it runs both ways and with equal odour. A lot can be said about the decay of morality in political discourse but how it all began is exactly how everything always begins: From the top.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)