Friday, June 17, 2016

Business Recorder editorial - June 10, 2016, published June 12, 2016

Khwaja Asif's antics Defence Minister Khwaja Asif has by now acquired an unenviable reputation for lapsing into unparliamentary language at the drop of a hat. He exhibited the same penchant the other day when, while addressing the National Assembly (NA), he turned on his hecklers from the opposition benches and, pinpointing PTI MNA Shireen Mazari, directed remarks at her that would be considered offensive by anyone, but seemed all the more inappropriate for being about a woman fellow parliamentarian. The furore that naturally followed could have been handled better, but the guardian of the house, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, merely expunged the offending remarks while failing to address the demand of the opposition benches for an apology to Ms Mazari. Khwaja Asif it seems was prevailed upon by his treasury colleagues the next day to offer an apology on the floor of the house but refused to include Ms Mazari's name in it on the spurious argument that since he had not named anyone in his diatribe at his hecklers, he did not feel the need to include Ms Mazari's name in the apology. This of course failed to satisfy Ms Mazari and her opposition colleagues, who staged a walkout on the issue. Khwaja Asif's antics have created an unnecessary crisis in the NA. What perhaps the volatile Defence Minister has failed to imbibe despite all the time he has spent in parliament is that heckling is very much part of the tradition of any parliament. That makes the singling out and targeting of a woman parliamentarian reprehensible on the touchstone of parliamentary traditions and conventions as well as betraying a level of sexism all too common in our society. Two failures attended the episode. First and foremost, the Speaker failed to uphold the respect and dignity of the house by his failure to uphold the respect and dignity of a member, and that too a woman. Ayaz Sadiq may be from the PML-N, but his role as the guardian of the house has to be above partisan party considerations. Had he taken a firmer line with the errant minister on the day of the incident, instead of trying to find excuses for him (provocation, etc), things may not have come to such a pass. The second failure was of the Women's Parliamentary Caucus (WPC), set up to uphold the interests of women members across the party divide. Unfortunately, at the first test, the WPC, or rather its secretary general, Shaista Malik of the PML-N, failed to rise above loyalty to party and according to Shireen Mazari, failed to come to her aid and succour on the grounds that Khwaja Asif had submitted an apology in writing to the Speaker (the same generalised apology that failed to defuse the situation). As a result of this fiasco, the WPC faces a split on treasury-opposition lines and the Speaker's reputation and credibility has suffered a blow. The issue of the mistreatment, and worse, of women in our society is fast assuming critical proportions. Numerous incidents in recent days of women being burnt to death for choosing their own life partners freely (inappropriately dubbed 'honour' killings) have raised alarm in society generally and even found an echo in the Senate. Senators blamed the Council of Islamic Ideology's (CII's) pronouncements from time to time on women, including the recent 'light beating' pearl of wisdom, as responsible for creating a climate of misogyny and sexism in our society that was impacting women's safety and lives. The Senators wanted the CII abolished. In parliament in the past, Sheikh Rashid was well known for his foul mouthed barbs, which did not even spare late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto as a woman, and for which he had to spend a stint in prison. Khwaja Asif seems determined to carry on from where an eventually relatively chastened Sheikh Rashid left off. Misogyny and sexism have no place in society today. Nor in parliament. What a shame one even has to remind of the verity of these statements.

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