By Jyoti Malhotra
Pakistan is in the middle of a raging misogynist battle, with a former member of Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i- Inssaaf (PTI) party, Ayesha Gulalai, accusing Khan of sending her obscene text messages from his Blackberrysince 2013, in the full knowledge that the messages could not be hacked and daring him to make them public.
The former cricketer and PTI chief retaliated by fielding several party women legislators – as well as male politicians – who sought to discredit Gulalai by asking why she hadn’t come clean before, and whether her accusations against Imran Khan were timed to defame and prevent him from becoming the main beneficiary of the political crisis in which Nawaz Sharif was disqualified last week.
Imran Khan himself darkly tweeted, ‘My challenge to Sharif-MSR mafia is: Do your worst; stoop as low as you can; me & my struggle-hardened party will become ever stronger IA’
The alleged sexual escapade has certainly thrown the ongoing political crisis out of gear – even if it is for the moment. Ayesha Gulalai is being repeatedly asked whether she is now joining Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) party – the implication being, for services rendered — and why she had lied about asking Imran Khan for a ticket to a general seat in the National Assembly (she is currently on a woman’s quota).
Others, including some senior women journalists, wanted to know why Ms Gulalai was still not releasing the so-called incriminating messages by Imran Khan. Perhaps it was a case of a love affair gone sour? Certainly, pity was the strongest emotion that surfaced while watching several PTI women legislators attempting to defend Khan and trash Ayesha Gulalai in the bargain.
Certainly, there’s not a moment when Pakistan is not in ferment. Assassinations, martial law, creeping coups and judicial dictatorships not only keep that country, but the entire region, on the edge of its seat, waiting with bated breath for the next roll of the dice. Nothing like an alleged sexual distraction, though, to spice things up a bit and provide some dramatic relief, of course at the expense of the woman in question.
Perhaps the worst commentary came from Fawad Chaudhury, former journalist and PTI spokesperson who wanted to know why Ayesha Gulalai’s sister was “running around in shorts” and whether this was part of Pakistan’s culture. Responding to an uncritical questioner on Neo TV, Chaudhury kept saying that Gulalai had allowed herself to be “used” (“istemaal”) over the last 24-48 hours, meaning she had been put up to doing this by Nawaz Sharif’s party.
Chaudhury’s utterly unseemly and gratuitous references to “beghairat”, or honour, left the viewer not in the slightest doubt that Gulalai’s mark had hit home. Imran Khan’s reputation of being an international playboy refuses to go away, notwithstanding the amazing work he has put in to raise from scratch a cancer hospital in Pakistan as well as manufacture a political party that is giving Nawaz Sharif a run for its money.
In fact, barely three days after Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court, Imran Khan brought Islamabad to a halt with a rally that hasn’t been seen in these parts before for some time. Zebunissa Burki, a senior editor at The News, put it succintly on Facebook : “Yes, you are free to have doubts over what (Gulalai) saying. No, it doesn’t mean its a given that she’s lying just because she didn’t come forward earlier. Yes, Imran Khan has the right to ask for an investigation. And no, that doesn’t mean she was a) asking for it, b) had asked Imran to marry her, c) got money from the PML-N and d) has disrespected ‘Pakhtun’ tradition. We don’t get to comment on her father or her sister or their ‘izzat’,” Burki said.
Meanwhile, Gulalai is being supported by a handful of women parliamentarians, including Bushra Gohar of the Awami National Party and Sherry Rehman and Nafisa Shah of the Pakistan People’s Party. Tonight, the Speaker of the National Assembly is said to have ordered an investigation into the whole matter.
Certainly, in large parts of South Asia, the shame of sexual harassment still largely devolves upon the woman who is attacked, instead of the attacker. Does this mean that Gulalai has demonstrated extraordinary courage by going public about the alleged obscenities ? Or is she a conniving woman who came to the party four years too late ? Whether or not she is innocent or complicit, fact is the trolls on Twitter are already showering her with the choicest abuse.
Sooner than later, the truth will out. Whether Gulalai’s accusations will be consigned to the dustbin of ordinary titillation or whether Imran Khan has been caught and bowled in a cunning trap, fact is sexuality in South Asia is still circumscribed by the old codes. It makes you wonder about gender, stereotyping and politics and why, across the rough and tumble of the subcontinent, women who want to enter politics must increasingly be the daughters and wives of famous politicians? Think of what Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Sheikh Hasina have in common besides their gender?
Perhaps the Ayesha Gulalai episode will blow over tomorrow, having fulfilled its main criterion, as PTI leaders say, of dragging Imran Khan through the mud. They insist the mud wont stick and point out that the PML(N) is increasingly nervous about its chances to remain in power. They believe the former cricketer and sex symbol will be the next prime minister of Pakistan.
Certainly, Gulalai’s comments have added a certain frisson of excitement to the ongoing political crisis. Even though Nawaz Sharif is down –- although no one knows for certain yet whether he is permanently disqualified or not – his party still has a majority in the National Assembly. For Imran Khan to be targeted in a sex scandal certainly indicates that the Sharif brothers are concerned about his backers, in front or behind the purdah.
The political roller-coaster in Pakistan moves on.
Indian Express, August 4, 2017